Richard Schwartz at 80
Richard Schwartz is president emeritus of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), after serving as president for many years. After over 35 years of promoting vegetarianism/veganism, animal rights, and environmental activism, he can speak from a unique perspective that can produce a game changer in promoting vegetarianism. Schwartz is the author of 4 challenging books, Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet, and Mathematics and Global Survival, and over 200 articles and book reviews and 25 podcasts at www.jewishveg.com/schwartz.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi everybody, we’re back. I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to the second part of It’s All About Food today on April 1st, 2014. How are you? I have to say that it’s been a rough few weeks for me, and as you know I was not doing very well last week. You can probably hear it in my voice that I’m recovering from that nasty bug that I had; and the body always amazes me at its ability to heal when you give it the tools it needs. I certainly needed a lot of rest…kale juice didn’t hurt! Good health is so important. It’s so good to feel good, and it’s so bad not to feel good. That’s one of the things that’s important to me here on It’s All About Food: talking about health and the simple things that we can do so that we do feel good for a very, very long time, and live a long, quality life. Now, I want to talk about living a long, quality, and healthy life with my next guest Richard Schwartz—President Emeritus of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America. After serving as president for many years, and over 35 years of promoting vegetarian, veganism, animal rights, and environmental activism, he can speak from a unique perspective that can produce a game-changer in promoting vegetarianism. He’s the author of four challenging books: Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Who Stole My Religion?: Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet, and Mathematics and Global Survival, and the author of over 200 articles and book reviews, and 25 podcasts at www.jewishveg.com/schwartz . Richard, welcome to It’s All About Food!
Richard Schwartz: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be on and kudos for all the great things you’re doing. I hope you continue to feel better and better.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you! Well, first of all, you’re turning 80 in May!
Richard Schwartz: Actually, my birthday is in April, but I’ll be away so the celebration is going to be in May
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, I see. What day is your birthday?
Richard Schwartz: April 10th.
Caryn Hartglass: April 10th. My birthday is April 22nd: Earth Day.
Richard Schwartz: I guess I’m about twelve days older than you then.
Caryn Hartglass: (Laughs) That’s right! Twelve days and a little bit. Well, you are certainly looking good. I want to know who did the cartoon of you looking like Super-Vegetarian.
Richard Schwartz: Okay, well that’s somebody our new executive director, Jeff Cohan, got. When I first saw that I almost burst out laughing, and it was really amazing. But, we almost need superheroes nowadays. The threats are so great: climate change, the epidemic of disease, the hunger. So that’s why it’s great that your program is on and well: we’ve got to get our messages out there as effectively as we can.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, I want to know how you have stayed so enthusiastic and so inspired about the same message for so long.
Richard Schwartz: Well, it’s like there’s no alternative. It’s very easy to give up because when you see that just this week there was a report from the Intergovernmental panel on climate change.
Caryn Hartglass: Yup.
Richard Schwartz: Things are bad already and unfortunately they can get a lot worse. A report just a few days before that an amazing, amazing thing that every single year in the 21st century is in the top 14—only one year, 1998—is in the top 14, other than the 13 years in the 21st century, and yet there’s so much denial out there and people saying “actually we’ve been cooling.” 1998 actually happened to be a very warm year, and not every year has been higher than that—just a couple. But every one of them is way, way up there. 2013 was either fourth or seventh, depending on which group you’re looking at, with slightly different ways of measuring. Every year in this century has been warm, and as I say, among the top 14. Every decade since the 1970’s has been warmer than the previous one, and we’re seeing the effects out there in terms of the droughts that affected more than half of the US this past summer. Of course, now in California, the mud slide in Washington, the super-storms like Sandy and Katrina, and the flooding. This has to become a number one issue, and unfortunately many people are not aware that animal-based diets and agriculture are a major, major factor. Largely because of the methane given off by cows; which in the 20 years of methane in the atmosphere it’s seventy two times as potent as carbon dioxide in heating up the planet. So, we have got to get that message out and it has to become a priority because if we don’t avert the impending climate catastrophe, I hate to think of the kind of world we are leaving for our children and grand-children, and all future generations.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, how did you get so smart? And when did you get so smart?
