Animal-based Diets are Madness and Sheer Insanity
An Environmental Article from


Richard Schwartz,
June 2009

Political and environmental reasons to stop eating animals. Editor's Note: Though written as a call to why Jews should be vegetarians, Richard Schwartz's political arguments will be compelling to people from all religions or none.

In spite of the fact that we have truth, morality and justice on our side, that our case is rooted in basic Jewish teachings and that animal-based diets and agriculture sharply violate at least six basic Jewish values, the Jewish community continues to generally ignore the issues and refuses to engage in dialogs and debates on “Should Jews Be Vegetarians?”

As is well known, it is unlawful to shout “FIRE” in a crowded theater. EXCEPT if there really is a fire. And there is much evidence that the world is burning today, It looks increasingly like the world is rapidly approaching an unprecedented catastrophe from global warming and other environmental problems, and that animal-based agriculture is contributing substantially to these threats.

So, I think we should sharpen our arguments. For example, we should call animal-based diets and agriculture what they are today: madness and sheer insanity. Please consider:

  • While the 2006 UN FAO report ”Livestock's Long Shadow” indicates that 'livestock' agriculture emits more greenhouse gases (in CO2 equivalents) than all the cars, ships, planes and other means of transportation worldwide combined (18% vs. 13.5%), and the indications of global warming impacts grow almost daily, the rate of consumption of animal products is increasing and projected by that same UN report to double in 50 years. Madness and sheer insanity.
  • While this has been called the century of drought and billions of people live in areas chronically short of water and this is projected to increase due to the melting of glaciers, reduced rainfall and other effects of global warming, the average diet of a meat-eater requires 14 times as much water than the diet of a vegan. Madness and sheer insanity.
  • While an estimated 20 million of the world's people die of hunger and its effects annually and nearly a billion people are chronically malnourished due to a lack of food, 70 percent of the grain grown in the United States and 40 percent of the grain produced worldwide are fed to animals destined for slaughter. Madness and sheer insanity.
  • While obtaining enough energy is a major issue today, animal-based agriculture requires far more energy than plant-based agriculture. Madness and sheer insanity.
  • While there is currently an epidemic of heart diseases, various types of cancer and other chronic, degenerative diseases, there is little effort to inform people that well-balanced, nutritious vegan diets can prevent, alleviate and sometimes reverse these diseases. Madness and sheer insanity.

Many more examples of “madnessa dn sheer insanity” can be given related to such issues as the destruction of tropical rain forests, the rapid extinction of species, soil erosion and depletion, animal wastes polluting our waters and swine flu.

How best to respond to this madness and sheer insanity? In a talk in December, 1978 at Riverside Church on “Theological Implications of the Arms Race,” Reverend Robert McAfee Brown stated that the arms race was “madness and sheer insanity” (I am borrowing the phrase from him), because the US and then USSR could each wipe each other out with nuclear weapons many times over, and yet both continued to build additional nuclear weapons. He stated that, while one would think that one should apply sanity in response to the madness, what was really needed was a different kind of madness, what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heshel called “moral madness,” the madness of the biblical prophets, the type of madness that radically challenges the status quo, that is ready to challenge the prevailing ways of thinking, that is not afraid to take on the icons of society..

Hence, in view of the prevalent madness and sheer insanity, I think that we should consider some radical approaches. For example:

I think we (along with other vegetarian-related groups) should respectfully but forcefully challenge:

  • The medical profession, arguing that medical practice today is malpractice, unless doctors point out that many diseases can be prevented, alleviated and sometimes reversed through well-chosen vegetarian and preferably vegan diets. There is general agreement that the American medical system is dysfunctional and is a major contributor to soaring deficits, but almost all the attention is on how to best pay for the medical care, rather than on how to keep people healthy.
  • Jewish (and possibly other religious) establishments, since the production and consumption of animal products arguably violate at least 6 basic Jewish mandates. Efforts to engage rabbis in respectful dialogs on “Should Jews Be Vegetarians?” have spanned many years. However, in spite of the fact that most of my Jewish knowledge is self-learned and is far less than that of rabbis, no one has been willing to have a dialog/debate with me. Ads in a few Jewish weeklies could have a major impact which could spill over to other religions and perhaps beyond just religious groups.
  • The media for missing the most urgent story of today: how the world is heading toward disaster and why a major societal shift to vegetarianism is an essential part of the necessary responses.
  • Environmentalists for not making vegetarianism a major part of their agendas. As Howard Lyman has quipped, “An environmentalist who is not a vegetarian is like a philanthropist who does not give money.” Similar analyses can be made for people and groups concerned about hunger, energy, resource usage and other issues.

I think we should also respectfully request that President Obama consider shifting toward vegetarianism and also help increase awareness of the many benefits of plant-based diets and the many negatives of animal-based diets. A major letter-writing campaign got Michelle Obama to give a commencement address at a California college. Perhaps a major letter-writing campaign might also influence President Obama.

I think we should respectfully challenge vegetarians and animal rights activists to put spreading the message re dietary connections to global warming and other environmental threats at the top of their agendas, and also seek their help on any of the above suggestions that we might adopt.

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