Monday, May 21, 2007

Hayom tisha v'arbaim yom, shehaym shiva shavuot baomer

Note: Thank you to everyone who has been following along over the last seven weeks. If you have any questions about vegetarianism, please e-mail me at Check out "Recounting the Counting of the Omer" on my other blog,

This is the final post for, as tonight is the last night before Shavuot. With regard to Shavuot, Judaism and Vegetarianism author Richard H. Schwartz has noted:

Shavuot is also known as "Chag Hakatzir" (the Harvest Festival), since it climaxes the year's first harvest. Hence, it can remind us that many more people can be sustained on vegetarian diets than on animal-centered diets. While the Torah stresses that farmers are to leave the corners of their fields and the gleanings of their harvests for the hungry, over 70% of the grain grown in the United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter, as 15 to 20 million people worldwide die annually because of hunger and its effects.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Hayom shemonah v'arbaim yom, shehaym shisha shavuot v'shisha yamim baomer

I've talked about many health complications that stem from eating meat, but mad cow disease and bird flu are in a category unto themselves. There have been several documented cases of mad cow disease in the U.S. in recent years, and the disease has caused more than 150 human deaths worldwide. It is always fatal to humans who consume meat from infected cows, and it eats away at and forms holes in the brains of cows and humans. Bird flu has killed more than a hundred people in recent years, and experts fear that a bird flu pandemic could wipe out an eighth of the world's human population. Bird flu can be contracted by eating undercooked chicken or eggs contaminated with bird flu or even just by touching contaminated eggshells. You can protect yourself from mad cow disease and bird flu by steering clear of meat and eggs.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Hayom shiva v'arbaim yom, shehaym shisha shavuot va'chamisha yamim baomer

Why is it that my brother was able to eat chickens when he was living in Paraguay but is allergic to them here? It's because he's allergic to the things you consume along with meat in the U.S. In this country, many farmed animals are given hormones in their food (to induce growth) as well as antibiotics (to keep them alive through conditions that would otherwise kill them when veterinary care is minimal or non-existent).

Friday, May 18, 2007

Hayom shisha v'arbaim yom, shehaym shisha shavuot v'arbaa yamim baomer

Going vegetarian is easier now than ever before. The vegetarian food market is expanding by leaps and bounds. Roughly a quarter of college students want vegan food options on their campuses, and campus dining services are working to meet their needs. Many fast-food restaurants and even ballparks serve veggie burgers. Many supermarkets carry a variety of tofu and various mock meats. Vegetarian cookbooks are everywhere. And by ordering a free vegetarian starter kit, you can make the switch to vegetarianism quite comfortably.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hayom chamisha v'arbaim yom, shehaym shisha shavuot u'shelosha yamim baomer

Animals in factory farms can't enjoy any of the things that are natural and important to them. Locked inside gigantic, crowded sheds, they never get to feel the grass beneath their feet or the warmth of the sun on their backs. They are denied comfortable living conditions, mental stimulation, and adequate veterinary care. Some, like calves raised for veal, don't even receive nourishing food, as their diets leave them anemic. Chickens can't dustbathe, and pigs can't lie on straw. In the words of Peter Singer, "[A]nimals of different capacities have different requirements. Common to all is a need for physical comfort." That need is not met.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Hayom arbaa v'arbaim yom, shehaym shisha shavuot ushnay yamim baomer

It's not economical to let factory-farmed animals mate naturally, so in many cases, semen is taken from the males and forcefully inserted into the females. In some cases, animals have been genetically engineered to be so much bigger than they would be otherwise that intercourse would be harmful or even impossible. Check out one undercover worker's firsthand account of his day as a turkey breeder:

How to break a turkey hen: Grab a hen by the legs, near her feet. The hens weigh 20-30 pounds and are terrified—beating their wings and struggling in a panic. After all, they have been through this at least once a week before. The hens are very strong and hard to hold. Once you have a good grip, you flop her down chest-first on the edge of the pit with her tail end sticking up. You put your hand over her vent and tail and pull her rump and tail feathers upward. With the hand that's holding the feet, you pull downward—"breaking" the hen so that her rear is straight up and her vent is open.

