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.