"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)


BookExpo America

This weekend, I'm volunteering at BookExpo America, the biggest publishing industry event in North America. I've gotten more free books than I could carry without dropping them, and I've met dozens of interesting authors, including Dr. Ruth, Todd Oldham, and Patrick McDonnell.

Jane Velez-Mitchell
As TV host and CNN commentator Jane Velez-Mitchell was setting up, I thanked her for her recent spotlight on factory-farming and interview with Michael Greger of HSUS (see my post about it from earlier this month). When I picked up her book a little later, I heard her say, "I'm kosher too!" to the person in front of me in reference to her vegan diet. Velez-Mitchell told me that she has been vegan for 12 years and that her new book, iWant (which will be released in October), talks about veganism extensively. Here's an excerpt from the "Veganism/Animal Activism: I Want to Make a Difference" chapter in the galley:
The vegan transformation I've experienced goes way beyond diet. It's allowed me to put my spiritual and moral concepts into action on a daily basis.

Every morsel of food I put into my mouth is an environmental, political, moral, and spiritual choice. Every household product I buy is an environmental, political, moral, and spiritual choice. I always try to think before I choose. Sometimes, when I'm in a quandary, I pray before I choose.

Vegan Cookbooks and the Like
There's been some recent buzz in publishing circles about focusing on vegan cookbooks, including in Publishers Weekly and at the Making Information Pay conference. I chatted with and got a recipe sampler from VeganYumYum.com founder Lauren Ulm, whose Vegan Yum Yum: Decadent (But Doable) Animal-Free Recipes for Entertaining & Every Day will be released in September. I finally got to meet vegan cookbook icon Isa Chandra Moskowitz, who was signing copies of her new book, Vegan Brunch (which just came out on Tuesday). Terry Hope Romero, Moskowitz's coauthor for Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar (which will be released in November), signed promo materials for their upcoming book; delicious (and much appeciated) vegan cookies were distributed at their table. I also picked up a copy of Shannon Gannon's Yoga and Vegetarianism, which includes a foreword by Ingrid Newkirk.

Michael Muhammad Knight
I was first in line to meet Michael Muhammad Knight, who autographed a copy of his new book Osama Van Halen (which will be released on Tuesday) as well as my copy of The Taqwacores. In The Taqwacores, Knight painted such a vivid picture of Muslim punks that it inspired an actual "taqwacore" scene. Knight told me that to the best of knowledge, the Star of David has not been used as a Muslim punk symbol in real life, whereas it was in The Taqwacores. ("The old-school punks ... they used to wear the swastika and all this Nazi [expletive]. ... So if this is Muslim Punk, and our community and audience is all [expletive] Muslim, what symbol's more unsettling than the Star of [expletive] David?" said one character in The Taqwacores. Click here to read my 2008 article "Jewish Punks Embrace Nazi Rhetoric and Imagery.")



Chabad's Vegan Shabbat Dinner
A Chabad House in a particularly vegetarian-friendly area of England hosted a vegan Shabbat dinner earlier this month. A must-read Chabad.org article quoted one attendee as saying, "My veganism doesn’t clash with my Judaism. In fact, the Garden of Eden was a vegetarian paradise; no one was permitted to eat meat until after the flood." The attendee continued, "The vegan night was great. The food was brilliant. I felt the night brought us one step closer to bringing in the Messianic era."

Alleged Flood at AgriProcessors
Failed Messiah posted last week that it appears that AgriProcessors' equipment for beef production has been rendered ruined and irreparable because of a flood. Failed Messiah speculated about what this could potentially mean:
I think it means Agriprocessors will be primarily a poultry facility for the foreseeable future. It will also process cold cuts, some of them beef. This will be done by buying beef from other producers. Or it will be done because the [prospective] buyer [of AgriProcessors] is working as a front or in partnership with another kosher beef producer ....

