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Vegetarianism is Illuminated

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If you didn’t catch Jonathan Safran Foer’s wonderful piece “Against Meat” in last Sunday’s NY Times Magazine Food Issue, it’s well worth reading. He writes how his Holocaust survivor grandmother’s “obsession with food”  formed his own vegetarianism, and how his Jewish values and experiences informed his and his wife’s decision to raise their children vegetarian.  But Safran Foer also points out his way to vegetarianism was not a straight path. He very nicely captures the ambivalence of those of us who lean towards vegetarianism, but still eat meat, as well as what appears to be a kind of ethical inconsistency in our enjoyment of the taste of meat.  As he bluntly puts it,

Yet taste, the crudest of our senses, has been exempted from the ethical rules that govern our other senses. Why? Why doesn’t a horny person have as strong a claim to raping an animal as a hungry one does to confining, killing and eating it? It’s easy to dismiss that question but hard to respond to it. Try to imagine any end other than taste for which it would be justifiable to do what we do to farmed animals.

But I what I found most moving was the way he connected his own ethical commitment to vegetarianism to his grandmother’s commitment to kashrut, even under the most extreme circumstances.  She gets the last word in the dialogue he recalls,

“The worst it got was near the end. A lot of people died right at the end, and I didn’t know if I could make it another day. A farmer, a Russian, God bless him, he saw my condition, and he went into his house and came out with a piece of meat for me.”

“He saved your life.”

“I didn’t eat it.”

“You didn’t eat it?”

“It was pork. I wouldn’t eat pork.”

“Why?”

“What do you mean why?”

“What, because it wasn’t kosher?”

“Of course.”

“But not even to save your life?”

“If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”

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4 Responses to “Vegetarianism is Illuminated”

  1. Michael Croland Says:

    As the media watchdog DawnWatch put it, Foer “is fast becoming one of the animal advocacy world’s most compelling spokespersons—well worth hearing.” As the November 2 release of his book Eating Animals draws closer, let’s hope he continues to get lots of media exposure. (And I hope The Jew & The Carrot will discuss this book and Foer’s additional media appearances related to this topic.)

    Foer appeared on Larry King Live (starting about 18 minutes in: http://tinyurl.com/ylq2tru) last week to talk about the safety and ethics of meat:

    “There’s a certain kind of meat, which is produced on factory farms, that is in every single way unconscionable. It’s unconscionable to feed to our children because of the health. It’s unconscionable because it’s the single worst thing that we can do to the environment by a long shot. And it’s unconscionable because of what we’re doing to animals who are raised on factory farms. …

    “Upwards of 99 percent of the animals that are raised for meat in this country come from factory farms. So when we’re talking about meat, when we’re talking about the meat that they sell in grocery stores or we’re talking about the meat that we order in restaurants, we are effectively talking about factory farms.”

  2. Richard Schwartz Says:

    Great to see this thoughtful post and Michael’s comment on it.

    The Jewish community still seems to be generally in denial about the many ethical issues related to our diets — especially that animal-based diets arguably seriously violate Basic Jewish mandates to preserve our health, treat animals compassionately, protect the environment, conserve natural resources and help hungry people.

    It is becoming increasingly clear that such diets have devastating effects ob human health and the environment.

    For more information, please visit JewishVeg.com/schwartz, where I have over 140 articles and 25 podcasts of talks and interviews, and ASacredDuty.com, to see our acclaimed documentary “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World. Thanks.

    Richard Schwartz, president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America

  3. Julie Steinberg Says:

    I enjoyed this article as well. Just and FYI – I am in the process of reading his book and writing a review for the Jew and the Carrot – look for more next week. Will also be giving away a free copy of the book.

  4. Gerardo Tristan Says:

    I am a big fan of Foer! How can apply for the book give away thing? Great blog too Jonathan!

    Keep up the good work and best whises,
    Gerardo Tristan.

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