"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)


2007 Retrospective

I recently had a guest post on The Jew & The Carrot, titled "Factory Farming: A 2007 Retrospective":
In 2007, we witnessed the very beginnings of a revolution in the way farmed animals are treated. Thanks to a series of major announcements this year, the cruel confinement typical of factory-farming is, in several cases, on its way out.

In January, Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pig-meat producer, announced that it is phasing out gestation crates—which prevent pregnant sows from turning around—within 10 years. The announcement has already had a ripple effect in the pork industry, as Maple Leaf Foods (Canada’s leading pork producer) announced shortly afterward that it would phase out gestation crates and Cargill Foods said that it has stopped using gestation crates in half of its pig factory farms.

Additionally, earlier this year, the American Veal Association decided unanimously to phase out the chaining of calves by their necks inside solitary crates—which is currently a standard practice—by 2017. (A quarter of a century ago, Orthodox Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, an influential halachic authority in the U.S., ruled that Jews are forbidden from eating veal raised in such cruel conditions.)

After a PETA investigation documented inhumane conditions—including battery cages—at a South Carolina monastery’s egg factory farm, the abbey announced this month that it would get out of the egg business within a year and a half. Compass Group (the world’s largest food-service provider), Wolfgang Puck, Burger King, and CKE Restaurants (the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s) all made movement away from eggs from battery cages this year; some of those companies committed to other animal welfare improvements as well. This is great news considering that 95 percent of eggs consumed in the U.S. come from hens in battery cages.

Without a doubt, animals will continue to suffer tsa’ar ba’alei chayim (unnecessary animal suffering) when they are mass-produced for their flesh, eggs, and dairy products. For me, boycotting the meat industry is the only way to make sure I don’t contribute to this cruelty. But any step toward being less cruel to animals raised for food is a step in the right direction.
In 2007, some major store chains decided to stop selling foie gras and live lobsters! Raley's (which owns the Raley's, Bel Air, Nob Hill, and Food Source chains) announced that it would no longer sell live lobsters, following the lead of Whole Foods, which made a similar announcement concerning live lobsters and soft-shell crabs last year. And Giant Eagle and Harvey Nichols decided to bid "au revoir" to foie gras.

There have been some big legislative victories as well. Oregon banned gestation crates for pigs, following the lead of Arizona and Florida. And in the U.K., the city councils of York, Bolton, and Norwich voted nearly unanimously to oppose the sale of foie gras; the production of foie gras is already prohibitied in the U.K.


Guest Post: Introducing ShalomVeg.com!

Guest post by Boris Dolin (director, ShalomVeg.com)

When I started rabbinical school a few years ago, I noticed that in my own community and in those I visited there were growing numbers of vegetarians, and I met people who stopped eating meat for many different reasons. Some couldn't justify saying they loved animals and then continue to eat them. Some said that it was their way of keeping kosher. Others simply did it for their health or because they didn't like the idea of eating meat. There were vegetarians and a sprinkling of animal activists all across the denominational spectrum, and I was thankful that saying I was a vegan was not something that got me into too much trouble.

The exploration of the connections between Judaism, vegetarianism and animal issues is not new, but only recently has the subject really moved into the forefront. The recent Hazon conference, the JVNA documentary A Sacred Duty, and the great posts here on Heeb'n'Vegan are good examples. Yet, as I talked with the Jewish vegetarians and animal activists I met, I realized that there was a definite need for something else--for a place where the community could connect with each other and feel at "home". Many people felt that while they could be openly vegetarian in their Jewish communities, people did not always fully understand the issues or misunderstood the reasons for their eating choices. Others said that their veggie friends never fully appreciated their pride in being Jewish, or recognized the importance of issues such as social justice and compassion towards animals in the Jewish tradition. With these ideas in mind, I decided to create a website where the Jewish vegetarian and animal rights community could meet and connect with each other--hopefully gaining strength to make important changes in the world.

ShalomVeg went online last month as a comprehensive free online community for Jewish vegetarians, vegans and animal rights activists to learn, network and build connections with each other. On the site users can catch up on current animal rights and Jewish news, search for and share recipes, and explore the growing article and essay collection. If you register on the site--don’t worry it’s free and completely private--you can also:

  • Create an online profile (like a simple veggiefied version of Facebook) and meet other people who share your interests and passions; find people in your area, work on projects, or share activism ideas with the people you meet; and add others to your friends list, send messages, and create your own mini-community.
  • Join the forums to learn, share and ask questions.
  • Create your own blog space to share your thoughts.
  • Use the classified ads pages to buy, sell, share a skill, or make an announcement.
  • Submit your own articles, essays and stories to share with ShalomVeg readers, and comment on articles you have read.

Other sections such as chat rooms and a "creative corner" will be added in the next few weeks.

Like any community, ShalomVeg is starting small, and we are looking for any and all ideas about what you would like to see on the site. Please register, spread the word and make the site your own. The more people who join the community, the more we can make change!

The site can be found at http://www.shalomveg.com.

Looking forward to seeing you at ShalomVeg!


Add The Clash's Mick Jones to the List of Vegetarian Jewish Punks

Last year, I wrote a post about prominent Jews in the punk scene who are vegetarians and animal advocates, namely The Ramones' Joey Ramone, NOFX's Fat Mike, New Found Glory's Ian Grushka, Yidcore's Bram Presser, and the members of Useless ID. Add Mick Jones, the guitarist of The Clash, to the list!

The New York Times noted in an article this week:
Mr. Jones explained that he doesn't consume meat or dairy. "I read about how animals experience fear on the way to slaughter," he said. "I didn't want to eat that. I figured it would make me a stronger person."

