"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


Eretz Yisrael, Here I Come!

I'm getting ready to leave for a Birthright trip. I went to Israel with my parents when I was 15, and I'm greatly looking forward to appreciating "The Homeland" in a different light. The trip has a "Peace, Pluralism, and Social Justice" focus, and I'm going with two friends: Jessica from Vegan Jews Against Genocide and Michelle from the Vegetarian Choir.

There are many questions on my mind. Is there anything more glorious than 10 days of falafel, hummus, pita, and vegetarian schnitzel? Will I be able to use the Jewdriver yarmulke I got from the band's bassist (Kilgore Gefilte), or will I have to rely on the more appropriate kippah that I'm taking as a spare? Did I go overboard in decorating an Empire Kosher water bottle (found at a yard sale) with animal rights stickers? Is there any chance that the Israelis joining our tour for a few days will include members of Useless ID? What will it be like going on a trip that promotes peace while the tension is escalating?

My air guitar is already packed.


In Memory of Gretchen Wyler

"Animals should have the right to swim if they have fins, run if they have legs, and fly if they have wings."
—Gretchen Wyler
Gretchen Wyler passed away yesterday. A famous actor and dancer in her younger years, Wyler went on to become the first woman to serve on the board of the ASPCA and as vice chair of the Fund for Animals. In 1986, Wyler founded the Genesis Awards, which has since become part of The Humane Society of the United States. The Genesis Awards is an annual star-studded Beverly Hills awards show that honors members of the media and entertainment industry for portraying a positive take on animal protection issues and shining the spotlight on animal abuse.

I had the honor of meeting Wyler and attending the Genesis Awards twice (the picture is from 2005). Those were the only times that a student award was given out, and I was the commendee in 2004 and the winner in 2005. Wyler was an extremely warm, personable, and devoted animal defender. Her brainchild, the Genesis Awards, operates under the slogan "Cruelty Can't Stand the Spotlight," and for me, those have been words to live by. The Genesis Awards is a fantastic way of encouraging the media to expose the hideous exploitation of animals, and Wyler's legacy will live on through the Genesis Awards.


So Much to Blog About, So Little Time

First of all, I'd like to thank the heebnvegan faithful for reading my blog. heebnvegan reached the milestone of 10,000 page views today!

Here are some tidbits of news that deserve individual posts but are being combined into one:
  • Israel's Knesset banned animal testing for cosmetics products, reports The Jerusalem Post. Says the lawmaker who spearheaded the effort, "On the basis of what [my daughter] saw and learned, she convinced me that this was a bill that needed to be passed. I am very proud of this new generation that wants a more humane society and will ensure a bright future for Israel."
  • Reform Judaism has a great interview with Rabbi Simeon Maslin, who says, "I firmly believe that those who do eat meat are obliged by ethical considerations to see to it that whatever meat they eat has been produced with the least possible pain to animals in observance of tzaar baalei chayim." Rabbi Maslin goes on to talk about the kosher meat industry and other things worth reading.
  • The New York Times recently had an article about Rabbi Morris Allen, the Conservative rabbi who is leading the call for a hechsher tzedek (justice certification) for kosher foods.
  • Kosher Today reports, "Vegetarians are visiting the kosher aisles in increasing numbers, particularly the frozen section. ... One retailer said that he is increasingly seeing 'the 6-day kosher vegetarian,' meaning that they stay away from meat during the 6 days of the week and eat meat or poultry on the Shabbat. But there is a consensus that non-Jewish vegetarians are buying many of the pareve [no meat or dairy] items in freezer cases that range from vegetarian burgers to vegetarian chopped liver. ... Israeli manufacturers like Soglowek have invested in the future development of the vegetarian sector and the company's vegetarian lines have increased dramatically over the past few years. From all the evidence, it appears that vegetarians are adding to the growing ranks of non-traditional consumers."


Kosher Meat Article in New Voices

It's been a year and a half since I submitted my original proposal, and my feature about animal welfare and the kosher meat industry has finally been published in New Voices, the national Jewish student magazine. Click here to read the article.

The article is a summary of many things I've been covering on heebnvegan, but it exposes quite a bit more. It talks about how animals killed for kosher food aren't treated any differently than other farmed animals during their lifetimes. It discusses the questionable practices, in terms of animal welfare and other issues, in kosher slaughterhouses. It quotes several Jews who have had enough with the kosher meat industry and choose to opt out:
"Can kashrut have any meaning if it is applied like this? This isn't the kosher that I was brought up to be proud of. This isn't anybody's kosher. Such blatant and vicious disregard for life has absolutely no place in a religion that sanctifies life."
Jonathan Safran Foer, author

"I do firmly believe that G-d opposes all unnecessary suffering and abuse. ... And the way animals are raised for food—even for kosher meat—is so horrific that any Jew who truly believes in G-d's view of compassion and mercy to all His creatures should oppose it."
—Josh Balk, The Humane Society of the United States


Recounting the Counting of the Omer

I just posted the 49th and final post on CountingTheOmer.blogspot.com, as tonight is the last night before Shavuot. Highlights include five consecutive Torah posts and special theme posts for Passover, Earth Day, Yom Ha'atzmaut, Lag B'Omer, Mother's Day, and Shavuot. I finished this project with plenty more reasons to go vegetarian that I never got a chance to mention!

