of Richard Schwartz by the European Vegetarian and Animal
News Agency (EVANA)
January 14, 2008
On behalf of EVANA, Herma Caelen talks to Richard
H. Schwartz, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, President of
Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and co-founder
and president of the Society of Ethical and Religious
Vegetarians (SERV). Richard Schwartz is the author of
the books Judaism and Vegetarianism and Judaism
and Global Survival and also the associate producer
of the documentary "A
Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the
Herma Caelen: Richard, first of all let me thank you
for taking the time to talk to us even though you must
be very busy with the promotion of the documentary 'A
Sacred Duty.' It seems that after the world premiere
on 12 November 2007 the film has been very successful.
In what countries has it already been shown and are
more presentations planned elsewhere?
Richard H. Schwartz: In addition to many areas of the
United States, the movie has been shown or will soon
be shown in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, India,
Israel, Romania, South Africa, the United Kingdom and
probably some countries that I am so far unaware of.
Thankfully we have found very enthusiastic volunteers
in the U.S. and other countries who are arranging showings
and getting complimentary DVDs to key people.
EVANA: Does the film address mainly the Jewish community
or does it offer vibrant messages to everyone of good
Answer: Although it has a Jewish perspective, “A
SACRED DUTY” speaks to people everywhere about
the ethics of our relationship to the natural world
in which we live. The movie's universal message will
appeal to anyone interested in such topics as religion,
vegetarianism, the environment, health, nutrition, hunger,
resource usage and collaboration to help heal our planet.
The movie may be said to be like Levy's Jewish Rye
bread - you do not have to be Jewish to appreciate it.
All of the major religions share the same basic tenets.
All have teachings that promote compassion and respect
for people, animals and all of creation. Since working
to heal the Earth is really a universal duty for all
human beings, our hope is that A SACRED DUTY will challenge
and inspire both Jews and non-Jews. Early indications
are that A SACRED DUTY has been well received by people
of all faiths, all around the world. There are many
positive blurbs, many from non-Jews, at www.ASacredDuty.com.
There has been special interest in the Jain community,
both in the United States and in India.
EVANA: What gave you the idea to realize such a project
and how did you manage to find the impressive support
that eventually made the film the success it is today?
Answer: I viewed a very good documentary produced by
the Christian Vegetarian Association on Christianity
and Vegetarianism, and thought it would be nice if Jewish
vegetarians produced a documentary that considered vegetarianism
from a Jewish perspective. I suggested the idea in a
Jewish Vegetarians of North America newsletter. I received
a very enthusiastic response from Lionel Friedberg,
a multi-award winning producer/director/writer/cinematographer,
who agreed that it was essential that such a movie be
made. I have had the great pleasure of working with
Lionel for the past two years, and his commitment to
successfully completing the movie in the most effective
way possible has been consistent and inspiring. He,
and his wife, a professional editor, worked diligently
as a labor of love and dedication, accepting no professional
fee at all, only reimbursement for their expenses..
We were extremely fortunate to have them as the producer
and director of our movie.
EVANA: Please tell us a bit about the film itself. How
long is it and what kind of information does it offer
apart from interviews? Are there any graphic scenes
people should be aware of before watching it?
Answer: A SACRED DUTY is one hour long. To dramatize
statements in the interviews, there are spectacular
scenes that were filmed in the United States, Israel
and many other countries.
The movie stresses three major themes:
1. The world is imperiled as possibly never before
by global warming and many other environmental threats.
Many examples of environmental problems in Israel and
worldwide are shown.
2. Judaism has teachings that provide a powerful basis
for responding to current environmental threats. Examples
of groups in Israel and the US applying these values
3. A shift toward vegetarianism is an essential part
of the necessary response to global warming and other
environmental threats. All the reasons for Jews (and
others) to be vegetarians are carefully considered.
Since there are scenes that illustrate some of the
many horrors on modern factory farms, there is a cautionary
statement at the start of the movie.
EVANA: Are there plans of having 'A Sacred Duty' translated
into other languages?
Answer: Yes, we have a volunteer to translate it into
Hebrew and another volunteer to translate it into Spanish.
We would be happy to have A SACRED DUTY available in
these and many other languages.
EVANA: Has there been, or will there be, cooperation
with the representatives of other religions?
Answer: Yes. Since I am president of Society of Ethical
and Religious Vegetarians (SERV), I have been working
with people of other religions to help promote A SACRED
DUTY. I have been interviewed by representatives of
religious subgroups of the Humane Society of the United
States (HSUS) and Best Friends for Animals, and these
interviews are at the web sites of these groups. We
have received requests for our complimentary DVDs from
members of various religions, many of whom are arranging
EVANA: Many consider vegetarians as trouble makers,
rocking the boat of culinary traditions. Has there been
any resistance to your ecological testimony, which stresses
the damages of meat consumption?