Recent Goodies on The Jew & The Carrot
  • Rebecca Tanen talked about the International Vegetarian Food Fair at a Seventh-Day Adventist church and noted, "Judaism certainly believes in treating the body in a healthful way, and it was interesting to witness a faith that puts such a serious and spiritual emphasis on taking care of one’s body. ... I thought this was a great way to bring a community together while promoting a healthy lifestyle."
  • Eda Goldstein reflected on Ynet's recent ranking of the best hummus restaurants in Israel.
  • Cecily Marbach Oberstein is a vegetarian who handles and cooks meat for her husband and children, and she discussed her struggle with this. (Click here to read yesterday's heebnvegan post about handling and serving meat at a soup kitchen and in other special cases. Click here to read my March 2008 post about Jewish married couples that consist of one vegetarian and one meat-eater.) Here's an excerpt:
I am doing a lot of things that I thought I never would. I purchase, cook, serve, and clean up animals. I am personally responsible for creating a demand for these products. OK so I still avoid cooking cows and boycott steak restaurants but there are poor chickens whose lives rested in my hands and they lost, I lost. However I do have some rules in my house: 1. I never take compliments on the animals that I cook. 2. If it had to die to be at our table there better be no leftovers. Just as bad as buying and cooking the animals in my opinion, is throwing some away in the trash.


Feeding Meat to the Homeless and Hungry

When I started volunteering at a soup kitchen in New York last month, I was faced with the question of whether I'd feel comfortable handling a meat meal for the purpose of feeding the homeless and hungry. The first two times, I handed out trays to disabled and elderly guests and washed trays. I wasn't bothered by the indirect interaction that I had with meat.

When I signed in today, I was told that I'd be putting entrées on the trays. I assumed that this meant the meat dish, and I actually welcomed the opportunity to find out once and for all how I would feel in that situation. It turned out that I put the collard greens, not the chicken, on the trays, which didn't present any perplexing problems. But after serving greens for two hours and seeing a woman near me handle hundreds of pieces of chicken, I realized that I wouldn't be comfortable doing her job.

I've been vegetarian for more than a decade and vegan for roughly half that time, and I try not to handle meat or other animal products. Last night when I was helping my mom babysit for my nephew, she asked me to feed him pieces of chicken and I insisted on using a fork to do so (which wasn't a completely satisfying compromise). When my dad was in the hospital in December and asked me to put mustard on his turkey sandwich, I did it. Situations like that are pretty rare in my life.

The soup kitchen is a different scenario because I go out of my way to volunteer there. I see the need to feed the homeless and hungry and am eager to help them, particularly when I encounter so many homeless and hungry people on the streets and subways of New York City. While there are vegetarian avenues for feeding the homeless and hungry, I recognize that there is a larger system, which often relies on food donations, and I don't have any desire to challenge that system.

I recently sought out the advice of my friend David Perle, who wrote heebnvegan's first guest post in 2006 and cofounded a chapter of Food Not Bombs, which serves vegan meals to the homeless and hungry. Here's his take:
Food Not Bombs embraces and practices veganism for different reasons, including peaceful justice for all as well as a protest against the waste that goes into filtering a large amount of the world’s produce and water (not to mention energy) into a relatively small amount of meat and other animal-derived foods. ...

I personally passed nonvegan items on for distribution by the likes of the Salvation Army and the Catholic Workers. Food Not Bombs practices vegan ideals ... but clearly we don’t see any good in throwing away nonvegan food when it could still get to hungry mouths through other groups.

I probably wouldn’t feel too comfortable serving meat at a soup kitchen, unless perhaps I knew that the meat would have gone to waste otherwise, and that’s a big tenant of Food Not Bombs—making good use of food that would otherwise go to waste. That’s less likely to be the case with meat, though, since it and other animal products don’t keep as well, as long, as many vegan foods. So, it’d be more likely that the meat in question would be a specific sacrifice, so to speak, of a corporate or other business entity (or perhaps a hunting group) for the otherwise good deed of feeding the hungry. And while I can appreciate the good intentions of helping out our human brothers and sisters, I do not appreciate sacrificing animals for the purpose, particularly those raised in the hellish realities of factory farming.

I plan to keep volunteering at the soup kitchen. I am accepting of the situation and am happy to volunteer so long as my personal interaction with meat remains indirect. More so because I find it gross and unpleasant than anything else, though, I don't want to be the one to put chicken body parts on the trays.


Another Vegan Jew Uses a Sports-Game Marriage Proposal to Protest Against a Fast-Food Company's Cruelty to Chickens

Last night during Game 3 of the NHL Western Conference Finals, Jason Levy reportedly proposed to his girlfriend on a Zamboni. Levy's "McDonald's Breaks Birds' Wings and Legs" sign then flashed on the JumboTron for all to see. When Levy was named a peta2 Star Street Teamer in 2007, he was quoted as saying:
I have always believed strongly in nonviolence, and veganism was the next logical step. I did some research online, found peta2.com, watched all the videos, and read just about everything on the site. I went vegan that same day, and I have been for over two years now. Once I found out how much animals suffer for the most frivolous reasons, I had to do something about it.

