My responses below are in response
to a questionnaire designed to elicit information
from me for a book.
1) Please share your “transformation”
story. How, when, and why did you become vegetarian?
WHY I AM A VEGETARIAN (from my book,
“Judaism and Vegetarianism,” appendix)
Until 1978, I was a "meat and potatoes"
man. My mother would be sure to prepare my favorite
dish, pot roast, whenever I came to visit with my
wife and children. It was a family tradition that
I would be served a turkey drumstick every Thanksgiving.
Yet, I not only became a vegetarian, but I now devote
a major part of my time to writing, speaking, and
teaching about the benefits of vegetarianism. What
caused this drastic change?
In 1973 I began teaching a course,
"Mathematics and the Environment" at the
College of Staten Island. The course uses basic
mathematical concepts and problems to explore current
critical issues, + such as pollution, resource scarcities,
hunger, energy, population growth, the arms race,
nutrition, and health. While reviewing material
related to world hunger, I became aware of the tremendous
waste of grain associated with the production of
beef at a time when millions of the world's people
were malnourished. In spite of my own eating habits,
I often led class discussions on the possibility
of reducing meat consumption as a way of helping
hungry people. After several semesters of this,
I took my own advice and gave up eating red meat,
while continuing to eat chicken and fish.
I then began to read about the many
health benefits of vegetarianism and about the horrible
conditions for animals raised on factory farms.
I was increasingly attracted to vegetarianism, and
on January 1, 1978, I decided to join the International
Jewish Vegetarian Society. I had two choices for
membership: (1) practicing vegetarian (one who refrains
from eating any flesh); (2) non-vegetarian (one
who is in sympathy with the movement, while not
yet a vegetarian). I decided to become a full practicing
vegetarian, and since then have avoided eating any
meat, fowl, or fish.
Since that decision, besides learning
much about vegetarianism's connections to health,
nutrition, ecology, resource usage, hunger, and
the treatment of animals, I also started investigating
connections between vegetarianism and Judaism. I
learned that the first biblical dietary law (Genesis
1:29) is strictly vegetarian, and I became convinced
that important Jewish mandates to preserve our health,
be kind to animals, protect the environment, conserve
resources, share with hungry people, and seek and
pursue peace all point to vegetarianism as the best
diet for Jews (and everyone else). To get this message
to a wider audience I wrote this book, Judaism and
Vegetarianism, which was first published in 1982.
(Expanded editions were published in 1988 and 2001.)
Increasingly, as I learned about the
realities discussed in this book and their inconsistency
with Jewish values, I have come to see vegetarianism
as not only a personal choice, but a societal imperative,
an essential component in the solution of many national
and global problems.
I have recently been spending much
time trying to make others aware of the importance
of switching toward vegetarian diets, both for them
and for the world. I have appeared on over 60 radio
and cable television programs; had many letters
and several op-ed articles in the variety of publications;
spoken frequently at the College of Staten Island
and to community groups; given over 20 talks and
met with three chief rabbis and other religious
and political leaders in Israel, while visiting
my two daughters and their families. In 1987, I
was selected as "Jewish Vegetarian of the Year"
by the Jewish Vegetarians of North America.
I have always felt good about m -y
decision to become a vegetarian. Putting principles
and values into practice is far more valuable and
rewarding than hours of preaching. When people ask
me why I gave up meat, I welcome the opportunity
to explain the many benefits of vegetarianism.
While my family was initially skeptical
about my change of diet, they have become increasingly
understanding and supportive. In 1993 my younger
daughter was married in Jerusalem at a completely
vegetarian wedding. My wife has also become a vegetarian,
and recently we have moved toward veganism, by giving
up dairy products and eggs in most cases.
Recently, I have noted signs of increased
interest in vegetarianism, and a growing number
of people are concerned about dietary connections
to health, nutrition, animal rights, and ecology.
Yet, McDonald's has recently opened
outlets in Russia, China, and Israel, and it and
other similar fast food establishments continue
to expand worldwide. And there is still a predominance
of meat served at weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs,
and other Jewish celebrations, and for lunches at
Jewish day schools and camps. So there is much that
still needs to be done. My hope is to be able to
keep learning, writing, and speaking about vegetarianism,
to help bring closer that day when, in the words
of the motto of the International Jewish Vegetarian
Society, "no one
2) How do you define your vegetarianism?