I'd like to view CountingTheOmer.blogspot.com as a great success. As of tonight, it has been viewed more than 700 times. It got mentioned in Jewschool, The Jew & The Carrot, and The PETA Files. I wrote an article about the blog's advocacy for vegetarianism that should be published some time this week. And there were some very inspiring notes and discussions in the comments section, including this one: "Your blog is the most positive thing I have yet seen relating to the Judaism I left at roughly the age of 17 ...."

I hope that CountingTheOmer.blogspot.com can be a reference point about the myriad different reasons to go vegetarian, for people counting the omer and under other circumstances. Please visit CountingTheOmer.blogspot.com for more information about these 49 reasons to go vegetarian:

1. Animals raised for food are killed before they even get a chance to live.
2. Farmed animals are confined to tiny spaces.
3. Eating meat sends an invitation to salmonella and other forms of bacterial contamination.
4. Vegetarians smell better.
5. Being vegetarian makes it easier to keep kosher.
6. Working in a slaughterhouse is a dirty, dangerous job, and so long as people keep eating meat, someone's gotta do it.
7. By and large, laws do not protect farmed animals from hideous abuses.
8. Farmed animals are subjected to various bodily mutilations, all without the use of any painkillers.
9. Thanks to the wide variety of mock meats on the market, you can give up meat without giving up the taste of meat.
10. Animal agriculture is a major contributor to global warming.
11. Unlike natural carnivores, humans physiologically aren't built to handle meat well.
12. A vegan diet is a great defense against cholesterol problems.
13. It's no more morally acceptable to pay other people to commit acts of cruelty to farmed animals for you than to do them yourself.
14. 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.
15. Animals are "subjects-of-a-life" and are, therefore, entitled to rights and equal consideration.
16. Eating meat is not a question of whether it's acceptable to kill one animal for food but a question of supporting a system that kills more than 10,000,000,000 animals.
17. Most chickens in the U.S. consume feed laced with roxarsone, an arsenic-based additive.
18. Thanks to the myraid vegetarian celebrities and historical vegetarians, going vegetarian means you're in good company.
19. Eating meat supports industries that greatly pollute our planet's water.
20. Vegetarianism is thriving in the Jewish homeland.
21. There are many great Buddhist reasons to go vegetarian.
22. Cured meats can cause lung damage.
23. Vegetarianism is the way of the future.
24. On average, adult vegans are 10 to 20 pounds lighter than adult meat-eaters.
25. Although humans are given dominion over animals, in the words of Rav Kook, "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."
26. G-d's original, uncompromised diet for humans was vegetarianism.
27. When G-d first granted humans permission to eat animals' flesh, it was a concession in the wake of less than ideal circumstances.
28. Once the Jews left Egypt and G-d had a chance to start over, he gave them manna, which was vegetarian, and the meat that He later conceded to give them caused a "very severe plague."
29. G-d's eventual permission to eat meat has been called a "barely tolerated dispensation"; it is anything but a commandment to eat meat.
30. Transport conditions for farmed animals headed to slaughter are atrocious.
31. Going vegetarian is a great way to impress a girl (or a boy).
32. Slaughter conditions for animals are inhumane.
33. Drawing from a Lag B'Omer story, Richard Schwartz and Daniel Brook note, "[A] vegetarian diet ... is enough to sustain a person as well as a people."
34. Eating meat is linked to various types of cancer.
35. Huge amounts of land are needed to grow food for farmed animals and for cattle to graze.
36. It's not quite ideal to feed grains to farmed animals and then consume those grains in the animals' flesh.
37. A vegetarian diet is so healthy that it's the chosen diet of quite a few health-conscious athletes.
38. 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.
39. The smell of factory farms is beyond people's worst nightmares.
40. The animal welfare, health, and environmental reasons to go vegetarian correspond to the Jewish principles of tsa'ar ba'alei chayim, pikuach nefesh, and bal tashchit.
41. The meat industry ignores the universal "honor thy mother" commandment.
42. 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.
43. 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.
44. 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.
45. Animals in factory farms can't enjoy any of the things that are natural and important to them.
46. Going vegetarian is easier now than ever before.
47. 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).
48. Mad cow disease and bird flu pose serious threats to human health.
49. Crops can go a long way to feed the hungry, but they are largely wasted by feeding billions of farmed animals.


Pig Flesh: Seriously Funny?

Yesterday, a friend sent me a cartoon featuring a picture of two pigs and the caption "Personally, I wish the whole world were Jewish." I thought it was cute and forwarded it to a few vegan Jews, but should I find the idea funny?

