Thursday, July 10, 2008


Matthew 5:9 - Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

The Only Diet for a Peacemaker Is a Vegetarian Diet

by John Dear

In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last week to speak at the National Convention of Unitarian Universalists, I met my old friend Bruce Friedrich. We spent eight memorable months together in a tiny jail cell, along with Philip Berrigan, for our 1993 Plowshares disarmament action. A former Catholic Worker, Bruce is now one of the leaders of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. He gave a brilliant workshop on the importance of becoming a vegetarian, something I urge everyone to consider.

I became a vegetarian with a few other Jesuit novices shortly after I entered the Jesuits in 1982 and later wrote a pamphlet for PETA, “Christianity and Vegetarianism.” I based my decision solely on Francis Moore Lappe’s classic work, Diet for a Small Planet, a book that I think everyone should read.

In it, Lappe, the great advocate for the hungry, makes an unassailable case that vegetarianism is the best way to eliminate world hunger and to sustain the environment.

At first glance, we wonder how that could be. But it’s undisputable. A hundred million tons of grain go yearly for biofuel — a morally questionable use of foodstuffs. But more than seven times that much — some 760 million tons according to the United Nations — go into the bellies of farmed animals, this to fatten them up so that sirloin, hamburgers and pork roast grace the tables of First-World people. It boils down to this. Over 70 percent of U.S. grain and 80 percent of corn is fed to farm animals rather than people.

Conscience dictates that the grain should stay where it is grown, from South America to Africa. And it should be fed to the local malnourished poor, not to the chickens destined for our KFC buckets. The environmental think-tank, the World Watch Institute, sums it up: “Continued growth in meat output is dependent on feeding grain to animals, creating competition for grain between affluent meat eaters and the world’s poor.”

Meanwhile, eating meat causes almost 40 percent more greenhouse-gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, and planes in the world combined. (The world’s 1.3 billion cattle release tons of methane into the atmosphere, and hundreds of millions tons of CO2 are released by burning forests due to dry conditions as in California or due to purposeful burns to create cow pastures in Latin America.)

And global warming isn’t the only environmental issue. Almost 40 years ago, Lappe spelled out the environmental consequences of eating meat in stark relief. But more recently, her analysis received some high-power validation. The United Nations recently published “Livestock’s Long Shadow.” It concludes that eating meat is “one of the most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” And it insists that the meat industry “should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.”

Much of our potable water and much of our fossil fuel supply is wasted on rearing chickens, pigs, and other animals for humans to eat. And over 50 percent of forests worldwide have been cleared to raise or feed livestock for meat-eating. (A recent protest in Brazil denounced Kentucky Fried Chicken for clearing thousands of acres of untouched Amazon rain forest for chicken feed.)

As a Christian, I became a vegetarian because of the Gospel mandate of Matthew 25, “Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me” — because I do not want my appetites to contribute to the ongoing oppression of the world’s starving masses. As a Catholic and Jesuit, I want somehow to side with the poor and hungry.

But another issue arises, too, over the decades, I’ve learned that our appetite for meat leads to cruelty to animals — chickens pressed wing-to-wing into filthy sheds and de-beaked, for example. And since I’ve always espoused creative nonviolence as the fundamental Gospel value, my vegetarianism helps me not to participate in the vicious torture and destruction of billions of cows, chickens, and so many other creatures.

The chickens never raise families, root in the soil, build nests, or do anything natural. Often they are tormented or tortured before they are slowly killed, as PETA has repeatedly documented in its undercover investigations — for your chicken dinner or hamburger. (All this is documented on a video narrated by Alec Baldwin, at

Animals have feelings, they suffer; they have needs and desires. They were created by God to raise their families and breath fresh air; and if chickens to peck in the grass, if pigs to root in the soil. Today’s farms don’t let them do anything God designed them to do. Animal scientists attest that farm animals have personalities and interests, that chickens and pigs are smarter than dogs and cats.

