Monthly Archives: April 2012
Vegans might feel virtually invisible within the Jewish community as a whole.
But The Beet-Eating Heeb is here to deliver hope.
One of the most visible Jews in the Social Media World – and these days, what other world is there? – has become a vegan. Or, as BEH likes to say, this person has joined the Great Jewish Vegan Conspiracy (1).
If you’re one of the few people who is not following William @Daroff on Twitter, you must be Amish. But, regardless, The Beet-Eating Heeb is pleased to introduce you.
William Daroff has twice been named as one of the top five most influential Jewish Tweeters. In February 2012, the National Jewish Outreach Program named him one of the top ten Jewish influencers in social media.
Perhaps even more significantly, Daroff holds down one of the most important jobs in organized Judaism. He is the Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington Office of The Jewish Federations of North America. Simply put, he is The Washington Lobbyist for the Jewish People.
On a recent business trip to Pittsburgh, William met The Beet-Eating Heeb for lunch at one of the city’s finest vegan-friendly restaurants, The Quiet Storm.
The Beet-Eating Heeb turned on his tape recorder and captured the following conversation. Particularly, ahem, interesting was his advice for vegan advocates in Washington. He didn’t give the answer we necessarily want to hear. But is he right?
Here’s the interview:
BEH: The Beet-Eating Heeb has known you for years. When and how did you become a vegan?
DAROFF: About two years ago, my wife (a longtime vegetarian) and I were at a bookstore looking at diet books and came upon a book that my internist had recommended for me about a year before but I hadn’t paid any attention to it. It’s called “The Engine 2 Diet.”
My wife got all excited about the book and I decided I would give it a shot. In the book, (author Rip Esselstyn) has a method where he suggests slowly becoming a vegan, but I went cold turkey and immediately eliminated (all animal products) from my diet. I don’t go out of my way to avoid honey, so technically I’m what’s called a beegan, which is one of my favorite terms. The only animal product I consume is honey. My wife became a vegan with me. So I’m now in a house with three vegans and a vegetarian. (They have two daughters, one a vegan, the other a vegetarian.)
What I’ve found is the medical community doesn’t even look at nutrition, especially vegan diets.
They (Rip Esselstyn and his father, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn) are behind this whole plant-strong diet that is looking at a plant-based diet as central for good health.
BEH: It’s been about 18 months now since you became a vegan? How’s it been going?
DAROFF: Right off the bat, I lost about 30 pounds and my numbers improved substantially, my cholesterol and whatnot. I sleep better, I’m much less congested. The sleep I have is much more peaceful. I feel like I don’t get colds as much as I used to. The bottom line is, I feel better.
The big factor I did not take account when I became a vegan is that egg is in everything. It’s unbelievable to me, whether it’s bread, mayonnaise, cake. That’s been an issue, trying to stay egg-free.
On the other hand, a vegan diet is very easy to meld with a kosher lifestyle. When you’re not dealing with meat, and you’re not dealing with dairy, what else is there? It makes my life much easier. I think being kosher and being vegan connect very well together.
BEH: Theologically, that isn’t a coincidence.
So you cited the book by Rip Esselstyn. Since becoming a vegan 18 months ago, have you looked into what Judaism has to say about eating meat versus plants and has that had any influence on your thinking?
DAROFF: I’ve looked at the Website of Jewish Vegetarians of North America. The part that speaks to me is the idea that, unfortunately, much of the way animals are treated by the agricultural industry, by the mass food industry, is arguably cruel. My Judaism is one that tries to treat all of God’s creatures in a way that’s compassionate. Even if the cows are not being killed cruelly, the fact that they are being killed seems to me to be not optimal. To me, even if the cow, even if the chicken, even if the pig is killed in a humane way, I still don’t think it’s good. I don’t think it’s an optimal way to treat fellow creatures.
BEH: What’s it like being a vegan in Washington?
DAROFF: Most of the time I have lunch in Washington at a restaurant it’s at the one kosher deli in Washington, which is called Eli’s. Eli’s has named a veggie burger after me, It’s called the William’s Burger, which is cute because it’s William for me, but it’s also Williamsburg, as in Brooklyn, where the Orthodox community is so strong.
I get a lot of strange looks, not just from Conservative Republicans but from liberal Democrats, too, who say, “Don’t you miss having a big chunky piece of steak?” The answer is, “Pretty much not.” I miss the ease of being able to order anything, anywhere, but to a great extent, being kosher, that wasn’t the case anyway.
Over the last year and a half, I’ve tried to dispel the idea that all vegans are hippies wearing Birkenstocks and protesting with PETA on the corner.
BEH: Not that there is anything wrong with protesting with PETA on the corner.
DAROFF: Not that there is anything wrong for the most part, depending on what PETA’s current campaign is.
BEH: Are they any vegetarians or vegans in Congress or in the upper echelons of the Administration?
DAROFF: The one who comes to mind who is a vegan is Dennis Kucinich. (Kucinich, a Democratic Congressman from Ohio, just lost his re-election bid in the Democrat primary). As far as the halls of power, nobody is immediately coming to mind.