Believe it or not, Levy isn't the first vegan Jew to use a sports-game marriage proposal to hold up a sign protesting against a fast-food company's cruelty to chickens and have it be shown on the JumboTron. At a Toronto Blue Jays game in 2005, Matt Prescott "proposed" to his girlfriend and used the opportunity to hold up a "John Bitove and KFC Cripple Chickens" sign. (Bitove reportedly owned KFC Canada and the Toronto Raptors.) Readers may recall that Prescott was a PETA employee whose Jewish identity was publicized last year after an Australian senator compared mulesing to circumcision.


One Year After the AgriProcessors Raid: Recap of the Anniversary

This past Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of the government raid at AgriProcessors in Postville, Iowa. Click here to read my initial overview of the anniversary, and click here to check out my interview with Failed Messiah's Shmarya Rosenberg. (The latter was featured on both Failed Messiah and The Jew & The Carrot.)

Uri L'Tzedek's Ethical Seal
On Tuesday, Orthodox social justice group Uri L'Tzedek launched its Tav HaYosher ethical seal, which I mentioned in December, in New York. Six restaurants and one kosher supermarket currently carry the seal.

JTA reported, "Uri L’Tzedek developed the Tav HaYosher project last summer to shine a spotlight on kosher restaurants that treat their workers well, pay fair wages, give adequate work breaks and maintain a safe work environment."

Uri L'Tzedek's Rachel Rosenthal told The Jew & The Carrot, "Our goal is to eventually ensure that every kosher establishment in New York is upholding not only the highest standards of kashrut, but also the highest standards of moral and ethical behavior."

Lag B'Omer Parade
The anniversary coincided with the holiday of Lag B'Omer. Many members of Postville's Jewish community marched in a parade, which has become an annual tradition.

Failed Messiah responded, "[T]here was no religious reason that prevented Postville Jews from participation in most of yesterday's anniversary events. Lag Ba'Omer is not a major Jewish holiday and it carries with it no prohibitions on work or participation in secular events."

Interfaith Prayer Service
According to The Gazette, a rabbi sounded a shofar at an interfaith prayer service and said, "May the sounding of this shofar inspire us to work as one on this day to bring G-d’s blessings of healing, freedom and joy."

The paper also noted, "Approximately $1 million has been donated by individuals and organizations, both locally and from around the country, to support families affected by the raid." (Hat tip: Failed Messiah)


Rabbi Sperber on the Jewish Case for Vegetarianism

This afternoon, I saw Rabbi Daniel Sperber, a Bar Ilan University professor and the rabbi of Congregation Menachem Zion in the Old City of Jerusalem, speak in Manhattan. He focused primarily on why Jewish teachings point toward vegetarianism, saying he would've needed a whole course to give a full overview of the scheduled topic, "Kosher & Food Ethics: Exploring vegetarianism, meat production, fair labor and other food related ethical issues."

Rabbi Sperber focused on how meat consumption in the Jewish tradition is often portrayed as a concession that strays from the vegetarian ideal. He discussed the vegetarian diet in the Garden of Eden, the "lustful" context of meat cravings, and the vision of vegetarianism after the Messiah comes. He also mentioned Maimonides' view that the pain and anguish of animals are the same as the pain and anguish of humans. Rabbi Sperber said that people who know about animals' horrors in industrialized agriculture should be vegetarian, and those who don't should find out.

During both his talk and the Q&A, Rabbi Sperber brought up some other issues related to ethical eating. He described eating as a sacrament and suggested that the food we eat and all aspects of its production should adhere to our highest ethical standards. He briefly touched on the health and environmental benefits of vegetarianism, and he alluded to Uri L'Tzedek's new Tav HaYosher program and Magen Tzedek (formerly known as Hekhsher Tzedek) to say that we should also consider the treatment of workers as part of a comprehensive ethical food framework.

I asked Rabbi Sperber what steps people could take to learn more and transition toward an ethical diet. He suggested reading Rav Kook's A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace and (if my memory serves me correctly) Richard H. Schwartz's Judaism and Vegetarianism. Ultimately, though, he said that people need to take it upon themselves to consider the Jewish case for vegetarianism and embrace ethical eating habits.


