A Vegetarian on Food Day
Despite this era of heightened partisan bickering, there is one thing that 533 members of congress have in common (all but Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Betty Sutton (D-OH)). Despite a history of seismic political shifts, there is one trait that every president has shared. And despite the major economic and environmental consequences of this issue, it is likely never to be addressed in a major political campaign. The vast prevalence of meat eating across the United Sates has serious ramifications for our world that remain largely un-discussed. Indeed, what many consider a set of fringe animal rights concerns could actually be one of the major human rights crises of our day.
As we think about world hunger issues in the run-up to Food Day 2012, it is important to note the profound connections between global hunger and the consumption of meat. According to a report from Compassion in World Farming, “It takes up to 10 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of edible animal flesh,” thus “crops that could be used to feed the hungry are instead being used to fatten animals raised for food.” As an ecologist at Cornell University noted, “If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million.” Therefore, if we are to confront global hunger, we must think first about our own meat-eating habits. The mass-consumption of meat also threatens serious environmental degradation and destruction. An article from Scientific American reported that “the production, processing and distribution of meat requires huge outlays of pesticides, fertilizer, fuel, feed and water while releasing greenhouse gases, manure and a range of toxic chemicals into our air and water.” The report continued by noting that the production of meat “is responsible for 10 to 40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as common vegetables and grains.” If we are serious about stopping global warming, combating environmental destruction and preserving our global health, we have to be serious about reducing our dependence on meat. Finally, the meat industry remains one of the most dangerous places a person can work in the United States. According to 2005 report from Human Rights Watch, “In meat and poultry plants across the United States… many workers face a real danger of losing a limb, or even their lives, in unsafe work conditions.” The report further documents tactics used by meat processing companies to prevent employees from organizing to challenge their work conditions noting that the industry relies heavily on undocumented laborers (a fact the Jewish community learned through the infamous raid in Postville, IA) who can be threatened with deportation. If we are fighting for labor rights, immigrant rights, and human rights in our advocacy efforts, we have to begin to question our diets. These are just three of the many contemporary political and social arguments for vegetarianism. However, the debate around whether or not it is moral or just to eat another living creature extends far beyond these modern arguments. Indeed, the 11th century Jewish sage Rashi recognized that God did not intend for human beings to eat animals. The 13th century thinker Nachmanides discussed the living, breathing soul of animals, which should not be harmed. Eating with a moral conscience has a long history in Judaism, as former president of the Union for Reform Judaism Rabbi Eric Yoffie noted in his 2009 Biennial address encouraging us all to eat less meat. Whether you are motivated by the complexities of the modern political moment or by the timeless thoughts of the sages, now is the time to question our daily decision to eat meat, as we approach Food Day 2012. Image courtesy of Food Day