Vegetarianism for a More Peaceful World
Richard H. Schwartz
The universal dream of a peaceful, non-violent world will never be realized as long as we continue to consume the flesh of animals.
Simply put, the senseless, mind-boggling, global slaughter of over 65 billion chickens, cows, turkeys, pigs, sheep, goats, ducks and other farm animals and an even greater number of fish and other sea creatures constitutes the largest source of pain, suffering, bloodshed, and killing on our planet.
It is a bloodbath of inconceivable magnitude.
Through the consumption of flesh, we desensitize ourselves to all forms of suffering and violence. But through the adoption of plant-based diets, we nurture our bodies and souls and embrace compassion.
Most people seldom if ever give the agonies and violence in animal agriculture a thought, but throughout history, some distinguished individuals saw connections between animal-based diets and the potential for violence and war.
U. Nu, former prime minister of Burma, said: ”World peace, or any other kind of peace, depends greatly on the attitude of the mind. Vegetarianism can bring about the right mental attitude for peace. In this world of lusts and hatred, greed and anger, force and violence, vegetarianism holds forth a way of life which, if practiced universally, can lead to a better, more just, and more peaceful community of nations.”
George Bernard Shaw, the greatest Irish playwright, poetically wrote:
“We're sick of war, we do not want to fight.
The thought of it now fills our heart with dread,
And yet we gorge ourselves upon the dead.
Like carrion crows, we live and feed on meat,
regardless of the suffering and pain
we cause by doing so. If thus we treat
defenseless animals, for sport or gain,
how can we hope in this world to attain
the PEACE we say we are so anxious for?
We pray for it, o'er hecatombs of slain,
to God, while outraging the moral law.
Thus cruelty begets its offspring--War.”
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the great 19th Century German rabbi, stressed that non-flesh based foods are the preferable source of sustenance food to help make the human body an instrument of the soul and to implement its aims of holiness and moral freedom. He indicated that every food that makes the body too active in a carnal direction makes people more indifferent and less sensitive to the loftier impulses of the moral life.
He also stated, "The boy who, in crude joy, finds delight in the convulsions of an injured beetle or the anxiety of a suffering animal will soon also be dumb toward human pain."
Albert Einstein stated: “The vegetarian manner of living, by its purely physical effect on the human temperament, would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.”
There is another important connection between vegetarianism and efforts to establish a more peaceful world.
The ancient Jewish sages noted that the Hebrew words for bread (lechem) and war (milchamah) come from the same root. From this connection they deduced that when there is a shortage of grain, water, and other necessities, people are more likely to go to war.
Battles over scarce resources have occurred throughout human history, from disputes over well water in the early chapters of Genesis to conflicts over oil more recently.
Since animal-based diets require far more land, grain, water, fuel, and other resources per person than plant-based (vegan) diets, this makes violence and war more likely. For example, it takes up to 14 times as much water to produce food for a person on an animal-based diet than one on a vegan diet. Also, while nearly a billion people worldwide are chronically hungry, 70 percent of the grain produced in the United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter. With many experts projecting major scarcities of food, water, and energy soon, this does not bode well for a peaceful future.
The following dialogue from Plato’s Republic dramatizes the relationship between the consumption of meat and war:
...and there will be animals of many other kinds, if people eat them?
And living in this way we shall have much greater need of physicians than before?
And the country which was enough to support the original inhabitants will be too small now, and not enough?
Then a slice of our neighbors' land will be wanted by us for pasture and tillage, and they will want a slice of ours, if, like ourselves, they exceed the limit of necessity, and give themselves up to the unlimited accumulation of wealth?
That, Socrates, will be inevitable.
And so, we shall go to war, Glaucon. Shall we not?
In view of the enormous waste of grain and other resources related to livestock agriculture, the following statement by former Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon is relevant: “Hunger and famine will do more to destabilize this world; [they are] more explosive than all atomic weaponry possessed by the big powers. Desperate people do desperate things.”
This is why I have jokingly argued that the slogans of the vegetarian movement and the peace movement should be the same: “All we are saying is give PEAS a chance.”
There are many causes for war and violence, and it would be simplistic to suggest that a shift toward vegetarianism, by itself, would eliminate all conflicts. However, by adopting a diet that reduces the current massive mistreatment of animals and shows concern and loving kindness for the hungry people of the world through more equitable sharing of God's abundant harvests, we can play a significant role in helping to move the world toward a more harmonious, peaceful world, when "nations shall not learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4)