Describe your dietary choices and the philosophies
that guide them. How do you label yourself? (i.e.
Do you eat dairy? Are you vegan?) Please define
your terms (such as vegetarian, vegan, ovo-lacto,
I am a strict vegetarian and a
90+% vegan, in that I do not eat eggs and dairy
products generally, but I am not always strict
re the ingredients on packaged or baked products.
When given a choice, I would always choose the
vegan option. I certainly believe that veganism
is the best approach re health, the treatment
of animals, the environment and resources, and
helping hungry people.
3) What inspired you to become a vegetarian? (Health?
Ethics? Environmental concerns?) Please explain.
As indicated in my first response:
In 1973 I began teaching a course,
"Mathematics and the Environment" at
the College of Staten Island. The course uses
basic mathematical concepts and problems to explore
current critical issues, such as pollution, resource
scarcities, hunger, energy, population growth,
the arms race, nutrition, and health. While reviewing
material related to world hunger, I became aware
of the tremendous waste of grain associated with
the production of beef at a time when millions
of the world's people were malnourished. In spite
of my own eating habits, I often led class discussions
on the possibility of reducing meat consumption
as a way of helping hungry people. After several
semesters of this, I took my own advice and gave
up eating red meat, while continuing to eat chicken
I then began to read about the many health benefits
of vegetarianism and about the horrible conditions
for animals raised on factory farms. I was increasingly
attracted to vegetarianism, and on January 1,
1978, I decided to join the International Jewish
Vegetarian Society. I had two choices for membership:
(1) practicing vegetarian (one who refrains from
eating any flesh); (2) non-vegetarian (one who
is in sympathy with the movement, while not yet
a vegetarian). I decided to become a full practicing
vegetarian, and since then have avoided eating
any meat, fowl, or fish.
4) What/Who directly influenced
and motivated your decision to become a vegetarian?
Be as specific as possible about the experiences
and encounters that affected your decision to
This is partly answered in #3 above.
Also, I was very influenced by Frances Moore Lappe’s
book, “Diet for a Small Planet,” and
books and activities related to the first national
“Earth Day” in 1970.
5) How long have you been vegetarian?
How has your understanding of vegetarianism or
of yourself as a vegetarian changed over time?
I see it more and more as both a societal imperative
and a religious imperative. I have moved increasingly
Describe the different phases/stages
you went through as part of your transition to
First I gave up red meat, then chicken
and fish, and most recently eggs and dairy products
in most cases.
Where do you see yourself headed
in your vegetarianism (more strict? Less strict?)?
6) What was the most difficult aspect
of becoming a vegetarian? What is the most difficult
aspect of maintaining a vegetarian lifestyle?
Once I became aware of the many
benefits of vegetarianism and the many negatives
of animal-based diets and agriculture, I did not
find it difficult at all.
Re the most difficult aspect of
maintaining a vegetarian lifestyle, I really do
not find any difficulties, unless just having
to request special vegetarian meals at weddings
and other celebrations can be considered a difficulty.
7) If you have been a vegetarian for more than
a year, how have your experiences as a vegetarian
changed over time? Has it become easier or more
difficult? Why? Be as specific as possible.
I have become increasingly active
and increasingly outspoken. I recently became
president of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America
(JVNA) and editor of the newsletter, coordinator
of “Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians”
(SERV), author of over 100 articles at JewishVeg.com/schwartz.
As I became more knowledgeable and convinced that
vegetarianism/veganism is both a societal imperative
and a religious imperative, it became easier to
be a vegetarian.
8) What do you like most about being
Being part of a movement that is
essential for the survival of humanity and the
sustainability of the environment, and not being
connected with the madness and insanity of animal-based
diets and agriculture.
9) What do you find most frustrating
about being a vegetarian in a non-vegetarian world?
Being faced with so much apathy
and ignorance re vegetarianism, while knowing
how important a shift toward vegetarianism is.