DeWayne sticks his thumb right under the vent and pushes until the end of the oviduct is exposed. Into this, he inserts the straw/tube and pulls the trigger, and a shot of compressed air blows the semen solution from the straw and into the hen's oviduct. Then both men let go and the bird flops away onto the open end of the house floor.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hayom sh'losha v'arbaim yom, shehaym shisha shavuot v'yom echad baomer

There's a popular misconception that going vegetarian means having little more to eat than carrots and beansprouts. The truth is that many vegetarians take the opportunity of adopting a new diet to embrace new foods and cuisines and find that their dietary options are far wider now that their meals don't always revolve around a cow, a chicken, or a few other types of animals. Indian, Ethiopian, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, Mediterranean, and Mexican cuisines are full of vegan options; historically, many people who have eaten these cuisines have been vegetarian or eaten mostly plant-based foods. It's easy to veganize most recipes, including by using egg replacer, bananas, or apple sauce in baking; soy milk or rice milk instead of cow's milk; and using tofu, tempeh, seitan, or mock-meat products in place of animal flesh.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Hayom sh'nayim v'arbaim yom, shehaym shisha shavuot baomer

According to philosopher Peter Singer, because animals can suffer, they deserve to have their interests taken into consideration in any utilitarian equation weighing the pluses and minuses of various ethical issues. Does the pleasure people get from the taste of meat outweigh the suffering of the animals who were raised and killed for their flesh? In the case of industrialized animal agriculture, a fair look at farmed animals' living and dying conditions warrants the answer "No!" Singer had this to say in a recent interview with Heeb:
Any being that can suffer has an interest in not suffering. It’s a somewhat broader category than pain because you might say that a hen in a cage is suffering because many of her basic instincts are frustrated. She can’t lay her eggs in a nest, and that causes stress every time she needs to lay an egg. She can’t really stretch her wings. Those sorts of things are suffering rather than pain. She may also experience pain—her feathers have rubbed off because the cage is so crowded and her raw skin is constantly pushed against the wire. We need to recognize suffering as well as pain because animals do have other needs than the need to avoid physical pain.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Hayom echad v'arbaim yom, shehaym chamisha shavuot v'shisha yamim baomer

Happy Mother's Day! Chickens and turkeys in the meat industry never get to meet their parents or be raised by them. As I explained in a 2005 article, veal calves and dairy cows are "tied together by a disregard for the universal 'honor thy mother' commandment":
On the first or second day after calves are born, they are taken away from their mothers for good. Once milk turns from colostrum to a commercial entity, mothers are taken to the milking parlor and then return to find their calves missing. The mother will often bellow constantly for a day or so, searching in vain for her calf.

Mothers bond with their calves during the first few hours. A 1977 study in Applied Animal Ethology found that even five minutes "of contact with a calf immediately post partum is sufficient for the formation of a specific, stable, maternal bond with that calf." In nature, cows would continue to nurse their young for nearly a year. . . .

Many calves are sent to veal auctions, where they are generally nervous and presumably still looking for their mothers. As Erik Marcus explains in Meat Market, "The calves usually enter the auction ring with a few inches of umbilical cord still hanging from their bellies. Their hides are often still slick from the womb."

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Hayom arbaim yom, shehaym chamisha shavuot va'chamisha yamim baomer

Many reasons to go vegetarian pertain to animal welfare, health, and the environment. Now that we're up to day 40 already, it's important to tie everything together and realize that there are Jewish mandates to be concerned about all three of these matters:

  • Jews should not inflict unnecessary pain and suffering on animals (tsa'ar ba'alei chayim). According to the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), "It is forbidden, according to the law of the Torah, to inflict pain upon any living creature. On the contrary, it is our duty to relieve the pain of any creature ...."
  • According to the principle of pikuach nefesh, it's important to stay healthy. Says Maimonides, "Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God—for one cannot understand or have any knowledge of the Creator if he is ill—therefore one must avoid that which harms the body and accustom oneself to that which is helpful and helps the body become stronger."
  • According to the principle of bal tashchit, we should be good stewards of the environment and not waste resources.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Hayom tisha u'sheloshim yom, shehaym chamisha shavuot va'arbaa yamim baomer

Many people who have visited factory farms say that the smell is beyond people's worst nightmares. Chickens may be confined to huge sheds by the tens of thousands, and cleaning the sheds while the animals are inside isn't cost-effective. The ammonia from animals' excrement builds up, and the stench becomes unbearable. The ammonia can burn birds' skin and cause lung damage. Says one Washington Post writer, "Dust, feathers and ammonia choke the air in the chicken house and fans turn it into airborne sandpaper, rubbing skin raw."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Hayom shemonah u'sheloshim yom, shehaym chamisha shavuot u'shelosha yamim baomer

Farmed animals are genetically engineered to weigh more than they would naturally, so much so that they often collapse because they are unable to support their own weight. Chickens' breasts weight seven times more today than they did a mere quarter-century ago. By the age of six weeks, many chickens raised for their flesh can't even walk. Says the meat-industry magazine Feedstuffs, "Broilers now grow so rapidly that the heart and lungs are not developed well enough to support the remainder of the body, resulting in congestive heart failure and tremendous death losses."