Richard Schwartz: I’m sort of just standing on the shoulders of giants. You have, as I mentioned, an inter-governmental panel on climate change. You’ve got 97% of the climate experts all agreeing and even more than that; it’s like 99.9% if you look at the refereed articles and respected journals. And that’s the important thing at every science academy. So, if I’m smart, it’s because I’m able to see what all these wonderful scientists are doing and just…I’m the middle person trying to spread the word between the climate experts and the average person.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, yeah, I’m right there with you. I know how important the grassroots work is: getting to individuals one by one by one. I don’t want to be pessimistic—I want to remain the certain amount of optimism and hope, but it definitely is a very challenging time and for many of us, we see that the solutions are really very simple. I think humans have a number of characteristics that may have been beneficial in some instances, but they’re detrimental when we talk about the environment. We’re very shortsighted. We don’t like to look very far into the future. We’re concerned about our own generation, our own well being, our own economics, and it’s really hard to look beyond that. Really hard.
Richard Schwartz: But it’s essential because we need that looking into the future. Unfortunately not just the future: it’s happening already, as we’ve mentioned. Almost every other day on the news, its like flood here, tornado, drought in this area, mud slide, and of course you can’t point and say everyone is related to climate change, but the thing is that there’s so many more when you add all of them up; they’re all consistent with what the experts are saying. Just last year, for the first time in human history, the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million.
Caryn Hartglass: Yup.
Richard Schwartz: This part we know…there’s this wonderful, wonderful group called www.350.org, and the reason it has that name is that 350 is what climate experts think is like a cutoff point for safety. So we’re fifty points above that, and unfortunately increasing instead of moving back to that 350 level. So we could be very close if—God-forbid, we haven’t already passed it, to a tipping-point where climate change could spin out of control. So again, this has to be extremely important. When you realize that of course it’s not just that; it’s the negative effects of animal-based diets and agriculture on human health; and of course, the unbelievably poor conditions on factory farms; and causing deforestation; and water pollution; and very inefficient use of water and land and energy and other resources. That’s why I say, unfortunately, it’s like madness and sheer insanity. We need, as somebody pointed out, the moral madness or the moral passion as a biblical prophet. We have to be always respectful, but to challenge: what I’ve tried very respectfully to do in Judaism; but all the religions are based on compassion. I want to point out that number one: God’s earth has threatened us never before; and there is what I call the six mandates that point—religious mandates—that point to vegetarianism as the ideal diet. These are to take care of our health, to treat animals with compassion, be coworkers with God in protecting the environment, to conserve natural resources, helping hungry people, and seeking and pursuing peace: all fundamental to every single religion. And that’s why religious leaders and religious people in general should be in the forefront in efforts to increase awareness that we need to switch to vegetarian diets and, of course, vegan diets even more, for so many reasons.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, do you have any idea why religious leaders are not doing what you say they should be doing since it’s such a fundamental premise behind what most religions are about?
Richard Schwartz: Right. Well, first of all, I’m happy to say that there are some, of course, that are doing it; and more and more this is happening. And especially—it’s interesting—in Israel there has been a sure movement toward veganism in recent years.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m glad you brought that up. I was going to ask you about that; so if you can share any details I’d appreciate it.
Richard Schwartz: Okay, so yeah, that has been happening. But just to get back a bit more to your question: I call this a tragedy of religion. Religion has powerful teachings, but in general, they’re not being applied to the issues. That’s why in my book Judaism and Global Survival for example, and of course Judaism and Vegetarianism, and the other one, Who Stole My Religion? Applying Jewish Values; and again, this can be applied to other religions but Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet because there are such powerful teachings, but there’s too much of what, one of my favorites Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heshel call religious behavioralism, and that’s looking into it and saying “how can we apply the powerful teachings on justice, on peace, on sharing, on compassion, to a world that’s broken in many ways and needs these teachings today more than ever before?”
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, our world is definitely broken. So, what’s been going on in Israel? I’ve been reading all kinds of interesting things on veganism in Israel.
