Vegan Advocacy: On the Verge of a Breakthrough?

Is the vegan advocacy and animal rights movement on the cusp of transforming society?

Will it soon take its place alongside the feminist and civil-rights movements as a source of genuine, positive and lasting social change?

The Beet-Eating Heeb is not quite prepared to answer with an unqualified yes.

However, after attending last week’s annual conference of the Farm Animals Rights Movement, BEH is feeling decidedly more optimistic.

Known as the Animal Rights Conference (ARC), the four-day event drew approximately 500 people to a Hilton in Alexandria, VA.

The Beet-Eating Heeb, in his previous career incarnations, attended more national conferences than he can possibly count, including some much larger than ARC, such as the massive AIPAC Policy Conference.

But never has he witnessed such energy, emotion and commitment at a conference as he did last week.

Author Roberta Kalechofsky, a key advisor to Jewish Vegetarians of North America, discusses her books in the exhibit hall at the Animal Rights Conference.

The exhibit hall bristled with activity as conference goers jammed the narrow aisles to buy vegan books and t-shirts, pick up brochures, and trade stories with fellow activists. Several speakers received rousing standing ovations as they discussed their work on behalf of animals. More than one speaker broke down in tears in describing the horrific cruelty inflicted on cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys. A high percentage of the attendees, perhaps half, were under 40 years of age.

To paraphrase legendary hockey announcer Mike Lange, “You would have had to be there to believe it.”

So, what is the source of this vibe, this passion at a conference devoted mainly to vegan advocacy?

There are two sources, the way The Beet-Eating Heeb sees it.

One, vegan advocates are feeling the momentum as our movement accumulates significant gains. Veganism, relegated to the margins of society for decades, is suddenly becoming mainstream as more and more thought leaders promote its benefits and as vegan options proliferate in grocery stores and restaurants.

Two, vegan advocates are drawing energy from the sense of moral outrage we justifiably feel, aware as we are that 9 billion farm animals are being brutally murdered in the U.S. alone this year, aware that about 8.5 billion of them are subjected to lives of abject misery before they are trucked to the slaughterhouse.

The pieces are indeed falling into place to create a social-change movement of historic proportions.

As was the case with the historic social-change movements of yesteryear, there exists a deeply rooted, pervasive, absolutely unacceptable condition in society.  And there exists a growing awareness of the problem.

Joy, unbridled

“History will look back at veganism as one of the most important, transformative movements in human history,” Melanie Joy, a vegan author and psychologist, said at the conference.

A couple of week ago, The Beet-Eating Heeb might have dismissed such a statement as wishful thinking.

But after spending a few days with his fellow advocates, BEH can see the seeds of something big, very  big, starting to bloom.

Which leads to a final, and, in The Beet-Eating Heeb’s mind, a very important question:

As the movement matures and gains ever more adherents, will people of religious faith be at the vanguard or on the sidelines?

There were several  Jews at ARC. May there be many more next year. Compassion for animals is not just a Jewish teaching, it’s a core concept of our religion. Our Torah narrative, Mishnah and Talmud express exquisite sensitivity to the suffering of animals. We should be overrepresented in this new social-change movement, just as were in the feminist and civil rights movements of prior generations.

Will we be?

About The Beet-Eating Heeb

I'm a meat-abstaining Jew who believes our religion commands us to treat our bodies with care, to treat animals with compassion, and to treat our planet like it's the only one we've got.

Posted on August 7, 2012, in Factory Farming / Animal Cruelty and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I certainly hope this will be the case, BEH. As a born again Christian (as you know), I am very encouraged by the growing trends of compassion and vegetarianism/veganism among people of faith. We are to have dominion over the world as stewards, not overlords!

  2. I had a great time at the conference this weekend–I wish I’d known to look out for you!

  3. I have been going to the AR Conference for the past 4-5 years. It is refreshing to be among so many like-minded individuals who understand what makes you tick.

    Sadly, I experience no such comfort with the members of my schul (which I chose among others because of its progressiveness and availability of a CSA program). Onegs after Shabbos services and any other food-related events contain very few vegan options. Strangely, the dairy meals are less vegan-friendly than the meat meals, which at least have vegan veggie side dishes. I think we need more vegans at the leadership levels in schuls; sermons and divrei Torah need to more effectively highlight the Jewish precepts of kindness to animals and repairing the world.

    Each speaker at the AR Conference had a large audience of open-minded individuals whom s/he could influence with divine inspiration — a Rabbi or lay leader in a schul has that same opportunity. If only such religious orators would inspire on behalf of animals.

    • Unfortunately, rabbis, like most people, do not want to rock the boat when most of their congregation members eat meat. I think it is important to arrange one-to-one meetings with them and respectfully suggest that they give sermons or classes on Jewish teachings on animals, health, stewardship, and other veg-related topics. So, even if they do not promote vegetarianism or veganism, they at least discuss issues that might make some congregants consider dietary changes.

  4. Kol hakavod (kudos) to the Beet Eating Heeb for this very thoughtful analysis. I share his optimism that there is increasing movement toward vegan diets. The question is will it happen soon enough to help avert an impending climate catastrophe, severe food, water, energy scarcities, and other environmental disasters. It is essential that we each do everything we can to increase awareness that among the many necessary changes is a societal shift toward plant-based diets. We should stress that animal-based diets and agriculture arguably violate basic Jewish mandates to preserve human health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources and help hungry people, and (2) animal -based diets and agriculture are causing an epidemic of diseases in the Jewish and other communities and contributing significantly to climate change, deforestation, desertification, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, water shortages, and other environmental problems that threaten all of humanity.

    I believe it is essential that the Jewish community address these issues to show the relevance of eternal Jewish teachings to current issues and to help shift our imperiled planet to a sustainable path.

    More information about Jewish teachings related to vegetarianism can be found at the Jewish Vegetarians of North America website (JewishVeg.com) and at JewishVeg.com/Schwartz and in our acclaimed documentary “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World,” which can be seen at aSacredDuty.com.

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