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Hayom shiva u'sheloshim yom, shehaym chamisha shavuot ushnay yamim baomer

A vegetarian diet is so healthy that it's the chosen diet of quite a few health-conscious athletes. Vegetarian athletes include the NBA's Salim Stoudamire and Raja Bell, the NFL's Ricky Williams, tennis player Chris Evert, and boxing champ Keith Holmes. Says nine-time Olympic gold medalist for track and field Carl Lewis, "[M]y best year of track competition was the first year I ate a vegan diet. Moreover, by continuing to eat a vegan diet, my weight is under control, I like the way I look." Notes Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine president Neal Barnard:
For those who wonder whether vegetarian diets are rich enough in protein, it is worth remembering that some of the most powerful animals—bulls, gorillas, elephants, and stallions—are vegan, too. . . . A healthy vegan diet will give you the strength and stamina to leave those sluggish meat-eaters in the dust.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Hayom shisha u'sheloshim yom, shehaym chamisha shavuot v'yom echad baomer

It's not quite ideal to feed grains to farmed animals and then consume those grains in the animals' flesh. As PETA vice president Bruce Friedrich put it:

It’s bizarre, really: You take a crop like soy, oats, corn, or wheat, products high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, but devoid of cholesterol and artery-clogging saturated fat. You put them into an animal and create something with no fiber or complex carbohydrates at all, but with lots of cholesterol and saturated fat. It makes about as much sense to take pure water, run it through a sewer system, and then drink it.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Hayom chamisha u'sheloshim yom, shehaym chamisha shavuot baomer

Huge amounts of land are needed to grow food for farmed animals and for cattle to graze. More than 80 percent of agricultural land in the U.S. is used in some way to raise animals, which is more than half the country's total land mass. More than 260 million acres of forests in the U.S. have been wiped out in order to make way for land where grain to feed farmed animals is grown.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Hayom arbaa u'sheloshim yom, shehaym arbaa shavuot v'shisha yamim baomer

Cancer is caused by dietary factors as much as it is caused by smoking. Adhering to a vegan diet means loading up on foods that fight cancer (i.e., fiber-packed grains and beans as well as phytocheminal-packed fruits and veggies) and minimizing intake of foods that cause cancer. According to Dr. T. Colin Campbell, the world's foremost epidemiologist, "No chemical carcinogen is nearly so important in causing human cancer as animal protein." Scientific studies have suggested that meat consumption can lead to stomach, esophageal, breast, prostate, and colon cancer.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Hayom sh'losha u'sheloshim yom, shehaym arbaa shavuot vachamisha yamim baomer

Happy Lag B'Omer! Here's an excerpt from "Lag B'Omer and Vegetarianism: Making Every Day Count" by Daniel Brook and Richard H. Schwartz:
It was on Lag B'Omer ... that a plague that had killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students finally ended. Choosing vegetarianism champions life by saving lives everyday. Shortly after the plague, Rabbi Akiva chose five students to carry on his work, one of whom was the great sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Eleazar hid in a cave for thirteen years after Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was condemned to death by the Roman conquerors of Jerusalem .... While they lived in a cave, they were sustained by their studies of the Torah, a local stream, and a nearby carob tree for their food. These great sages demonstrated that a vegetarian diet, like the manna the Israelites received in the Sinai desert, is enough to sustain a person as well as a people.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught that our world and the unseen "higher" worlds are unified, as manifestations of the Divine Soul, and that the meaning of life is to reunify Creation with the source of Creation. He also affirmed that the "crown" of a good name, doing good deeds, is the most important thing, even more so than studying Torah, and is within the reach of everyone. He further asked that his day of passing be a day of celebration. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai died on Lag B'Omer.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Hayom sh'nayim u'sheloshim yom, shehaym arbaa shavuot v'arbaa yamim baomer

"If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we'd all be vegetarians."
—Linda McCartney

