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.