I first learned that Jones is Jewish by listening to Yidcore's "Punk Rock Chanukah Song." (The video shows an animated Jones dancing the hora while wearing a Union Jack shirt, set to the lyrics "Lou Reed danced the hora at his bar mitzvah bash, with li'l Jonny Richman and Mick Jones from The Clash.") According to The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk, Jones is the author of the line "He thinks it's not kosher!" in The Clash's "Rock the Casbah." Vivien Goldman, a prominent music critic in The Clash's heyday, is quoted in the book as saying:
[T]he English and the American experience is so different, but I would say that there are hardly any Jews in punk in England, and that the main role of Jews in punk in England was ideological, and in terms of formulating the identity of punk. It was not so much in the bands, although there was ... Mick Jones ... it's because of Mick, I think, that we have that line 'This is not kosher' [sic] which is the biggest Jewish line in punk, as far as I can see. ... It was kind of radical, because it's so rare to hear any Jewish terminology used in England. It's not like here where everybody schleps. So I thought it was very bold to have the Jewish vibe out there in the punk mainstream.


A Post in the Key of Random

I haven't posted much lately, but there actually are some big posts in the works for the coming months! (And I drafted two different Hanukkah posts that failed to materialize for a variety of a reasons.)

Vegan Jews Against Genocide
A year and a half after Vegan Jews Against Genocide attended a Save Darfur rally (click here to read my blog post about it), a photo of our ad hoc trio has appeared in the New Jersey Jewish News. Amusingly, the article is titled "People for the Ethical Treatment of Humans" and the photo bears the caption "Can Jewish political impulses be reconciled with religious injunctions?" The paper has several other articles with a "You Are What You Eat? New Jewish Views on Food" focus this week.

Kvetchin' in the Kitchen
Earlier this week, I made a tofu scramble without matzoh for the first time in ages. It just didn't taste right. It seems that I've become conditioned to turning tofu scramble into vegan—albeit kitniyot-laden—matzoh brie.

New Term for Vegetarian Jews
I'd like to take credit for coining the terms "heebnvegan" and "herbivorous heebs," but I just found out about an amazing new term: "vego yiddin." It's from a song on Yidcore's CD They Tried to Kill Us. They Failed. Let's Eat! (I'll probably save the review for when the album drops in the U.S.) Yidcore frontman Bram Presser was featured in my post about vegetarian Jewish punk rockers; perhaps that's what inspired him?


A Sacred Duty: The New JVNA Documentary

On November 20, I attended the U.S. premiere of A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World in Staten Island, N.Y. The film is a presentation of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and looks at environmental devastation, health concerns, treatment of animals in agriculture, and other issues as they pertain to Jewish teachings and vegetarianism. (Click here to read my December 2005 post, "The Video That Can Spur Action").

Although the film had already opened to positive reviews in Israel (see related articles in The Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz), the U.S. premiere felt like a pretty big deal to those in attendance. It was finally an opportunity to see the movie that, as I said in my previous post, "has more potenetial than anything else I can think of to generate long overdue dialogue about vegetarianism and related issues within the Jewish community." In attendence were JVNA president and A Sacred Duty associate producer Richard Schwartz (it was such an honor to finally meet him), JVNA secretary/treasurer John Diamond, 101 Reason Why I'm a Vegetarian author Pamela Rice, and Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society president Roberta Schiff (who will be providing a vegetarian perspective at next weekend's Hazon Food Conference).

A Sacred Duty is not the Jewish "Meet Your Meat"; check out Jonathan Safran Foer's "If This Is Kosher ..." if that's what you're looking for. While its discussion and footage of factory-farming and related issues is powerful and persuasive, there's a lot more to this film. The hour-long documentary was poignantly and beautifully put together by award-winning director Lionel Friedberg. It serves as tikkun olam in action, portraying the message that a time for healing is upon us.

A Sacred Duty focuses a great deal of attention on environmental issues (particularly in Israel) and goes on to talk about the effects of animal agriculture on global warming. The film discusses "one of the least known and seldom discussed aspects of global warming:" 18% of greenhouse gas emissions come from animal agriculture. The film shows graphics that illustrate how animal agriculture is an inefficient way of providing food for the world and discusses the health considerations of an animal-based diet. And of course, the case to prevent tza'ar ba'alei chayim (unnecessary animal suffering) is given as a call to action after portraying the horrendous abuses of animals raised for food. The film shows that these issues aren't just important on their own; they're crucial as Jewish issues as well.

What makes A Sacred Duty such an effective outreach tool for the Jewish community? While all the above info can be found in books and on Web sites, the film takes viewers face to face with pro-vegetarian rabbis, activists, and Jewish thinkers. In addition to hearing about Rav Kook (the first Ashkenazic chief rabbi of pre-state Israel), we hear powerful words from Rabbi David Rosen (the former chief rabbi of Ireland) and Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen (the Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Haifa). We hear powerful calls to action from Schwartz, Jews for Animal Rights president Roberta Kalechofsky, and many other key figures. In a way that a book simply cannot do, A Sacred Duty puts the message out so that it can be easily accessed by synagogue congregations, youth groups, and community organizations.

A Sacred Duty has premiered, and mass mailings of the DVD have begun. But there's a lot more work to be done. Please consider organizing a screening for a local Jewish group; prepare to give a short speech and host a discussion as well, perhaps bringing with you some vegan food samples and copies of PETA's "Vegetarian Starter Kit" or "A Case for Jewish Vegetarianism" brochures. (Click here for my post about giving a talk about vegetarianism in the Jewish tradition.)

Please go to www.ASacredDuty.com to read more about the film and to learn how to order copies of the DVD.