Cows are supposed to be stunned before their throats are slit, but slaughterhouses' line speeds tend to be so quick that the animals are often still conscious when their throats are cut and their limbs are hacked off. Things are much the same for pigs: A typical pig slaughterhouse kills up to 1,100 pigs an hour, and pigs are often still alive and conscious when they enter scalding-hot tanks of water intended for hair removal. More than 95 percent of the animals killed in the U.S. each year are chickens and turkeys, yet these animals are excluded from protection under the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. The common method to slaughter chickens in the U.S. is to force the birds into leg shackles and have them go down a fast-moving automated line where their heads are dunked in an electrified stun bath (which is often ineffective because the electricity is turned low in order to save money), their throats are slit (often while they're still conscious), and they are lowered into defeathering tanks (often while they are still conscious, thus boiling them alive). Shocking animal welfare abuses are frequently uncovered in chicken and turkey slaughterhouses. Alarmingly, while the ideals of kosher slaughter (shechita) are commendably humane, the industrialized slaughter that takes place in major kosher slaughterhouses also often involves hideous cruelty to animals.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Hayom echad u'sheloshim yom, shehaym arbaa shavuot u'shelosha yamim baomer

Lots of people go vegetarian in their teenage years, so it's a good idea to point out that going vegetarian is a great way to impress a girl (or a boy)! Says Nip/Tuck actor Peter Dinklage, "What made me go vegetarian was a girl. I was 16, and a lot of things when you're 16 are because of girls. But then it just stuck with me, and I started to really become serious about it." And one female candidate in PETA's "Sexiest Vegetarian" contest notes, "It’s far sexier to see a guy cuddling or playing with an animal than to see him biting into one." Guys, the majority of vegetarians are women, and they're sure to be impressed by a guy who's both passionate and compassionate.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Hayom shloshim yom, shehaym arbaa shavuot ushnay yamim baomer

Transport between factory farms and slaughterhouses is an oft-overlooked nightmare. Each year, tens of millions of chickens suffer broken wings and legs from rough handling. The animals are not given any food or water as they are trucked through all weather extremes, sometimes for hundreds of miles. Cows are denied food for their long journeys and may collapse in the extreme heat or freeze to the sides of trucks in cold weather, necessitating that workers pry them off with crowbars. Pigs experience much of the same, and overturned pig transport trucks are a common sight in some parts of the country. Says one former pig truck driver, pigs are "packed in so tight, their guts actually pop out their butts—a little softball of guts actually comes out." Millions of turkeys die as a result of heat exhaustion, freezing, or accidents during transport; nearly 2,000 turkeys can be loaded on a single truck headed to a slaughterhouse.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Hayom tisha v'esrim yom, shehaym arbaa shavuot v'yom echad baomer

Eventually, after everything I've mentioned in my last few posts, G-d said, "When the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border as He hath promised thee, and thou shalt say: 'I will eat flesh,' because thy soul desireth to eat flesh; thou mayest eat flesh, after all the desire of thy soul" (Deuteronomy 12:20). As Judaism and Vegetarianism author Richard Schwartz has written:

This permitted meat was called b'sar ta'avah, "meat of lust," so named because, as the following rabbinic teachings indicate, meat is not considered a necessity for life. The above verse does not command people to eat meat. Rabbinic tradition perceives it to indicate that it is people's desire to eat flesh and not God's edict that people do so. Even while arguing against vegetarianism as a moral cause, Rabbi Elijah Judah Schochet, author of Animal Life in Jewish Tradition (1984), concedes that "Scripture does not command the Israelite to eat meat, but rather permits this diet as a concession to lust." ...

Commenting on the above Torah verse (Deut. 12:20), modern Torah scholar and teacher Nehama Leibowitz points out how odd the dispensation is and how grudgingly permission to eat meat is granted. She concludes ... that we have been given a "barely tolerated dispensation," if we cannot resist temptation and must eat meat, to slaughter animals for our consumption. Rav Kook also regards the same Torah verse as clearly indicating that the Torah did not regard the slaughter of animals for human consumption as an ideal state of affairs.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Hayom shemonah v'esrim yom, shehaym arbaa shavuot baomer

Once the Jews left Egypt and were being led by Moses through the desert, G-d had a chance to start over. He provided the Jewish people with manna, which tasted like coriander seed and is typically considered to have been vegetarian. The people complained that they lusted for flesh, and G-d conceded again. He gave them quail. And then what? In Numbers 11:33, we read: "The meat was still between their teeth, not yet chewed, when the anger of the Lord blazed forth against the people and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague." In the next verse, we're told that "the people who had the craving were buried there," at what was called "The Graves of Lust."

Are we noticing a theme here in the last few posts? G-d intended humans to be vegetarian, we failed Him, and he flooded the Earth. G-d intended humans to be vegetarian, we failed Him, and he gave us a "very severe plague."