Jewish-Vegan Blogger Follows Up Two Great Posts With Random Blurbs

Maine Bans Gestation Crates and Veal Crates
Yesterday, Maine became the sixth U.S. state to ban gestation crates for pigs and veal crates for calves. "It's cruel and inhumane to confine animals in cages barely larger than their own bodies for months on end," said Katie Lisnik, Maine state director of The Humane Society of the United States. It's been widely reported that Maine became the fifth U.S. state to legalize gay marriage last week; Maine is the only state to do both.

Twitter Cofounder Pushes for Vegetarian School Lunches
Twitter cofounder Biz Stone has joined forces with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to urge Congress to include vegetarian options in school lunches. "Even students who aren't vegetarian would benefit from having low-fat, high-fiber vegetarian options," wrote Stone in a letter. " In response, Rep. George Miller tweeted, "re: veg.– thanks 4 insight. Our goal 4 the child nutrition reauth is 2 improve children's access 2 healthy & affordable meals at school."

'Thou Shalt Not Eat Meat' on Jcarrot
On Monday, The Jew & The Carrot featured a post titled "Thou Shalt Not Eat Meat" by Jewish Vegetarians of North America president Richard H. Schwartz. Schwartz wrote that "our modern meat-centered dietary culture is doing great harm to Jews, Israel and, indeed, the entire world and is inconsistent with several important Jewish values."

Update on Shechita in Europe
Earlier this month, I noted that a proposed humane slaughter law in the European Union is a threat to kosher slaughter. Last week, IsraelNationalNews.com reported, "The European Union Parliament on Wednesday voted to legalize kosher slaughtering ... but a critical vote next month will determine if EU countries can effectively get around the approval by demanding pre-stunning, which violates Jewish dietary laws." The chair of a European pro-shechita group called the vote "the first time that ‘shechita’ has been recognized as a legitimate form of animal slaughter by any European institution."

Jews and Vegetarians Look for Connections With Vulcans
"You can spin a dreidel with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock—both Jewish," famously sang Adam Sandler. Not only are the actors who play both Star Trek characters Jewish, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy are both animal advocates as well. On Monday, the New Voices Blog featured a post about the supposed "association between the Vulcans and the Jews." And The PETA Files wrote, "The always-logical Vulcans are ethical vegetarians .... PETA Trekkies will be sporting their specially designed 'Live Veg and Prosper' tees at theaters on opening night, putting an animal-friendly spin on the Vulcan greeting made famous by Mr. Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy, himself a vegetarian), 'Live long and prosper.'"

The L.A. Times on Eco-Kosher Eating
Last week, the Los Angeles Times ran an article titled "'Eco-Kosher' Jews Have an Appetite for Ethical Eating." The article noted that a kosher, vegetarian, green Shabbat dinner "reflected a powerful current in Jewish culinary consciousness: Growing numbers of people are choosing to express their values through the food they put on their tables, altering the most basic day-to-day decisions about nourishment." Click here to read my 2006 post "Eco-Kosher versus Veggie-Kosher."


One Year After the AgriProcessors Raid: What People Are Saying

Click here to read yesterday's heebnvegan post, "One Year After the AgriProcessors Raid: An Interview With Shmarya Rosenberg of Failed Messiah."

One year ago today, government agencies raided Postville, Iowa–based AgriProcessors, which was the world's largest kosher slaughterhouse. The raid further opened up public discourse, particularly in the Jewish community, about labor, animal welfare, and ethical business practices. Many people and media outlets are sharing their thoughts in light of the one-year anniversary.

In Postville: Spiritual leaders in Postville are urging Americans to wear or display red ribbons today. At 10 a.m., local churches will ring their bells 389 (the number of people arrested in the raid) times to "sound a call for justice"; a shofar will also sound. At St. Bridget's Catholic Church, where I and many other Jews donated money to help with Postville's humanitarian crisis, the 389 names will be read at an interfaith prayer service. There will be a solidarity walk to AgriProcessors following the service. "Our children, the children of all faiths and from all parts of the world, have experienced terror in a way that others outside of this community cannot imagine,"said one bishop in a news release.

Iowa Newspapers: The Quad City Times commented, "A year of uncertainty has taken its toll on the small town. Postville’s mayor resigned this spring in frustration and exhaustion. City leaders, churches and passionate volunteers have struggled to work together behind a unified vision for the future of Postville. 'I would have thought as we approached the one year anniversary we’d be a lot further along,' said Jeff Abbas, general manager of Postville’s community radio station." The Gazette featured a retrospective and a moving audio slideshow, and The Des Moines Register ran an op-ed calling for seven principles to be used in reforming immigration policy.