Answer: While we have been receiving an extremely positive
response from the vegetarian and animal rights communities
(as indicated, for example by the many very positive
blurbs at www.ASacredDuty.com), most meat-eaters are
resistant to our message. As Al Gore quips, “Denial
is not just a river in Africa.” Hence, as discussed
later, it is essential that we break through the ignorance,
apathy and denial that keep so many people eating foods
that are so harmful for them and the environment. And
A SACRED DUTY provides a valuable tool for doing this.
EVANA: How can interested people obtain a copy of the
documentary and what is the price and time of delivery?
Answer: We feel that the fate of humanity may be at
stake in our efforts, so we are anxious to get the movie
seen and discussed by as many people as possible. Hence,
we are offering complimentary DVDs to people who will
share it with others, arrange a screening or help promote
the movie in some other way. DVDs will be sent out as
soon as we receive requests.
Interested people can get a completely free DVD by
sending their name and mailing address to the JVNA secretary/treasurer
John Diamond at JDiamond4@cox.net.
We are happy to send more than one copy to people who
indicate how they will share them with others who will
help promote the movie.
We are also working to get A SACRED DUTY onto the internet
to make it available to even more people.
EVANA: What is your recommendation to those who for
one reason or another won't be able to see the film
but who are, just like you, very concerned about the
dangers which our present lifestyle represents for future
Answer: Whether a person sees A SACRED DUTY or not,
they should contact local religious teachers, educators,
media members and other influential people and help
make them aware that: (1) the world is heading toward
an unprecedented catastrophe due to global warming and
other environmental threats, (2) a shift toward vegetarian
diets is an essential part of the necessary response
to these threats and (3) it is time that we stopped
ignoring these inconvenient truths and made the saving
of the planet a main focus for society today.
EVANA: Today meat has a terrible press. Not only does
the meat industry involve enormous cruelty to sentient
and helpless beings, meat is also dangerous for human
health and wrecks the environment on a huge scale. Some
even say that the industry endangers a safe future for
coming generations because its activities lead to global
warming, desertification, soil erosion etc. Do you have
an explanation on why people continue eating meat even
though all these dangers are now known?
Answer: There are a number of factors, including:
* Ignorance: people have many misconceptions about
nutrition and health, and this is furthered by industries
that have a vested interest in keeping people confused
* A herd mentality: many people do not want to stand
out and be non-conformists; they see their family and
friends eating an animal-based diet and do not want
to be different.
* Apathy and resistance to change: I think of an analogy
to the metric system: Everyone recognizes that it is
far more logical than the system in the United States,
but people in the US resist switching because they are
used to the present system.
* Failure of the medical profession to educate people
about the many negative health effects of animal-based
diets. Part of the problem is that we have a disease-care
system, not a health-promoting system. A true "health-care"
system would be concerned with preventing disease, and
promoting wellness. We wait until all the damage is
done then try to "fix" it with medicine (which
often does not work).
* Failure of religious leaders to point out how the
production and consumption of meat and other animal
products is inconsistent with at least six basic religious
* Denial: people's lack of willingness to consider
the realities of their diets.
EVANA: If you had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Al
Gore who in spite of informing us about the 'Inconvenient
Truth' of global warming continues to eat meat - what
would you tell him?
Answer: First, I would congratulate him on his many
years of effort that have succeeded in greatly increasing
awareness of how threatening global climate change is,
and for the recent well-deserved awards that he has
won for his efforts.
Then I would very respectfully try to make him aware
of another inconvenient truth - that, according to the
2006 UN Food and Agriculture report, “Livestock's
Long Shadow,” animal-based agriculture emits more
greenhouse gases (in carbon dioxide equivalents) than
all the cars, trucks, ships, planes and other forms
of transportation worldwide combined (18% vs. 13.5%).
I would point out that the same report projects that
the number of farmed animals will double in about 50
years, and the resulting increase in greenhouse gas
emissions will negate many of the positive changes that
he has been promoting. Hence, I would continue, we will
never reach the reductions in greenhouse gases necessary
to avoid the catastrophe that the world is rapidly approaching,
unless there is a major shift toward vegan diets. I
would urge him to use his unique position to urge people
to shift to plant-based diets as an essential step to
move our imperiled planet to a sustainable path.
EVANA: Considering that our 'good old' ways bring about
enormous risks for the future, humanity may not manage
to turn things around in time. What would be the consequences?
Do you think that the very survival of humanity could
be at stake?