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Hayom shiva v'esrim yom, shehaym shelosha shavuot v'shisha yamim baomer

As explained in my last post, G-d's original intended diet for humans was vegetarianism. It's worth noting that when G-d eventually did grant humans permission to eat animals' flesh, it was a concession in the wake of less than ideal circumstances. At the time of Noah, we read, "G-d saw how corrupt the Earth was, for all flesh had corrupted its ways on Earth" (Genesis 6:12). How bad did things get? Well, G-d flooded the Earth except for Noah's family and two animals of each species, choosing to start from a clean slate (i.e., things got pretty bad). We know that people would eat limbs torn from living animals. G-d recognized that this was unacceptable, so He soon granted an orderly way of eating animals, thus permitting the eating of animals but not exactly holding it up as an ideal or a requirement. The idea behind kashrut is: If you must eat meat, do it as humanely as possible. Don't take a bite out of a cow as she's walking about, and take out the blood of an animal (because the bloodline is the lifeline), since we must have respect for life. (There'll be more back-to-back Torah commentary in the coming days.)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hayom shisha v'esrim yom, shehaym shelosha shavuot vachamisha yamim baomer

In the Book of Genesis, G-d's original, uncompromised diet for humans was vegetarianism. In Genesis 1:29, G-d said, "See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food." As Rashi put it, "G-d did not permit Adam and his wife to kill a creature and to eat its flesh. Only every green herb shall they eat together." In 2:16, we read, "And the Lord G-d commanded the man, saying: of every tree of the garden, you may freely eat." In 3:18, we read, "[Y]ou shall eat the herbs of the field."

Friday, April 27, 2007

Hayom chamisha v'esrim yom, shehaym shelosha shavuot v'arbaa yamim baomer

In Chapter 1 of Genesis, G-d gave humans dominion over the animal kingdom. But dominion means stewardship, not tyrannical rule; The Queen of England may have dominion over the British people, but that doesn't give her the right to chop off their body parts without any painkillers. In the words of Rav Kook, the first chief rabbi of pre-state Israel, "There can be no doubt in the mind of any intelligent, thinking person that when the Torah instructs humankind to dominate – 'And have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves upon the Earth' (Genesis 1:28) – it does not mean the domination of a harsh ruler, who afflicts his people and servants merely to fulfill his personal whim and desire, according to the crookedness of his heart. It is unthinkable that the Torah would impose such a decree of servitude, sealed for all eternity, upon the world of God ...."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hayom arbaa v'esrim yom, shehaym shelosha shavuot u'shelosha yamim baomer

On average, adult vegans are 10 to 20 pounds lighter than adult meat-eaters. As Dr. Deborah Wilson puts it, "The only weight-loss plan that has been scientifically proved to take weight off and keep it off for more than a year is a vegetarian diet. Many delicious vegan foods are naturally low in fat, so quantity and calorie restrictions are unnecessary."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hayom sh'losha v'esrim yom, shehaym shelosha shavuot ushnay yamim baomer

Vegetarianism is the way of the future. It's really inspiring how many teenagers put two and two together and realize that they don't want animals on their plates. Here is a great article from earlier this month about the phenomenon of teen vegetarianism, and here is a terrific article by a vegetarian teen from a Jewish perspective. In the words of Dominion author (and former Bush speechwriter) Matthew Scully, "In America some seventeen million people are already vegetarians, most of them teenagers and college students whose influence in the world has yet to be felt."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hayom sh'nayim v'esrim yom, shehaym shelosha shavuot v'yom echad baomer

Cured meats can cause lung damage. That finding was announced earlier this month when a study was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The study found that people who regularly consumed cured meats were nearly twice as likely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Says the doctor who led the study, "Cured meats ... are high in nitrites, which are added to meat products as a preservative, an anti-microbial agent and a colour fixative. Nitrites ... may cause damage to the lungs, producing structural changes resembling emphysema."

Monday, April 23, 2007

Hayom echad v'esrim yom, shehaym shlosha shavuot baomer

This blog has a Jewish focus, but I think it's fascinating to spend just one post discussing the myriad Buddhist reasons to go vegetarian. According to Koshelya Walli's The Concept of Ahimsa in Indian Thought, Buddhist reasons to go vegetarian include the notions that eating animals might mean eating one's kin from another life, flesh food is foul and odorous, terrible greed results from meat-eating, and those connected with meat production and consumption will be doomed for future lives. According to the Lankavatara Sutra (a Zen Buddhist text), reasons to go vegetarian include the notions that eating others is like eating your own kind, meat-eating causes attachment to meat, vegetarianism is a just and compassionate diet, a compassionate heart will ensue from compassionate actions toward animals, bodhisattvas cannot reach the ends they desire if they consume meat, animal food is unhealthy and sordid, flesh foods might as well tempt one toward cannibalism, and the eradication of meat consumption will eliminate all unsympathetic deeds in the world.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Hayom esrim yom, shehaym sh'nay shavuot v'shisha yamim baomer

