Animal-Based Diets: Madness and Sheer Insanity
by Richard H. Schwartz, PhD

Despite the increasing evidence that a major shift to plant-based diets is essential to help shift our imperiled world to a sustainable path, the consumption of meat and other animal products is projected to increase sharply. Arguments for dietary shifts seem to be falling on deaf ears. So, I think there is a need to consider more effective approaches. For example, animal-based diets and agriculture should be called what they are today: madness and sheer insanity. Think this is an exaggeration? Please consider:

* There are reports of major climate-related events – including heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, and storms – almost daily, and some climate experts are arguing that climate change may soon spin out of control with disastrous consequences, unless major changes soon occur. Several recent studies have shown the major impact of animal-based diets on warming the planet. A 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Organization 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 in-depth analysis, “Livestock and Climate Change,” by World Bank Group environmental specialists Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang published in the November/December 2009 issue of World Watch magazine concluded that the livestock sector is responsible for at least 51 percent of all human-induced GHGs. Yet 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 there are record droughts in some areas, billions of people live in areas chronically short of water, and clean water is expected to become increasingly scarce due to the melting of glaciers, reduced rainfall in many areas, and other effects of climate change, 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 over a third 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 diets require ten times the energy per person than plant-based diets. Madness and sheer insanity.

* While there is currently an epidemic of heart diseases, various types of cancer, diabetes, 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 “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 and 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 urgency of the threats to humanity, I think some radical approaches should be considered. For example, vegetarians and vegetarian groups and supporters  should respectfully but forcefully challenge:

* the medical profession, arguing that medical practice today is malpractice, unless doctors point out that well-chosen vegetarian and preferably vegan diets can prevent, alleviate and sometimes reverse many diseases. 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.

* Religious establishments, since the production and consumption of animal products arguably violate basic religious mandates to preserve human health, treat. Animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources and help hungry people. There should be efforts to engage religious leaders in respectful dialogs on vegetarianism.

* The media for missing the most urgent story of today: how the world is heading toward climate, food, water, and energy catastrophes 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 former cattle rancher but now 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.

I think we should also start a campaign to respectfully urge President Obama to shift 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 climate change 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.


Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, College of Staten Island
Author of "Judaism and Vegetarianism," "Judaism and Global Survival," and "Mathematics and Global Survival," and over 130 articles at
President of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA)
and Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV)
Associate Producer of A SACRED DUTY (
Director of Veg Climate Alliance (