Richard H. Schwartz
Vegan, climate change,and social justice activist

Animal-based Diets are Madness and Sheer Insanity

As is well known, it is unlawful to shout “FIRE” in a crowded theater. EXCEPT if there really is a fire. And there is increasing evidence that the world is burning today, 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 recognise that animal-based diets and agriculture are madness and sheer insanity and consider this in our efforts to reduce the consumption of meat and other animal products. Please consider:

• A 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 and a 2009 cover story, “Livestock and Climate Change,” by two environmentalists associated with the World Bank concluded that the livestock sector is responsible for at least 51% of all hunan-induced greenhouse gases. Yet, while the impacts of clmate change are increasingly experienced,, the rate of consumption of animal products worldwide is increasing and projected by that 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 climate change, the average diet of a meat-eater requires 13 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 about 800 million people worldwide 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, life threatening 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 “madness and 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, and the threats they represent to the world’s environmental future, I think that we should consider some radical approaches. For example, I think vegetarian/vegan and animal rights 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 Jewish teachings on compassion, justice, sharing, health, environmental sustainability, and other values. Efforts to engage rabbis in respectful dialogs on “Should Jews Be Vegetarians?” have spanned many years. However, despite the fact that rabbis and other Jewish scholars know far more about Judaism than I and other Jewish veg activists do, they have been unwilling to have a dialog/debate with us, because our case is so strong. Ads in a few Jewish weeklies with background information and an invitation to start dialogues 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 climate and other environmental catastrophes and why a major societal shift to vegetarianism and veganism is an essential part of the necessary responses.
• Environmentalists for not making shifts away from animal-based diets a major part of their agendas. As vegan activist 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.

Vegetarians, vegans, and animal rights activists should put spreading the message re dietary connections to climate change and other environmental threats at the top of their agendas, and consider how to put the suggestions made above and others into practice.

About the Author
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet, and Mathematics and Global Survival, and over 200 articles and 25 podcasts at He is President Emeritus of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and President of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV). He is associate producer of the 2007 documentary “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World.” He is also a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Staten Island, which is part of the City University of New York.
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