Let's first consider some examples from the "subsubsubsubgenre" of Jewish punk. Tel Aviv's Not Kosher uses a pig's head in their logo, and the cover of their Seriously Funny album shows a pig doing stand-up comedy. '90s Iowa punks Total Passover said, "Lips that touch swine / Will never touch mine / So get kosher," in the song "Get Kosher." Australia's Yidcore features a guitarist who sometimes performs with a pig mask ("Part Charlotte's Web. Totally unkosher," says the band) and, in animated fashion, turns a Hitler-like pig character ("Pigler") into a sausage in their latest music video.

Allow me to kill the mood for a second. The joke here makes light of the fact that Jews don't eat pork. It finds humor in that. For the most part, the consumption of pig flesh is portrayed as taboo and wrong: something we should distance ourselves from. But the fact that it's humorous ignores the suffering of pigs who are killed to have their flesh turned into pork. The joke implies that it's OK to eat meat that is kosher, and I certainly disagree with that idea.

It must be noted that the "Jews don't eat pork" joke can be used by vegetarian advocates as well. Last year, Heeb released a "Food Issue" featuring a picture of a pig on the cover and a spectacular six-page feature and interview with Animal Liberation author Peter Singer. Jewsweek once ran a Purim-themed article that used the "Jews don't eat pork" joke as a vehicle to promote vegetarianism (with a giant picture of a pig at the top of the page). In an article for the issue of New Voices that just went to press yesterday, I wrote, "By and large, these are the same animals—except the pigs, of course—that are sold as kosher meat."

I do find the joke funny, but I think vegetarian advocates should tread carefully when making any jokes about meat. We shouldn't forget, to refer back to the concept of the "absent referent" that I explored in my last post, that behind every piece of pork we joke about is the suffering and death of a pig. And we should remember that the approximately 123 million pigs killed each year in the U.S. need the help of vegetarian advocates just like other farmed animals do, even though Jews aren't usually the ones eating them. But since Jewish vegans certainly aren't the ones eating pigs, let's permit ourselves a bit of a chuckle!


Catchy Jewish Songs With Meat References

I’ve been singing a lot lately. Some of the songs have been by Jewish artists with Jewish themes, and some of the most sing-able have been about meat. Should this trouble me?

In Golem’s take on “Rumenye,” singer Aaron Diskin pines for pastramele and karnatsele not only in Yiddish but in English as well. Who wouldn’t be tempted to burst out, “Oh, I’m going crazy for a bite of a pastrami!” upon listening? The Fiddler on the Roof staple “If I Were a Rich Man” features onomatopoeic animal squawking—as Tevye fantasizes about filling his yard with various farmed animals—that I can’t help echoing every time I listen. "That’s Yiddisha Love," which appeared on last year’s Jewface album, offers the following advice for finding an NJG: “See that she can cook and make gefilte fish and noodles.” That last song is so catchy that I was planning to sing it at a local “Jewish American Pop Star” competition that was eventually canceled!

I’ve been vegetarian for eight years and vegan for half that time. One of my chief aims with this blog and in life is to show just how well Judaism and animal protection concerns are compatible with each other. I’ve organized numerous all-vegan holiday celebrations, including a “Vegan Jewish-Foods Mega-Potluck” on Rosh Hashanah that included round challah, apples and agave nectar, kugel, matzoh brie, potato latkes, karpas with saltwater, carrot tzimmes, and mock gefilte fish. As I wrote in a Jewish Journal of Los Angeles letter to the editor in December, “Not only is it easy to be vegetarian, it's easy to be vegetarian and eat Jewish foods.” We can have Jewish celebrations without pastramele and gefilte fish! But does that mean I shouldn’t sing Jewish songs with meat references?

The songs are all catchy and highly sing-able, so perhaps it’s not important what their lyrics say. While it's, of course, commonplace to object to songs with offensive lyrics, these songs don’t offend me. Part of me enjoys singing the meat lyrics because I find it humorous and ironic that I would repeat something I disagree with so much.

The meat references in these songs don’t talk about meat as animals who were raised in abhorrent conditions, slaughtered inhumanely, and miserable and suffering every step of the way. Referring to cows as “pastrami" (or "pastramele") and pikes as "gefilte fish" employs what The Sexual Politics of Meat author Carol Adams has called the “absent referent”:
Animals are made absent through language that renames dead bodies before consumers participate in eating them. Our culture further mystifies the term “meat” with gastronomic language, so we do not conjure dead, butchered animals, but cuisine. … One does not eat meat without the death of an animal. Lives are thus the absent referents in the concept of meat. . . . We fail to accord this absent referent its own existence.
My struggle as a vegetarian advocate is to make people realize that the pastrami on their plate was once a cow who was presumably factory-farmed, dehorned and branded without painkillers, and slaughtered, i.e., to make the absent realized in people’s minds.

I have a new plan: I will keep singing these songs to myself in my apartment and in my car, because no harm is done. I will try not to sing or air guitar songs with lyrics that promote meat without referring to animals’ suffering at public performances, because I shouldn’t use public forums to worsen how animals are viewed—or forgotten—by people. And I will organize a second annual Jewish Vegan-Foods Mega-Potluck on Rosh Hashanah, because it was yummy.