Animals figure in the Gospels. They brim with lovely, respectful images of animals. Clearly Jesus was familiar with animals, and cared for them, as he urged us to look at the birds of the air or be his sheep. He even identified himself as “a mother hen who longs to gather us under her wings.”

And animals figure in the Hebrew Bible. Isaiah 11, a vision of reconciled creation, dreams of a day when “the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together with a little child to guide them. The cow and the beast shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest. The lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the God of peace, as water covers the sea.” (Isaiah 11:1-9)

A vision of a nonviolent world, all creatures nonviolent, children safely at play with them, and no violence anywhere. That is the peaceful vision of creation that we are called to pursue — in every aspect of our lives, from the jobs we hold, to our use of gasoline and alternative energies, to what we eat and wear, say and do.

I admire the Bible’s greatest vegetarian, Daniel, the nonviolent resister who refused to defile himself by eating the king’s meat. He and three friends became healthier than anyone else through their vegetarian diet. And they excelled in wisdom, for “God rewards them with knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom.”

In his workshop at the Unitarian Universalists convention, Bruce added another beautiful image, the Garden of Eden. The Bible opens with a vision of paradise where God, animals, and humans recreate in peace together. Clearly, the Bible calls us to return to that paradise.

And Bruce reminded us that from the beginning we are directed to be vegetarians. Genesis 1:29 says, “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food.”

Biblical images and justice issues aside, there are medical reasons to stop eating meat. Vegetarian diets help keep our weight down, support a lifetime of good health and provide protection against numerous diseases, including the U.S.’s three biggest killers: heart disease, cancer and strokes.

Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn both have 100 percent success in preventing and reversing heart disease using a vegan diet. Meanwhile, Dr. T. Colin Campbell writes that one of the leading causes of human cancer is animal protein. More, vegetarians are also less prone to developing adult-onset diabetes. And then we have to contend with the spread of Mad Cow disease and Avian influenza. One could almost argue that the human body is not designed for meat-eating.

But for me being vegetarian boils down to peacemaking. If you want to be a peacemaker, Bruce said, reflecting the sentiments of Leo Tolstoy, you will want to eat as peaceful a diet as possible. “Vegetarianism,” Tolstoy wrote, “is the taproot of humanitarianism.” Other great humanitarians like Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer and Thich Nhat Hanh agree. The only diet for a peacemaker is a vegetarian diet.

“Not to hurt our humble brethren, the animals,” St. Francis of Assisi said, “is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission: to be of service to them whenever they require it. If you have people who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity,” he continued, “you will have people who will deal likewise with other people.”

So it was good to visit with my friend Bruce, and hear once again the wisdom of vegetarianism. It’s a key ingredient in the new life of peace, compassion and nonviolence.



The Author had intended to write this post closer to June 30th, but, well, did not. Good thing, because he stumbled upon a few interesting articles that made the delay worth the letdown.

In 1973 singer-songwriter Al Stewart released the album “Past, Present, Future.” The album charted a new direction for Stewart as all of the songs on the album dealt with historical characters and historical events. Much of Stewart’s later work also addresses historical themes.

One of the songs on the album is "The Last Day of June 1934." A pivotal event occurred on and around that day. The event has since become known as the “Night of the Long Knives.”

In a thorough and brutal consolidation of power, Hitler murdered the leaders of the SA (“Brownshirts”) and obtained the tacit approval of these murders and purges from the German Army and the German political leadership.

Stewart’s song focuses on the events, including the murder of SA leader Ernst Rohm, and on the obliviousness of Europe to the event that launched the Nazis on their reign of butchery and terror.

The entire lyrics of the song are here. Some relevant words are set out below:

And a lost wind of summer blows into the streets
Past the tramps in the alleyways, the rich in silk sheets
And Europe lies sleeping,
you feel her heartbeats through the floor
On the last day of June 19...