National Secular Media: This paragraph in the Los Angeles Times' retrospective was a nice summary of the overall situation: "The aftermath of the Postville raid has rippled across the country, rupturing the nation's kosher meat supply and setting back Midwest livestock farmers who supplied the plant. While advocates of stricter immigration laws argue that towns like Postville shouldn't be allowed to grow so dependent on illegal labor, critics see the raid as a symbol of greater problems with U.S. enforcement. And the fallout has helped spur changes in federal policy." The Associated Press also had a one-year retrospective.

Three Articles in the Forward: The current issue of the Forward features an article about "treyf" prosecutorial tactics in Postville and a related board editorial that concludes, "With all the care that many Jews take to examine and purify what we eat, we should be equally insistent that our government behaves in a way that respects the law and the rights of those who produce that sustenance." The paper also "asked a diverse group of contributors to reflect on what this episode has taught us about immigration, labor, kosher food and Jewish community and values," and the following are select excerpts:
"Any product that is called kosher by a rabbi must adhere to strict standards of both Jewish law and ethics. If we fail in this area, we will desecrate G-d’s name. But if we succeed in this daunting task, His name will be sanctified by our actions."
—Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld

"If we eat kosher meat that has been slaughtered without compassion, can we really call it 'kosher'? ... How we answer these questions will determine how kashrut is perceived both by Jews and by our neighbors."
—Joan Nathan, author

"Despite overwhelming evidence of misconduct in Postville, the Jewish community as a whole is still skittish about challenging the we-are-right, everyone-else-is-wrong mindset that prevails within ultra-Orthodoxy. ... Jews need to condemn all forms of injustice, exploitation and bias — particularly when the wrongdoers are fellow Jews."
—Stephen G. Bloom, journalism professor and author (who went vegetarian after visiting AgriProcessors while researching his 2000 book, Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America)
The Animals: The humanitarian tragedy caused by the raid is without a doubt deserving of our attention, but the plight of AgriProcessors' animals should not be forgotten. Over the summer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited AgriProcessors for violating the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act after PETA documented that shochtim were making a "second cut" to slaughtered cattle following the initial cut of shechita. PETA and Dr. Temple Grandin called on the company to implement a live video-monitoring system so that animal abuse could no longer take place when nobody is watching. In October, tens of thousands of baby chicks were killed, apparently because AgriProcessors could not afford to feed them.

In yesterday's heebnvegan post, Shmarya Rosenberg noted that only birds are slaughtered at AgriProcessors right now and speculated this means that "probably the animal welfare issues are relatively contained. But who knows?" PETA's 2004 AgriProcessors investigation documented animal welfare problems for chickens as well as cattle, including that one chicken had "her foot caught between the conveyor and the wall, and she was unable to pull her foot out"; another chicken's "head and wing were caught between the retaining wall and the conveyor"; and "Some birds fell after being placed into buckets—these birds flopped around on the ground violently, and once stopped, they were thrown into the garbage." That AgriProcessors is only slaughtering chickens now does not alleviate animal welfare concerns. I'm likewise not comforted by the hopes of many that AgriProcessors will be bought and remain a slaughterhouse, even if it seems like a financial best-case scenario for Postville.

The apparent kosher meat shortage in the wake of the raid led many Jews to embrace vegetarianism. The focus on AgriProcessors in the media and other discussions in the Jewish community created many opportunities to focus on animal suffering. By and large, talk about animals has been drowned out by the other important angles of this story. The animal (and worker) suffering at AgriProcessors, both before and after the raid, begs Jews to consider the awful conditions even in kosher facilities and choose to leave meat off their plates.


One Year After the AgriProcessors Raid: An Interview With Shmarya Rosenberg of Failed Messiah

Shmarya Rosenberg's blog Failed Messiah has become a one-stop hub for news and commentary about scandals and all-around unpleasantness in the kosher meat industry, among other foibles in the Orthodox community. With muckraking reporting and critical commentary, Rosenberg has held the feet of many in the Jewish community to the fire while providing readers with invaluable information.

Failed Messiah has been a leading force in the Jewish blogosphere since 2004, but the May 12, 2008, raid at AgriProcessors in Postville, Iowa, was the beginning of a new era. One year ago, government agencies staged the largest single-site immigration raid in U.S. history, arresting hundreds of illegal immigrant workers and uncovering such diverse problems as child labor and a "meth lab." Rosenberg claims that Failed Messiah broke the story (although technical difficulties meant that The Des Moines Register posted it online more or less simultaneously). He has stayed in touch with people on the ground in Postville to report about what's going on from many perspectives, Failed Messiah's readership jumped to about 15,000 page views on some days, and he became somewhat of a hero when he unveiled the questionable practices of AgriProcessors' PR company, 5WPR.

