Any vegan will tell you that dairy products are unfit for human consumption.
The anti-dairy position stands on at least three very sturdy legs: animal welfare, personal health, and logic.
In brief, dairy cows are continuously subjected to horrendous treatment in today’s factory farms, dairy products are inherently unhealthy, and it is logically insane for humans to be consuming something that is designed to turn a 50-pound calf into a 500-pound cow.
Now Shmuly Yanklowitz, a crusading Orthodox rabbi, has introduced another reason to eschew dairy products, causing The Beet-Eating Heeb to kick himself for not thinking of it first.
Simply but profoundly put, Rabbi Yanklowitz opined this week in the pages of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal that today’s dairy products are unkosher.
He rests his argument on Exodus 22:30, which states “you must not eat flesh torn by beasts in the field.” Over the millennia, rabbinic authorities have interpreted Exodus 22:30 as a prohibition against eating a diseased animal.
Now, consider modern dairy farming. Dairy cows are repeatedly raped to induce pregnancy, confined in small stalls, and hooked up daily to milking machines, which extract about 15 times the milk that a cow would naturally produce. Worse, those machines often cause mastitis, a painful inflammation of the udder. And that’s just to name a few of the horrors.
Suffice it to say, more than a few dairy cows are diseased.
Now take a look at the cheese on your cracker or the yogurt on your granola. The milk used to produce that is usually a mixture from several different cows.
So who can possibly say that no part of their dairy products came from diseased cows?
The Beet-Eating Heeb does not pretend to be a Talmudic scholar, but it seems to him that Rabbi Yanklowitz is exactly right. Modern dairy products should not be considered kosher.
Shmuly, whose many professional titles include Senior Jewish Educator at the UCLA Hillel, isn’t the only Orthodox rabbi making this case. But much to his credit, he may be the one making it most loudly, most assertively.
In The Jewish Journal, he stated, “It seems to me that, from a halakhic standpoint, it is no longer acceptable to support the dairy industry. We must communicate to the industry how we, as kosher consumers, feel about these abuses and support healthier, more ethical options. We must also consider moving toward soy, almond, rice and coconut milk alternatives until the dairy industry cleans up its act. Today, we have affordable, healthy, tasty alternatives so it is relatively easy for us to become more ethical consumers.”
The Beet-Eating Heeb would only quibble with Rabbi Yanklowitz on one small point. Realistically, the dairy industry is not going to “clean up its act,” not unless far more human beings come to their senses and wean themselves off of dairy products altogether. As long as demand for cow’s milk, ice cream, cheese and yogurt remains sky-high, the dairy industry literally cannot provide sufficient supply without industrializing the milking process. People need to be prepared to give up dairy products permanently.
That minor difference aside, The Beet-Eating Heeb applauds Rabbi Yanklowitz for challenging conventional thought and applying theology to reality. After all, that’s what Jewish theology is for.
Here’s hoping that the Orthodox rabbinate takes a close look at this dairy issue, for the sake of suffering cows.
Bible-literate carnivores cling tenaciously to a slender verse in the Book of Genesis to justify their consumption of animal flesh.
Genesis 9:3 is the Biblical invitation to a Texas buffet. It plainly states, “Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat.”
The Beet-Eating Heeb cannot pretend that this verse doesn’t exist. In fact, faithful readers of his blog will tell you that he has never, ever stated that Judaism or Christianity prohibits meat eating.
But he is not afraid to address Genesis 9:3 head-on – and show that carnivores should take little comfort in its words.
Consider the context. In language, context matters.
For instance, if The Beet-Eating Heeb announces that he is “on fire,” it could mean that he either fell into a barbecue pit, or bowled five straight strikes.
Compare the contexts of Genesis 1:29, in which God prescribes a vegan diet, with Genesis 9:3.
Genesis 1:29 culminates the Creation story and takes place in the Garden of Eden. God describes his vegan menu as “very good.”
Fast forward to Genesis 9:3, which comes immediately after The Flood, in which God exterminated virtually all of humanity to put an end to its licentiousness. God was clearly not smiling when he granted Man permission to eat meat.
Indeed, it is a widespread view among rabbinic authorities that God granted this permission with profound reluctance, after sadly observing the flesh-eating ways of humans in the years before The Flood. If God were going to promise to refrain from wiping out humankind again, as he did in Genesis 9:11, He would have to lower his expectations and his standards.
In short, a carnivorous diet is clearly not God’s preference. It a God who is deeply disappointed in humankind’s behavior who authorizes meat eating.
The Beet-Eating Heeb isn’t finished dismantling Genesis 9:3.
This verse cannot be understood apart from Leviticus 11, in which the laws of kashrut are laid out. Those laws put meat-eating inside some narrow boundaries. Pork? No way. Shrimp? Not allowed. Cheeseburgers? Forget about it.
What is the overarching message of Leviticus 11? God wanted to make it difficult for us to eat meat, in hopes that we wouldn’t eat too much of it. You can only eat certain animals slaughtered under certain conditions.
But if God gave an inch, most of The Beet-Eating Heeb’s fellow Jews have taken a mile. So have a little meat once in a while, if you can’t live up to God’s highest ideals. But do you really think God wants you to be eating animals two or three times a day, seven days a week?
One last thing.
The Beet-Eating Heeb could not help but notice that life spans recorded in the Torah became dramatically shorter after God granted people permission to eat meat. Adam, for instance, didn’t check out until after his 930th birthday, long after he had drained his 401(k). Abraham, in contrast, passed away at the tender age of 175.
Whether or not you interpret these life spans literally, the message is clear, and verified by modern scientific research: Vegetarians and vegans live longer. And The Beet-Eating Heeb would say that’s God’s will, and His clearly expressed preference.
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!