BEH: I’ve been saving the most important question for last. As someone who is extremely effective at being an advocate in Washington, what advice would you have for the vegan and animal rights movement if they want to achieve more influence in Congress and the Administration. Right now, they certainly don’t have much.
DAROFF: That’s correct. I think it’s important to recognize that there are millions of Americans who are employed by the farming industry. To recognize that they have impact, for better or for worse, the person who is making $10-an-hour at some processing plant in Iowa would be unemployed but for that processing plant in Iowa. The political interests of that person have some validity, and that’s what a lot of the policy makers, a lot of the legislators are looking at when they’re considering USDA regulations or FDA regulations or farm supports or other policies that impact the industry.
Let me talk about PETA for a little bit. I think some of their methods of shock and awe are counterproductive and they help to further the image of the veg/vegan world of one of being crazy, Birkenstock- wearing radicals who are outside the norm.
I think to the extent that are more legitimate physicians and health professionals and people like President Clinton who are very much part of the dominant paradigm of society who are pushing the benefits of veganism and vegetarianism, that helps the movement seem more mainstream, which should help with having political power.
(1) Daroff came up with the phrase “Great Jewish Vegan Conspiracy” and gave The Beet-Eating Heeb permission to it. Thanks William!
After all, what two words better describe Jewish veganism?
So imagine The Beet-Eating Heeb’s surprise (he won’t say dismay) when he discovered a newly published book called “Holy Eating.” And the author not only happens to be a fellow member of the Pittsburgh Jewish community, he is someone BEH is personally fond of — Dr. Robert Schwartz.
But wait a minute. The last time BEH checked, his friend Bob Schwartz was working as a sex therapist. Now he has written a book about eating?
Upon hearing about this book, The Beet-Eating Heeb immediately contacted Bob’s publicist, presented his Official Blogger Credential, and obtained a reviewer’s copy.
Then BEH dove into the book, anxious to see if the author’s definition of “holy eating” was veganism.
The book is subtitled “The Spiritual Secret to Eternal Weight Loss.” But The Beet-Eating Heeb knows that a well-designed vegan diet will help overweight people shed pounds.
As it turns out, “Holy Eating” is a 173-page elaboration of one big idea. And it’s the same big idea that undergirds this very blog.
Here it is: The most compelling intellectual, moral and personal reasons for behavioral change often won’t produce change at all if they don’t have a religious or spiritual component.
That’s hardly a novel concept. It is the core of 12-step addiction programs.
However, very few other diet books advocate a spiritual approach to weight loss. Similarly, very few other animal-welfare or personal-health blogs advocate a religious approach to veganism.
So The Beet-Eating Heeb is feeling some brotherly love toward Bob.
On the vegan question, though, Bob kept The Beet-Eating Heeb in suspense.
About a quarter-way through the book, in a chapter called “The Kabbalah of Eating,” Dr. Schwartz quotes another author as saying, “A Jewish mystic meditates on how the food has been created and is being kept in existence every minute by God’s will,” which leads to “mystic joy.”
You don’t need to be a Kabbalist or even Madonna to recognize that keeping animals confined in obscenely crowded conditions, then killing them about one-third of the way through their natural life span, hardly sounds like God’s will. Meditating about factory-farmed meat, milk and eggs does not lead to mystic joy.
But Bob did not explain the type of food the Jewish mystic was meditating on.
Not until Page 137 does the good doctor broach the subject of what a holy eater should – and should not – consume. The first 85 percent of the book focuses exclusively on how much one should eat. (In a word, less.)
Bob deserves full credit for noting, as The Beet-Eating Heeb did in his March 8 post, that God’s first dietary instructions to humankind included only fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. Animal products were not on the list of approved items.
But the definition of “holy eating” in this book does include meat. Just not much.
Dr. Schwartz strongly urges his readers to reduce their meat consumption, for health and spiritual reasons.
At the end of a chapter titled “So What Should I Eat?,” Dr. Schwartz summarizes what he calls the “essential food guidelines derived from the Bible.” Conspicuously, meat is not explicitly mentioned in his summary, while he does urge his readers to “eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.”
So you can see why The Beet-Eating Heeb believes Bob is heading in the right direction, even if he doesn’t quite reach the holiest destination.
BEH cuts Dr. Schwartz some slack. Equating veganism with holy eating would probably be a bridge too far for this book, considering Bob already risks alienating many readers by suggesting that obese people are spiritually deficient at mealtime.
So even if non-vegans are a couple of cards short of a full spiritual deck, as The Beet-Eating Heeb would say, Dr. Schwartz could not make that point without relegating his book to the worst-seller list.
What if you have no intention of becoming a vegan but you need to lose weight? Should you buy this book?
The Beet-Eating Heeb says yes, if …
The “if” is, if you consider yourself a spiritual person, preferably but not necessarily of the Jewish variety. If you are spiritual, invoking God consciousness while eating might indeed be your secret to eternal weight loss. Dr. Schwartz presents several approaches, including meditation, in an accessible writing style.
If you’re not a spiritual person, well, The Beet-Eating Heeb feels sorry for you, and out of sympathy will save you $15 by steering you away from this book.
By the way, BEH just thought of a name for his future book: “Holier Eating.”