Richard Schwartz: Right. Well, there’s one guy you might have heard of—Gary Yourofsky, that’s been giving some talks there and some of these celebrities there have come out for it. It’s just…it’s been viral in(and) picking up; but on the other hand, there’s still a long, long ways to go. Its still a very small percent, but its been growing. Things are happening, but it’s got to happen much faster. They’re saying this has to become a central organizing principle, responding to climate change, to hunger, to thirst, and that’s the incredible thing to me. Mentioning hunger, for example, that with 20 million people dying from hunger and its effects every year and almost a billion people chronically hungry: it’s really shameful and astounding. 70% of the grain produced in this country—the corn, oats, soy, etc.—is being fed to animals destined for slaughter. And, what makes it to me more shameful is we’re taking healthy products (soy, corn, etc) high in complex carbohydrates and fiber—no cholesterol at all, no saturated fat—and we feed them to animals and end up with a product very high in saturated fat and cholesterol and devoid of complex carbohydrates and fiber. So, it’s really amazing.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s lunacy! It’s just lunacy.
Richard Schwartz: Well, that’s why I say, we need the matins of the biblical prophets, and we want to hope that everyone listening to your wonderful program will go to their minister, priest, rabbi, and now very respectfully say “can’t we get this on our agenda?” “Can’t we have a study group about it?” Or maybe even give a sermon about it. As they say, God’s earth is threatened and we’re not, God forbid, saying to start a new religion—it’s in all the religions. They’ve got all the teachings put into practice and we should go to medical conventions and really challenge them and say, “Medical practice today is really medical malpractice if doctors do not tell their patients about the many medical benefits of plant-based diets.”
Caryn Hartglass: A lot of them even roll their eyes when you say that’s what you want to do; that you want to eat plant foods.
Richard Schwartz: That’s because they’re not educated for that, unfortunately. They’re educated more for cure rather than prevention: “take this pill for that, take this pill for that side effect, and take this other pill for that.” We’re a pill-popping society and we can prevent so many diseases, so much attention is on the Affordable Care Act. How do we pay for it? But we can save so much money with prevention and healthier people and things would be a lot better.
Caryn Hartglass: You were talking before about resources and water and what the land is good for, and I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but earlier, I was going to say earlier this month—but it was actually in March and we’re already into April—I went and spoke to about 250 cattle producers on climate change at an event sponsored by a livestock company. It was fascinating to me to be there, to tour the feedlot, and to see all the things that I so intensely don’t believe in – to see it actually going on in front of me. The thing that was amazing to me is how people did not see what I saw. We clearly came and looked at the same landscape with a completely different point of view and a completely different vision. So what I saw, I was in Nevada, and in this particular mountainous area of Nevada you have the mountains and the valleys and its very sparse and very dry. It’s very dry and desert-like. I kept looking as we were driving around this area – how could anything live here? And then I saw these feedlots which are really, really ugly. They’re just vast amounts of acreage of dirt fenced and those poor animals inside them. You don’t see a tree anywhere. When I was talking to these people about the importance of eating more plants and less animals and how devastating it is for the environment and impacting climate change, many people said to me “our land isn’t good for anything else but raising cattle.” And I said to some of them, but I wanted to say to all of them but I didn’t have the opportunity, “this land isn’t even good for raising cattle – you’re bringing in all the food. You’re not growing it there. You’re bringing in all of the water. That isn’t suitable for what you’re doing.” And they don’t see that.
Richard Schwartz: Right. And acres and acres of land in Iowa and other states are being used to grow those feed grains that you say are being brought in there. And of course, that is having such negative effects, and need a lot of irrigation water, and running out of water. Animal based diets, per person, takes up to 14 times as much water. There was a time when the aquifers have been shrinking, the glaciers are melting, and some of these areas may become a big problem for the future—shortages of water, shortages of food. But tying in with what you were saying, you’ve probably heard that expression “denial is not just a river in Egypt”.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right, that’s worth saying again. Denial is not just a river in Egypt—a drying up river in Egypt.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah, people just don’t want to know. But things are happening, some politicians are getting involved and realizing we’ve got to make these changes and we need leadership here to say: “we just can’t keep going on this way.” We’re on a path toward tremendous catastrophe and destruction.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I haven’t had a chance to read the newest inter-governmental panel on climate. I guess it just came out or some of the information has just leaked out.