Below are excerpts of an interview I conducted with Rosenberg on Friday.

What was your reaction when you learned of the May 12, 2008, raid?
My reaction was shock, even though I knew that there were certainly some illegal workers there—there are in most places. ... When I realized that [76] percent of the work force were illegals and the abuse stories that I heard rumors of started being confirmed over and over and over again by workers that didn't even really know each other, all telling the same stories and telling the same stories to their attorneys and telling them to the feds and telling them to anybody you can imagine ....

Do you think AgriProcessors was singled out—because of anti-Semitism, prior publicity, or any other reasons—for practices that go on industrywide?
Sh*tty salami! ... No, I don't think AgriProcessors was singled out because it's a Jewish company. I don't think there was any anti-Semitism involved. I don't think they were singled out for any other reason than that they were a very easy target for the Department of Homeland Security, who has been, for the last several years, looking for easy targets. They were very, very, very easy. They'd been warned about social security numbers not matching. You see from the indictments file, and from some things that people have already pleaded guilty to, you see that they knew there was a raid coming, that they were trying to cover as many workers as possible with different fake documents so that it would be harder for the feds to identify them as illegals. ... They couldn't let the entire plant go. They were trying to cover the ones that were the most exposed, I think—either that or the ones that were the most important to them and the ones they'd get the most money out of, I'm really not sure.

Overall, are you pleased with the response of the Jewish community?
No, but I'm very rarely pleased with anything, so that has to be taken with a bit of a grain of salt. No, I'm really not. I think you have two basic reactions, actually three, and the reactions are split along affiliation. The more on the Orthodox scale you are in terms of religious observance, the more likely you are to say that AgriProcessors didn't do anything wrong or didn't do anything that any other company doesn't do, that there's a lot of anti-Semitism, [and] that the goyim are out to get us. ...

Then you have the other side of the divide, which is the non-Orthodox Jewish community, which of course varies everywhere from the most secular to the most traditionally Conservative. And there you have, by and large, a response that is a cross between apathy and "it's a shonde for the goyim, so we shouldn't really be talking about it." People talk amongst each other ... but you didn't find concrete action taken or much indignation in a publicly expressed way.

On the other hand, you have a minority amongst that segment of the Jewish community, whether you're dealing with Rabbi [Morris] Allen and ... Magen Tzedek [formerly known as Hekhsher Tzedek]. And they'd been working on that before the raid anyway, but you have a group of people around that who showed interest—some simply because it fit their agenda, some because the raid was a shock to them and the treatment of the workers was a shock to them and they truly wanted to right a wrong. Some, like Rabbi Allen, whom I ... have dealt with before, and he's a straight guy. He's doing what he's doing because he believes in it and he wants to help people. He has concern with much greater than just [Magen] Tzedek. He's one of the better examples of what could be done. The problem is that there are very few Rabbi Allens, and there are a whole lot of others who are either self-serving or ridiculous. And some of the people who are self-serving also do a hell of a lot of good. ...

Some people did a lot of good. Some people thought nice things and did a little bit. Most people did nothing or were completely supportive of the Rubashkins [the family that ran AgriProcessors].

Do you think that the kosher meat industry is better today than it was a year ago—for workers, for animals, or for ethical business practices?
No. No, I don't think that there's a significant change—only in the sense that AgriProcessors, which was a major abuser, is unable to abuse as it did before the raid. They're only doing poultry slaughter, so probably the animal welfare issues are relatively contained. But who knows?

For the rest of it, they had all these workers that were making $13 an hour, and they fired them all and then rehired some of them—most of them. But they rehired them at $9 an hour ... they fired them at 12:15 and then at 12:18 they rehired them.

How have the kosher meat scandals of the last few years affected your dietary habits and your outlook?
I became a vegetarian [although he did eat fish and is no longer vegetarian because of a personal health problem, he later clarified] from, basically, the moment I saw the PETA video [of the original AgriProcessors investigation] in 2004. And it wasn't because I was grossed out by the blood or anything—I had worked in kosher slaughter before. I knew what it was. But the treatment of the animals was so poor, and the slaughter was so bad. It was nothing like what I'd ever seen done before. When I saw kosher slaughter done—I didn't work as a shochet, I worked as a mashgiach and in other capacities—but when I saw shechita done, and the shochet didn't know I was watching, the animal was down and out in 15 seconds. There was no visible pain. ... It was as close to painless as you could get killing something. And Rubashkin is the exact opposite: [a] slower, more painful, torturous process. ... It's better than it was, clearly, that they're not ripping out the throat with a meat hook, but it's still bad.

