Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.

The future world will be vegetarian, indeed primarily vegan. The only questions are how soon and, more importantly, will we change for altruistic, compassionate and other positive reasons, or because we will be forced to do so as animal-based diets and agriculture have created unsustainable conditions of global warming, resource scarcity, hunger, thirst, disease, pollution and many more crises.

While this goes against the conventional wisdom, as the consumption of meat and other animal products continues to rise, eventually people will come to recognize animal-based diets and agriculture for what they are: MADNESS and SHEER INSANITY and start shifting toward sustainable plant-based diets. An exaggeration? Please consider:

* There are increasing signs of global climate change, including severe droughts, floods, storms and wildfires and the rapid melting of glaciers and polar icecaps. Some climate scientists are warning that global warming could reach a tipping point and spiral out of control within a few years.  And a 2006 UN FAO report ”Livestock's Long Shadow”  indicates that animal-based agriculture emits more greenhouse gases (in CO2 equivalents) than all the cars, ships, planes and other means of transportation worldwide combined (18% vs. 13.5%). 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.

* 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 global warming. Yet, 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 over a billion people are chronically malnourished due to a lack of food, 70 percent of the grain grown in the United States and almost 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, 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.

Eventually people will realize that the current widespread production and consumption of meat and other animal products constitute madness and sheer insanity and start shifting to plant-centered diets. The question again is will we do so relatively soon before the planet's environment is greatly damaged or only after the worst effects of global warming have already happened.

How best to educate people on the importance of eliminating  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” (JVNA is 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 Heshchel 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, some radical approaches are needed. For example, there is a need to 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 basic Jewish mandates to preserve human health, treat animals with compassion, preserve the environment, conserve natural resources, help hungry people and seek and pursue peace.

* the media for missing the most urgent story of today: how the world is heading toward disaster 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 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.

The effects of these and similar actions will determine if the world will shift toward plant-based diets relatively quickly or only after the unprecedented catastrophe the world is rapidly approaching becomes all too apparent.

Let us hope that people will recognize in time that our civilization's well being and ultimate survival requires our shifting toward sustainable plant-based diets, and act accordingly.


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 www.JewishVeg.com/schwartz
President of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) www.JewishVeg.com
and Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV) www.serv-online.org/
Associate Producer of A SACRED DUTY ASacredDuty.com