Happy Yom Ha'atzmaut! After India, Israel is the country with the most faith-based vegetarians. The first three chief rabbis of Israel were vegetarian. Perhaps the most famous of them, Rav Kook, wrote the following in "A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace": "[T]he free movement of the moral impulse to establish justice for animals generally and the claim of their rights from mankind are hidden in a moral psychic sensibility in the deeper layers of the Torah." It's worth noting that in the last year, important animal welfare rulings have been made by Israel's Sephardic and Ashkenazi chief rabbis. The Israeli government is on the same page, as it has recently banned the practices of force-feeding birds for foie gras and denying water to calves raised for veal. Also of interest is the fact that vegetarian schnitzel now outsells chicken schnitzel in Israel by a 3:2 ratio, with more than half of the Israeli population regularly eating mock-meat products.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Hayom tisha asar yom, shehaym sh'nay shavuot va'chamisha yamim baomer

Eating meat supports industries that greatly pollute our planet's water, which isn't exactly consistent with the environmental ideals we talk about on Earth Day. Manure from pigs, chickens, and cattle has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:
By definition, AFOs [animal feeding operations] produce large amounts of waste in small areas. . . . Manure, and wastewater containing manure, can severely harm river and stream ecosystems. Manure contains ammonia which is highly toxic to fish at low levels. Increased amounts of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, from AFOs can cause algal blooms which block waterways and deplete oxygen as they decompose. This can kill fish and other aquatic organisms, devastating the entire aquatic food chain.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Hayom shemonah asar yom, shehaym sh'nay shavuot v'arbaa yamim baomer

If you're vegetarian, you're in good company. Vegetarian celebrities include Natalie Portman, Alicia Silverstone, Sir Paul McCartney, Pamela Anderson, Prince, Carrie Underwood, Shania Twain, Jonathan Safran Foer, Chelsea Clinton, and Dennis Kucinich. There have been myriad famous vegetarians throughout history, including Pythagoras, Buddha, Mahavira, Plato, Plutarch, Leonardo da Vinci, Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, George Bernard Shaw, and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hayom shiva asar yom, shehaym sh'nay shavuot ushlosha yamim baomer

Seventy percent of the approximately 9 billion "broiler" chickens killed each year in the U.S. are given a feed that contains roxarsone. Roxarsone is a common arsenic-based additive used in chicken feed, and people who eat chickens wind up ingesting it. Earlier this month, the American Chemical Society said in a news release: "[U]nder certain anaerobic conditions, within live chickens and on farm land, the compound is converted into more toxic forms of inorganic arsenic. Arsenic has been linked to bladder, lung, skin, kidney and colon cancer, while low-level exposures can lead to partial paralysis and diabetes .... "

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Hayom shisha asar yom, shehaym sh'nay shavuot ushnay yamim baomer

The question is not "Is it OK to kill one animal for food?" The question is "Is it acceptable to support an industry that kills approximately 10 billion land animals for food each year in the U.S. alone?" The numbers are so huge that they're difficult to comprehend. The question is not "Is it acceptable to treat an individual animal with kindness and eat the animal's flesh?" The reality is that, according to 2006 U.S. projections, approximately 9,575,000,000 "broiler" chickens, 389,000,000 egg-laying chickens, 31,000,000 ducks, 290,000,000 turkeys, 4,000,000 sheep and goats, 123,000,000 pigs, and 40,000,000 cattle are regarded as economic units and not treated with kindness.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Hayom chamisha asar yom, shehaym sh'nay shavuot v'yom echad baomer

According to philosopher Tom Regan, humans are entitled to "rights" because we are "subjects-of-a-life." We are all aware of what happens to us, it matters because it makes a difference with regard to the quality and duration of our lives, as experienced by us, whether or not anyone else cares. No matter our differences, we hold these similarities in common and deserve equal moral consideration. Animals (at least all vertebrate animals) meet these same criteria and, Regan contends, are also entitled to rights and equal moral consideration. Says Regan:
Here are a few examples of how the world will have to change once we learn to treat animals with respect. 1. We will have to stop raising them for their flesh. ... When it comes to how humans exploit animals, recognition of their rights requires abolition, not reform. Being kind to animals is not enough. Avoiding cruelty is not enough. Whether we exploit animals to eat [or in other ways] ... the truth of animal rights requires empty cages, not larger cages.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Hayom arbaa asar yom, shehaym sh'nay shavuot baomer

