Judaism, Vegetarianism, and Peace

Reasons for becoming vegetarian generally include improving one's health, showing compassion to animals, and reducing pollution and other environmental threats. An important reason that is often overlooked is that vegetarian diets can reduce the potential for violence and war.

While it is easy to see connections between the production and consumption of food and health, the treatment of animals, and the condition of the environment, how can animal-based diets make violence and war more likely? If you will excuse a terrible pun, we could say that the slogan of the vegetarian and peace movements are the same: All we are saying is give PEAS a chance. More seriously, the talmudic sages saw significance in the following; The Hebrew word for war, milchama , is directly derived from the word locham , which means both "to feed" as well as "to wage war." The Hebrew word for bread, lechem , comes from the same root. This led the sages to suggest that lack of bread and the search for sufficient food tempt people to make war. The seeds of war are often found in the inability of a nation to provide adequate food and other resources for its people.

Hence, feeding tremendous amounts of grains to animals destined for slaughter, instead of feeding starving people, could be a prime cause for war. About 70 percent of the grain produced in the United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter. Worldwide, the figure is over 33 percent. Two-thirds of U. S. grain exports end up being fed to animals. It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to raise one pound of edible beef in a feedlot. To make matters even worse, the U. S. is a major importer of beef, much of it raised for the fast-food hamburger markets on land that was formerly tropical forests, in countries where there is widespread hunger.

In his recent book, Tough Choices - Facing the Challenge of Food Scarcity (W. W. Norton, 1996), Lester Brown, Director of the Worldwatch institute argues that we have been moving from a period of food surplus to food scarcity due to sharp increases in population, affluence and environmental threats, such as soil erosion and depletion, global warming, and scarcities of clean water.

He points out that the increasing food scarcity in many countries can lead to political instability, social disintegration, and the exacerbation of ethnic conflicts.

Just as scarcity of food can lead to war, so can scarcity of sources of energy. The dependence of affluent countries on oil from the Middle East was a major factor behind the recent conflict in the Persian Gulf.

Animal-centered diets contribute to energy shortages, a prime factor in threats of war today. In the United States, an average of 10 calories of fuel energy are required for every calorie of food energy obtained (the main contributors to this are feedlot cattle raising and deep-sea fishing, which are very energy-intensive). In many other countries, they gain 20 or more calories of food- energy per calorie of fuel energy. To produce one pound of steak (500 calories of food energy) requires 20,000 calories of fossil fuels, most of which is expended to produce feed-crops. It requires 78 calories of fossil fuel for each calorie of protein obtained from feedlot produced beef. Grains and beans require only two to five percent as much fossil fuel.

Feeding people rather than factory-bred animals requires far less irrigation, fertilizer, pesticides, mechanization, refrigeration, and processing, all of which consume much energy.

Another factor that can lead to future violence or war is growing scarcity of water in many areas of the world. One of the world`s most explosive areas, the Middle East, has suffered from severe water shortages recently, and with increased population and affluence in the area, the situation threatens to become even more critical.

The standard diet of a person in the United States requires 4,200 gallons of water/day (for animals' drinking water, irrigation of crops, processing, washing, cooking, etc.) A person on a pure vegetarian diet requires as little as 300 gallons/day. The production of one pound of steak uses an average of 2,500 gallons of water, while only 25 gallons are required to produce a pound of potatoes. Livestock production consumes over half of the water used in the U.S., and this water is becoming increasingly scarce.

In summary, by adopting a diet that shows concern for the hungry people of the world, by eating in a way that will contribute to a more equitable sharing of food, energy, water and other resources, Jews and others can play a significant role in moving the world toward that day when "nations shall beat their swords into plowshares . . . and not learn war any more."

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