What factors affect your ability
to maintain this lifestyle? (Think about the influence
of geography, circles of friends, the internet,
product availability, the media, current events,
The increasingly widespread availability
of healthy, nutritious vegan foods makes it far
easier to be a vegetarian. I also get much support
from my e-mail contacts and the wide variety of
material on the Internet.
In what ways is it becoming easier
to maintain this lifestyle?
Increasing availability of vegan
foods in supermarkets and health food stores.
Also, the fact that vegetarianism and veganism
have become more mainstream.
In what ways is it becoming more
None that I can think of.
10) What are the greatest challenges
you face as a vegetarian—on a day to day
basis and specific experiences?
No real challenges that I can think
11) What type of responses do you
get when you tell people that you are a vegetarian?
(Supportive? Confused? Respectful? Antagonistic?)
Please be as specific as possible.
Supportive from vegetarians, and
apathetic from non-vegetarians, who know that
they can’t respond to my arguments.
In what instances do you feel pressure
to eat meat or resistance against vegetarians?
Recently, none, but I would welcome
cases like this because they provide opportunities
to educate people re vegetarianism.
In what instances do you feel reassured
in your decision to be vegetarian?
As I read reports of the many negative
effects of animal-based diets and agriculture.
In particular, how is your choice
to be a vegetarian received by your friends, your
family, your acquaintances, strangers? Please
share particular experiences and/or common responses
that you feel other vegetarians also endure.
Generally positively, as they know
the benefits of vegetarianism, but also guiltiily
when we share meals, because perhaps they know
they should be vegetarians.
12) As you have become more committed
to a vegetarian lifestyle, how has this affected
other aspects of your life, such as your daily
habits, your activities and interests, your relationships,
your goals? Please give specific examples.
It has made me more active, as I
send many letters to editor, send out an almost
weekly JVNA newsletter, and work through JVNA
and SERV to get out the vegetarian message more
13) Do you think being vegetarian
is a personal decision?
Yes, for each individual, but for
society, it is also a societal imperative and
a religious imperative, as indicated before.
How and when (in what circumstances)
do you usually talk about your choice to be vegetarian?
Please give specific examples.
I discuss it as part of my course,
“Mathematics and the Environment,”
using overhead transparencies showing health/nutrition
connections to diet.
14) Do you feel as if you belong
to (a) vegetarian community/communities?
Yes. JVNA and SERV.
If so, describe these communities
and why you belong to them.
JVNA is an e-mail-centered group
of mostly Jewish vegetarians. I send the group
of several hundred people an almost weekly newsletter
and I propose projects from time to time.
SERV is an interreligious group
of vegetarian activists. We have a web site that
includes such things as resources, links, bibliograohies,
quotations, and questions and answers.
How did you become part of these
I was a co-founder of SERV.
I joined JVNA many years ago.
How do you maintain your membership
in these communities? If not, why not?
Through e-mail contacts and through
the JVNA newsletter.
Do you think that your membership
in a community or lack of community affected your
Yes. Among other things, I have
a JVNA “advisory committee’ of 45
people who provide me valuable suggestions re
vegetarian-related articles and projects.
15) Do you consider yourself a vegetarian
On what level are you interested
in fostering others to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle?
At a high level because I believe
that the fate of humanity and our planet is at
What do you do to foster this ideal,
both on your own and with others? Explain.
I edit the JVNA Newsletter. I send
out letters and op-ed articles to the media. I
have over 100 articles at JewishVeg.com/schwartz.
I also speak to groups and appear on radio and
cable TV programs.
16) What groups/organizations/causes
do you consider yourself a part of, including
vegetarianism? Please indicate which organizations/groups
you are an official member of and which you simply
support. (For example: You may be an environmentalist,
but you belong to the Sierra Club and the Green
Party. You may be Christian, but you belong to
Crusaders for Christ.)
I am president of the Jewish Vegetarians
of North America and editor of its newsletter. I
am coordinator of SERV (Society of Ethical and Religious
Vegetarians). I am also a member of the Young Israel
of Staten Island synagogue, the League of Conservation
Voters, Union of Concerned Scientists, and several