Richard Schwartz: Yeah, leaked out, and it will be out soon. But it’s a massive, massive report and you’re talking about hundreds of scientists and, in a way, it’s a conservative document because there has to be consensus among many scientists and also many countries. And it’s using documents from the last about three, four, five years perhaps. It’s indicating more and more floods and droughts and wild fires. Everything is connected with everything else, and we see that with the mud slide in the state of Washington.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m really glad you brought that up because I was thinking about that and how it’s such a metaphor for everything that humanity is doing. What I was reading about was that people knew that that particular area in Washington was prone to mud slides. They knew for a long time. And it was due to over-logging, to the point where they removed all the trees that were holding up the earth. In some ways it’s like a metaphor. We’re removing things from the planet that are holding us together; that are keeping us together. And at some point, everything is just going to collapse.
Richard Schwartz: Right. And some even say it’s like a giant Ponzi scheme, where things seem okay now, everybody is benefitting from the trees and making money perhaps; but there is disaster ahead. There is going to be a price to be paid. And again, happening already in terms of the mudslide, the droughts, and the wildfires and Hurricane Sandy here on the east coast, and affecting the entire world actually.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, we just have a few minutes left and I wanted to turn things around and talk about some things to celebrate. So, it’s going to be a big party to celebrate your 80th birthday, right?
Richard Schwartz: That’s correct.
Caryn Hartglass: Where’s that going to be?
Richard Schwartz: Okay, it’s going to be in Manhattan at a place called Madras Mahal, I think it is. If people want to find out more about it, they can go to the Jewish Vegetarians of North America—they’re the ones sponsoring it. Their website is www.jewishveg.com. If you continue to www.jewishveg.com/schwartz , that’s where, as you mentioned, I have over 200 articles and 25 podcasts, and a complete text of my book Judaism and Vegetarianism, and also Judaism and Global Survival. If people want more information, they can also email me at email@example.com. If anyone would like to volunteer to help out, there are so many things that need to be done and I hope they’ll contact me as well.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, well I always like the opportunity to celebrate, and I’m glad there’s going to be a big party for you. So now you’re going to be 80, you’re going to be middle age? You’re going to live to about 160 probably, so what are your future plans?
Richard Schwartz: Well, I hope I can still build a poetic statement. Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be, because there is so much to be done. Its almost like the days are just not long enough, there’s just not enough time. Well, we’re trying everything possible. Well one thing I am trying is to restore and transform the ancient Jewish New Year for animals. This is something that unfortunately started years ago when they had the sacrifices so we wanted to get away from that and transform it. Judaism, like many other religions, has such powerful teachings on compassion for animals, that God’s compassion over all his works, for example. The book of Proverbs says, “the righteous individual considers the life of his or her animal”. So, we want to increase awareness of that, and also the very, very sharp contradictions between the use of religious teachings and the realities on factory farms, and some of the other settings. So that’s one thing that I am just trying to get articles out and mainly increasing awareness that again, its essential that there be a major change in vegetarian and preferably vegan diets in order to combat a climate catastrophe. We have to respond with a moral passion, as biblical prophets, get this word out, and encourage listeners—write letters, speak to your politicians, religious leaders—and tell them, especially if you have children or grandchildren, that if you want a decent world for them we have to start today and turn things around.
Caryn Hartglass: That sounds pretty good. And that’s just about the best place we can end this program. Thank you for joining me, Richard Schwartz, and a very happy birthday to you in just a few days!
Richard Schwartz: Thank you very much! It’s always a pleasure to be on your program.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, I look forward to seeing you soon, take care.
Richard Schwartz: All the best, bye bye.
Caryn Hartglass: You too, bye bye. I’m Caryn Hartglass, you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. Join me at www.responsibleeatingandliving.com where you can find wonderful recipes and an archive of all of these podcasts (and some of them are even transcribed!). So, have a delicious week, okay? Bye bye!
Transcribed 5/28/2014 by Alyssa Moody, edited by Joe Wilson 6/11/2014