Your own personal health complications aside, do you think that in light of the kosher meat industry's current state, Jews should be vegetarian?
I certainly would not be eating any poultry or red meat. That would be for kashrut reasons and also just because, for me, if I can eat and be comfortable and be well and not have to inflict pain on something, not have to deprive something of its existence in order to eat, I'm happy with that. But then you also get into the eggs issue and how eggs are processed and the incredible cruelty that goes on with killing all the male chicks and all the other stuff, and that's not pleasant either.

You start looking at ... the way factory-farming is today, and the breeding for it and the handling of it and everything. You get to a point where you're left ... either you're a vegan, or you're raising your own chickens, or something. But you're not walking into a store and buying the average egg ....

Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I'd like to emphasize that the most disappointing thing for me was the reaction of the Orthodox community to all of the AgriProcessors issues.


Cow's Escape Nudges Barbara Walters Toward Vegetarianism

Renowned journalist and TV personality Barbara Walters was touched by the story of Molly, a cow who escaped from a New York City slaughterhouse and was sent to a farm sanctuary. On The View yesterday, Walters apparently said that the incident helped push her even more toward vegetarianism. According to DawnWatch, Walters also said that she plans to take her own veggie burgers with her to an upcoming function in Washington, D.C.

"I am more and more becoming a vegetarian. This broke my heart," Walters was quoted as saying on A Country Mom's Blog. Walters allegedly added, "When you really start to think of them [animals], you know, as having feelings and stuff, I find it very hard …"

Walters does not have a strong Jewish identity, but she was born Jewish. A 2006 Newsweek article noted that her father, an atheist, owned a popular nightclub but came home on Friday nights for Shabbat. Walters added that her mother "never gave [religion] much thought, though we did make a point, once in a while to light candles on Friday nights."


If I Keep These Posts Up, I'll Have to Name My First-Born 'Miscellaneous'

Maybe I Should've Tweeted the Omer After All
As I mentioned last month, I set up a Counting the Omer Twitter account to "tweet the omer," but I ultimately decided to count the omer offline instead. Part of my thinking was that my Twittering wouldn't have gotten enough attention to be worth the effort. On Friday, the JTA released a list of the 50 most influential Jewish individuals on Twitter. Apparently, there is a Jewish tweetosphere and my tweeting probably would have gotten noticed after all.

Fasting Against Swine Flu
Tomorrow will be a day of fasting and prayer against swine flu, Israel's chief Sephardic rabbi Shlomo Amar has declared. The Times of India reported, "Referring to the Talmud book of Jewish teachings, Amar quoted a rabbi who when told that 'there is a plague among the pigs, immediately ordered a fast on the public because the bowels and digestive system of pigs are similar to those of men.'" The article also noted that Israel confirmed its fourth case of swine flu on Sunday. (This news was originally posted on Failed Messiah. Click here to read last week's heebnvegan post about swine flu.)

Cow Shechted in Residential Neighborhood
Yesterday, Failed Messiah featured a post about how a cow was shechted (ritually slaughtered) in a yeshiva's back yard in Monsey, N.Y. The Journal News reported that students and teachers "had tied a cow to a tree and were slaughtering" the animal. A neighbor remarked, "It's the most horrendous, barbaric thing I have ever heard of. I can't believe they would slaughter a cow in a back yard in a residential neighborhood."

Vegetarian Celebrity News From Vegetarian Star
Following last month's heebnvegan post about my encounter with Natalie Portman, the vegetarian celebrity gossip and news site Vegetarian Star ran a post about Portman's response to my question. The article said (their words, not mine): "Michael Croland, blogger for heeb’n'vegan, got the opportunity that every man on planet earth dreams about: to talk to Natalie." Yesterday, Vegetarian Star reported that Phish bassist and singer Mike Gordon tweeted that he "relishes vegan carrot kugel."

Simon Cowell's Vegan Following
The Post Punk Kitchen Blog noted on April 24, "America was abuzz this past Wednesday as what appeared to be an angel flashed an ominous message across millions of TV screens: Vegans (Heart) Simon. But who was this masked vegan?"Actually, it was none other than the blog's own Isa Chandra Moskowitz, a former heebnvegan guest blogger.