Answer: Absolutely, and this is the greatest moral,
political, environmental, spiritual issue of our time.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the world is
rapidly heading toward an unprecedented catastrophe
and steps must be taken immediately to respond, that
it is essential that religious values be applied in
response and that a major shift toward vegetarianism
is an essential part of efforts to shift our imperiled
world to a sustainable path.
There are almost daily news reports re severe storms,
floods, droughts and wildfires, melting polar ice caps
and glaciers and many other indications of global warming.
Key climate scientists, including James Hansen of NASA,
are warning that we may reach a tipping point within
a decade after which global warming will spiral out
of control, with disastrous consequences -- unless major
changes are soon made.
It is therefore urgent, and more timely than ever,
that the message of “A SACRED DUTY” -- with
its emphasis on the urgent need for a global shift to
plant-based eating and agriculture -- be widely spread
A major report by the Israel Union for Environmental
Defense pointed out Israel's special vulnerabilities
to global climate change, in terms of reduced rainfall,
severe storms and flooding from a rising Mediterranean
EVANA: Compassionate and concerned people are forced
to helplessly witness unrestrained cruelty to animals
and mind boggling recklessness towards nature. Can you
give any kind of moral support to those who are about
to despair about the damage humanity is inflicting upon
our earthly home and its creatures?
Answer: We should consider the following:
* The good news is that most people have become aware
of global warming and its threats, and many positive
changes are occurring at the personal, local, regional,
national and international levels. Of course, much more
needs to be done, but there are many signs that the
momentum has shifted in terms of awareness and actions.
* We have many recent tools to help in educating people,
including the UN FAO report mentioned above, the recent
reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC), a group composed of thousands of the worlds
leading climate scientists, that show convincingly that
global warming is a reality and that changes are urgently
needed to avoid disaster, and A SACRED DUTY. Also, many
vegetarian and environmental groups have greatly increased
their efforts to increase awareness and positive responses.
* We should also consider the major changes that have
occurred in relatively recent times, including the end
of slavery, the granting of voting rights to women and
the end of child labor, due to the actions of committed
Finally, we should consider the in importance of the
issues and the urgency of our responses. We cannot give
in to despair. As Thomas Paine stated, “The harder
the conflict, the more glorious the triumph!”
EVANA: One final question: How can people accepting
the recommendations of 'A Sacred Duty' promote them
within their own communities?
Answer: I hope that everyone reading this interview
will join JVNA and other groups in building a massive,
unprecedented campaign around showings of A SACRED DUTY
to help shift our imperiled world to a sustainable path,
help revitalize Judaism (and other religions) and get
vegetarianism and related issues onto the Jewish and
We plan to use our many contacts in the vegetarian,
animal rights, Jewish and other communities and the
increasing awareness of current environmental and health
crises to challenge all societal groups to make the
major changes, including a shift toward plant-based
diets, necessary to address current environmental threats.
We would like the movie to be screened in as many venues
as possible. We hope that people reading this interview
will request DVDs and use them to help set up such events
and see that they get widespread media coverage and
a sizable attendance, including religious leaders, educators
and other key people.
To build on and magnify the publicity related to the
movie showings, we are also planning a major letter
writing campaign building on the themes of the movie,
discussing the nature of present threats, why Jews (and
others) should be involved, and the importance of a
shift toward vegetarianism.
We have produced 10,000 DVDs, and are sending out free
copies to Rabbis and other key members of the Jewish
community and other communities. We would like to challenge
Rabbis to respectful email discussions/debates on “Should
Jews Be Vegetarians?” and hope to extend this
into other communities. We also wish to challenge the
media to stop generally ignoring the messages we are
presenting re the major threats to humanity, the failure
of the Jewish community to adequately respond and the
necessity for major dietary shifts in response to current
Through these and more steps, we aim to do nothing
less than change the consciousness of Jews and others
regarding the threats facing all of humanity and the
entire creation, vegetarianism, the need to respond
to current environmental threats and much more. We have
great potential, and we welcome everyone's help in promoting
the movie and our messages.
Of course, we also desperately need financial help
to continue and greatly expand our efforts. People may
give tax deductible donations by visiting www.JewishVeg.com/action.
EVANA: We thank you for having given us the opportunity
to find out more about the documentary and wish all
involved in the production and promotion an even faster
growing national and international success.
Response: I want to thank you Herma and the European
Vegetarian and Animals News Agency (EVANA) for this
wonderful opportunity to share our message and for your
long-time most welcome cooperation, help, valuable suggestions
and cooperation for my efforts and for the efforts of
Jewish Vegetarians of North America. I look forward
to working cooperatively with you on future initiatives.