Living through a pandemic has become the ultimate opportunity to look at our food sources and the interconnectedness between what we eat and a host of global issues.
More than 70 billion land animals are raised and killed each year for food and other products around the world, including nine billion in the US alone. Animal agriculture is the main cause of an array of global crises, including climate change, pandemics, water pollution, poverty and hunger.
Zoonosis, the transmission of diseases from animals to humans is, according to the CDC, the source of 75% of all new viruses facing humans. It is happening at a rapid pace because of how animals are raised and slaughtered, primarily in industrial animal agriculture factories and live “wet” markets. From the origination of COVID-19 at an animal market in China to swine flu at an industrial farm in the US to mad cow disease in the UK, the raising and killing of wild and domesticated animals is causing pandemics.
The raising of animals in industrial factories is the cause of increasing antibiotic resistance, climate change (one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions), pollution of water sources and land loss for wild animals, small and peasant farmers and indigenous peoples. It’s not only killing the environment, but also humans: modern meat-centric diets cause health problems like high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.
While the picture isn’t pretty, the solution—a plant-based diet—is. This places us amidst a web of beings, rather than at the top of a dominant pyramid, in which we view animals as sources of food and consumer goods. Instead, it recognizes the emotional capacities, intelligence and desire for all non-human animals to have complete lives, not in captivity, and to fully express natural behaviors.
Plant-based eating is the fastest-growing social movement in the world. Israel is leading this, with the highest number of vegans per capita worldwide. But caring for animals and eating a humane, plant-based diet it is not new to Judaism. Our tradition is rich with ethics, teachings and moral guidance about our relationship and responsibilities towards animals.
Across North America, Jewish Veg is leading the plant-based movement, advocating for Jewish values of compassion for animals and kindness to our world. From programs to ensure that substantial plant-based food is available at institutional events and a vegan Birthright trip to speaking engagements in congregations and community centers throughout the country, Jewish Veg helps individuals and communities easily adapt and incorporate plant-based foods. Here in DC, there’s now a local chapter of Jewish Veg, which hosts celebrations, cooking demonstrations and conversations (now happening online during COVID-19).
Ending pandemics, climate change and hunger might be a lot to roll up into one meal, but it’s the most powerful act we can take. And we have the opportunity to do it multiple times a day. No matter your dietary preferences, all are welcome to join the DC chapter of Jewish Veg to be part of this growing community.