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!