Vertebrate animals can suffer and have the capacity to feel joy, fear, and other emotions. Many develop friendships and have strong family bonds. Chickens, for example, are sophisticated animals whose cognitive abilities surpass those of dogs, cats, and even some primates. If you wouldn't inflict acts of cruelty on dogs or cats, it's no more morally acceptable to do the same thing to chickens or other animals. This is what went through my head when I saw the ad to the left: Wait, that's not a dog saying, "Woof." That's a chicken. I expected a dog to bark, not a chicken. But wait, why wouldn't I regard chickens in the same way as I regard dogs? If I wouldn't cut the muzzle off a dog or slit open a dog's throat while he or she is still conscious, why is it OK to do that to a chicken? It's not.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hayom sh'losha asar yom, shehaym shavua echad v'shisha yamim baomer

Many people eat meat and thereby support cruelty to animals, even though they wouldn't be able to perform those cruel practices themselves or even watch them. It's no more morally acceptable to pay other people to commit these cruel acts for you than to do them yourself. In the words of PETA vice president Bruce Friedrich:
Please ask yourself: “Would you want to work on a factory farm, searing the beaks off of chickens or castrating pigs and cows without painkillers, and so on?” “Would you want to work on a factory fishing trawler?” “Are [there] other areas of your life where you participate in practices that would repulse you if you had to watch them happening?” You know, most of us could watch grains being tilled or even spend an afternoon shucking corn or picking beans, fruits, or vegetables. Seriously, how many of us would want to spend an afternoon slitting open animals’ throats?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Hayom sh'naym asar yom, shehaym shavua echad vachamisha yamim baomer

The average American's cholesterol level is 210, whereas the average vegetarian's is 161 and the average vegan's is 133. It's been said that if you have a cholesterol level under 150, you're essentially "heart-attack proof." Heart researchers have found that a vegan diet can substantially lower cholesterol levels and help reverse heart disease. Not only do vegan foods not contain cholesterol, but their high fiber content helps reduce cholesterol in the digestive tract. A low-fat vegan diet is a great defense against heart disease, the nation's #1 killer. And as Dr. Dean Ornish has said, "I don't understand why asking people to eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet is considered drastic, while it's medically conservative to cut people open or put them on powerful cholesterol-lowering drugs for the rest of their lives."

Friday, April 13, 2007

Hayom achad asar yom, shehaym shavua echad v'arbaa yamim baomer

Unlike natural carnivores, humans physiologically aren't built to handle meat too well. I recognize that omnivores are capable of eating both animal-based and plant-based food, but consider the facts and check out this essay by syndicated cartoonist Dan Piraro. Unlike humans, carnivores have long, pointy teeth that tear through flesh. Unlike humans' jaws, carnivores' jaws move up and down but not side to side because they swallow meat in whole pieces and don't chew on vegetation. Unlike humans, carnivores have relatively short intestines so that meat doesn't sit around in their bodies and rot, which causes numerous health problems. Unlike humans, carnivores have stomach acids that kill bacteria, so they can eat raw meat without getting sick. Piraro says, "Here's a test you can try at home: put a two-year-old in a playpen with an apple and a rabbit. If it plays with the apple and eats the rabbit, you've got a carnivore."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hayom asara yamim, shehaym shavua echad ushlosha yamim baomer

According to a 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (measured in carbon dioxide equivalent). That's more than the greenhouse gas emissions of all transport vehicles combined! Animal agriculture is a major contributor to global warming. Talk about an inconvenient truth.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Hayom tisha yamim, shehaym shavua echad ushnay yamim baomer

You can give up meat without giving up the taste of meat! There are myriad different "mock meat" products on the market. Some aren't terrific, but some are out of this world. I highly recommend Gardenburger's Flame-Grilled Burgers, Veggie Breakfast Sausage, Riblets, and Herb-Crusted Cutlets; Nate's Chicken-Style Meatless Nuggets; Worthington Chickette; Tofurky sausages; Boca Chik'n Patties; Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Steak Strips; and Gimme Lean's Sausage and Ground Beef flavors. Check out May Wah, Pangea, and your local health-food store or Asian food mart for an even wider selection. These mock meats are generally made from soy or wheat gluten. They're processed, but they're healthier than meat and they're perfect for barbecues, transitioning to a vegetarian diet, and so much more!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hayom shmona yamim, shehaym shavua echad v'yom echad baomer