Free-Range Farming Is Not the Solution
On Monday, The Jew & The Carrot featured a post by Angel Flinn, titled "Free-Range Is Not the Answer." Flinn wrote, "As we can see, the growing popularity of ‘grass-fed’, ‘pasture-raised’ or ‘free-range’ beef, far from being the solution to the damage caused by animal farming, represents just another side of the devastation caused by the animal industry." She points to a vegan diet as the best way to avoid the pitfalls of both free-range and factory farming.



Baruch Dayan HaEmet: Simon Chaitowitz
Simon Chaitowitz, who was the communications director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), passed away on April 19 following her third bout with cancer. Chaitowitz was the author of a March Huffington Post article explaining why she took animal-tested drugs despite her opposition to vivisection, and in July 2002, she was quoted in one of my all-time favorite articles, Time's "Should We All Be Vegetarians?" cover story.

In 2006, e-mails circulated around both animal protection and Jewish circles when Chaitowitz needed a donor for a bone marrow transplant. One such notice said, "Simon's best chance of finding a genetically matched bone marrow donor lies with those of Jewish ethnic ancestry, from the area in and around Lithuania. Her maternal grandparents were from a small town outside Vilnius and her paternal grandparents were from Utena, Lithuania."

According to Wednesday's DawnWatch notice, "Last week, [Chaitowitz's] friend and colleague Mindy Kursban and I agreed that nobody ever had a bad word to say about Simon. Yet that was hardly because she was mild mannered or retiring in nature. She was no wimp or sideline sitter. In her fight for the animals -- those in circuses during her Seattle activism days and then those suffering in labs when she worked for PCRM -- she was a feisty and tireless advocate."

Sunstein a Potential Replacement for Souter
There's a lot of talk about possible replacements for retiring Supreme Court justice David Souter, and the name of White House regulatory czar Cass Sunstein (see clarification below) keeps coming up. Per my January post, Sunstein is a Jewish animal rights advocate; he co-edited the 2004 book Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions.

According to CBS' Andrew Cohen, Sunstein is "a brilliant writer and scholar, with University of Chicago ties, who happens to be already working for the president at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. If the White House picks a white guy then I’m betting that Sunstein’s the man."

Clarification (6/16/09): This post identified Sunstein as the "White House regulatory czar." Although he was nominated for that position earlier this year, as of June 15, he has yet to be confirmed.

Silverstone Pens Book About Veganism
Jewish vegan actor Alicia Silverstone has a book about veganism coming out in October. Silverstone told Ecorazzi, "It’s called The Kind Diet and it’s about being kind to yourself and the planet at the same time. It really breaks down Eastern philosophy versus Western philosophy in terms of health." Ecorazzi interviewer Michael Parrish DuDell exclaimed, "ALICIA SILVERSTONE GAVE ME A HUG!!!," but I've got news for him: She hugged me when I met her in 2005 too.

Organic Kosher Products
Failed Messiah featured an article about Star-K's and the Orthodox Union's efforts "in bringing kosher and organic labeling together." Said Failed Messiah, "If OU supervised Agriprocessors was 'kosher,' and if Orthodox rabbis did not object to Agriprocessors' animal and worker abuse, will these 'organic' products really be organic?"

Dr. Michael Greger on Swine Flu
In Monday's post about swine flu, I extensively quoted Dr. Michael Greger, director of public health and animal agriculture for The Humane Society of the United States. Click here to watch Jane Velez-Mitchell's interview with Dr. Greger. Said Dr. Greger, "When thousands of animals are overcrowded together in these cramped, filthy football-field–sized sheds to lie nose to nose in their own waste, it's a veritable breeding ground for disease—really the perfect storm environment for the emergence and spread of these new diseases."

Shechita Threatened in Europe
A new European Union bill that aims to reduce animal suffering at slaughter has drawn criticism from rabbis. The Jerusalem Post reported on April 19:

The bill, which will be discussed by the EU's Council of Ministers in approximately two months, includes various clauses which seek to ensure more humane treatment of animals. One of these would allow member states to force cattle breeders to stun the animals before the slaughter - an act forbidden by Halacha.

This would create a situation in which shechita in the EU was not protected by law and could be declared illegal by any nation that chose to do so. These nations would also be free to forbid the importing of meat that did not comply with the standards of the new bill.

The bill has led Jewish leaders in Europe to mount a continent-wide effort to prevent the legislation from passing in its current form.