Judaism, Vegetarianism, and Hunger
JEWISH TEACHINGS ON HUNGER
On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year,
while Jews are fasting and praying for a good year,
we read in the haftorah the words of the Prophet
Isaiah that fasting and prayers are not sufficient;
we must work to end oppression and provide food
for needy people: "Is not this the fast that I have
chosen? To loose the chains of wickedness, to undo
the bonds of oppression, and to let the oppressed
go free.... Is it not to share your bread with the
hungry?" (Isaiah 58:6-7)
The Talmud states, "Providing charity for poor
and hungry people weighs as heavily as all the other
commandments of the Torah combined." (Baba Batra
The Midrash teaches: "G-d says to Israel, "My children,
whenever you give sustenance to the poor, I impute
it to you as though you gave sustenance to Me...."
Does then G-d eat and drink? No, but whenever you
give food to the poor, G-d accounts it to you as
if you gave food to Him." (Midrash Tannaim)
On Passover Jews are reminded not to forget the
poor. Besides providing ma'ot chittim (charity
for purchasing matzah) for the needy before Passover,
we reach out to them at the seder: "This is the
bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the
land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat.
Let all who are in need come and celebrate the Passover."
We are even admonished to feed our enemies, if
they are in need: "If your enemy is hungry, give
him bread to eat. If your enemy is thirsty, give
him water to drink." (Proverbs 25:21)
The Torah mandates that farmers must leave the corners
of their fields and the gleanings of their harvests
for the poor and hungry.
HUNGER AND ANIMAL-BASED DIETS
Back to Jewish Vegetarianism
- Over 1 billion people are chronically undernourished.
Between 700 and 800 million people lack sufficient
income to obtain the basic necessities of life.
An estimated twenty million people die annually
due to hunger and its effects.
- Three out of four people who die due to hunger
are children. Over 8 percent of children in poorer
countries die before their first birthday. According
to a UNICEF report on the "State of the World's
Children", a child dies of malnutrition or starvation
every 2.3 seconds. Tens of thousands of children
annually go blind due to vitamin A deficiency
in their diets.
- Animal agriculture wastes our food resources.
It takes 8 to 12 pounds of grain to produce one
pound of edible beef in a feedlot. Half of U.S.
farmland grows livestock feed. A meat-centered
diet requires about seventeen times the land area
per person than would be required for a purely
vegetarian diet. Animal agriculture also requires
tremendous inputs of chemical fertilizer and pesticides,
irrigation water, and fuel - commodities which
are becoming scarcer worldwide.
- The United States is a major importer of beef
from poor countries, where the grain grown feeds
the cows rather than the hungry people.
- If people reduced their meat consumption by
just 10 percent, enough grain would be released
to feed 60 million people. (Harvard nutritionist
- The wealthy nations feed more grain to their
livestock than the people of India and China (more
than one-third of humanity) consume.
- Two-thirds of our agricultural exports go to
feed livestock, rather than hungry people.
- Feeding grain to livestock wastes 90% of the
protein, 99% of the carbohydrates, and 100% of