In close confinement and under stressful conditions, pigs are likely to chew on each other's tails; to prevent this, pigs have their tails cut off and their teeth cut down. When they're confined to sheds by the hundreds of thousands, chickens are unable to establish a normal pecking order and would peck at each other recklessly; to prevent this, baby chickens have their sensitive beaks seared off with a hot iron blade. Similarly, turkeys are debeaked, detoed, and desnooded. Cows are dehorned. Males of many species are castrated. All these procedures are performed without the use of any painkillers. These excruciatingly painful bodily mutilations allow the meat industry to continue its cruel and unnatural ways; by going vegetarian, you can stop supporting institutionalized animal abuse.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Hayom shiva yamim, shehaym shavua echad baomer

There's a popular misconception that animals can't be treated too badly because their mistreatment would be illegal. But for animals raised for food, just about anything goes. The only federal law concerning animal welfare in the slaughter process does not protect birds, who make up about 95 percent of the animals killed for food in this country each year. No federal law regulates how farmed animals should be treated while they are being raised. More than half the states in the U.S. have anti-cruelty laws that do not apply to farming practices that are "accepted," "common," "customary," or "normal," and birds are often exempt from protection under these state laws as well.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Hayom shisha yamim baomer

Working in a slaughterhouse is a dirty job, and so long as people keep eating meat, someone's gotta do it. As it says on, "According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly one in three slaughterhouse workers suffers from illness or injury every year, compared to one in 10 workers in other manufacturing jobs. The rate of repetitive stress injury for slaughterhouse employees is 35 times higher than it is for those with other manufacturing jobs." According to Human Rights Watch, "Meatpacking is the most dangerous factory job in America."

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Hayom chamisha yamim baomer

Being vegetarian makes it easier to keep kosher. You don't have to worry about whether you're eating meat that's certified kosher (and whether that certification meets Jewish ideals) if you're not eating meat. You don't have to worry about mixing meat and dairy products if you're avoiding one or both of those categories altogether. As one vegetarian rabbi explained in a 2005 Jewish Ledger article, "We have one set of dishes (plus Passover dishes) and never have to worry about the status of leftovers in the fridge or whether a guest will mix the utensils or food items. ... By not eating meat, I am much more certain to never violate, even accidentally, the Biblical and rabbinic prohibitions concerning non-kosher meat."

Friday, April 6, 2007

Hayom arba'a yamim baomer

Vegetarians smell better. According to a recent scientific study, "[T]he odor of donors when on the nonmeat diet was judged as significantly more attractive, more pleasant, and less intense." If all the seemingly more significant reasons to go vegetarian aren't convincing enough, maybe this will do the trick.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Hayom shlosha yamim baomer

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 70 percent of food poisoning is caused by animal flesh. According to a Wall Street Journal article earlier this week, about a quarter of chicken flocks in the U.K. have tested positive for salmonella! Things don't look too bright on the domestic front: The percentage of chicken carcasses with salmonella just about doubled between 2000 and 2005. But don't expect the government to get to the bottom of the problem. Last year, at the urging of the meat industry, the USDA decided to reduce the number of slaughterhouses tested for salmonella. Eating meat sends an invitation to salmonella and other forms of bacterial contamination.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Hayom sh'nay yamim baomer

On Passover, we remember that we were once enslaved and think about those who are denied their freedom today. Animals raised for food certainly fall into that category. About 95 percent of the 300 million egg-laying hens in the U.S. are confined to "battery cages" that are so tiny that each of the approximately seven birds crammed inside can't even stretch a single wing. In order for their muscles to stay weak and tender for humans' taste preferences, calves raised for veal are confined to narrow veal crates where they can't turn around or move more than a step or two forward or backward. When they're pregnant and nursing, mother pigs are confined to gestation crates and farrowing stalls where their movement is severely restricted. And while it may be harder to empathize with them, fish feel pain just like all animals do; fish raised on fish farms (more than 30 percent of all the sea animals consumed each year) are confined to conditions with extremely high "stocking densities"—a picture is worth 1,000 words.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Hayom yom echad baomer

Male chicks born in the egg industry can't lay eggs and they're not bred to be very meaty, so they're ground up alive or tossed in trash bags the day they're born. Cows must be routinely impregnated in order to give milk, but male offspring can't give milk and are used for veal; about 15 percent of these surplus male calves are killed within days of being born for what's known as "bob veal," and other veal calves are sent to slaughter at 4 months of age. Pigs and lambs are slaughtered when they're 5 to 7 months old. Chickens raised for their flesh are slaughtered at 6 to 7 weeks of age, which is about 1 percent of their natural lifespans. Ducks raised for foie gras can live for up to 18 years, but they are slaughtered within 4 months of birth. Animals raised for food are killed before they even get a chance to live. By going vegetarian, you can stop supporting the industries that are responsible for these cruel practices.