On the night that Ernst Roehm died voices rang out
In the rolling Bavarian hills
And swept through the cities and danced in the gutters
Grown strong like the joining of wills

I sit here now by the banks of the Rhine
Dipping my feet in the cold stream of time
And I know I'm a dreamer, I know I'm out of line
With the people I see everywhere

The couples pass by me, they're looking so good
Their arms round each other, they head for the woods
They don't care who Ernst Roehm was, no reason they should
Just a shadow that hangs in the air

But I thought I saw him cross over the hill
With a whole ghostly army of men at his heel
And struck in the moment it seemed to be real like before
On the last day of June 1934

Oh to have been prescient on the last day of June 1934.


Harrison Brown was an American geochemist and polymath involved in the isolation of plutonium for the first production of nuclear weapons. And he keenly understood the nature and the limitations of the future of humankind.

A post entitled “Which Future Should We Prepare for, Industrial or Agrarian” on the weblog Resource Insights contains a good discussion of Brown’s insight’s into the future of humankind.

In 1954 Brown published “The Challenge of Man’s Future”. In that book Brown outlined two futures of humans. One was the industrial future, the machine future, the future that we inhabit. The other future is an agrarian future, a far less comfortable future where life will be more troubled and tenuous.

Kurt Cobb of Resource Insights states:

Brown's views may seem strange to the modern ear accustomed as it is to hearing how thoroughly we have subdued nature through technology. But even back in 1954 it was already well-known in scientific circles that 1) we would one day run short of finite fossil fuels, 2) we were working our way from high-grade metal ores down to low-grade ores, and 3) industrial society would ultimately be faced with the task of obtaining its required metals and other basic resources from nothing more than air, rock and seawater. The key to making a successful transition, Brown reasoned, would be finding the necessary energy since if one has enough energy, getting needed materials from the ultra-low-grade resources of air, rock and seawater would be feasible.


Brown describes the problem this way:

Once a machine civilization has been in operation for some time, the lives of the people within the society become dependent upon the machines. The vast interlocking industrial network provides them with food, vaccines, antibiotics, and hospitals. If such a population should suddenly be deprived of a substantial fraction of its machines and forced to revert to an agrarian society, the resultant havoc would be enormous. Indeed, it is quite possible that a society within which there has been little natural selection based upon disease resistance for several generations, a society in which the people have come to depend increasingly upon surgery for repairs during early life and where there is little natural selection operating among women, relative to the ability to bear children--such a society could easily become extinct in a relatively short time following the disruption of the machine network.


Brown is basically saying that if the world goes Neanderthal, the world will need Neanderthals. Tiger Woods, Bill Gates, Rush Limbaugh and Arriana Huffington would likely be less successful in the neo-Agrarian world than Amazon hunter-gathers and homeless dudes that can live in boxes and scrounge meals from dumpsters.

Organisms evolve to succeed in the world that they are faced with. Polar bears need ice and seals. Venus Fly-Traps and Pitcher Plants need bogs. Prairies Chickens need prairies.

A hedge fund manager, with no hedge fun to manage and no penthouse to live in, has little ability to survive on the Pampas or the Polar ice shelf. Most or all of her kids would die of exposure or childhood disease.


Modern agriculture has produced remarkably efficient organisms (corn, wheat, soybeans, livestock) that produce bumper harvests at relatively low input costs. That output comes at a perilous price. The organisms are breed for performance, not persistence. They grow fine in a narrow band of parameters. And as hybrids, they cannot even reproduce.

But throw a few exogenous events at these thoroughbreds and they fade and die. Drought, disease, blight, insects and inclement weather wreak havoc on these organisms. They lack the genetic diversity that their ancestors, wild counterparts, and garden varieties possess. Indian corn and heirloom vegetables are a couple of examples. Indian corn was grown for many thousands of years and in its long genetic life developed genes that allowed it to survive many threats. The same with heirloom vegetables. They retain a genetic diversity that makes them better equipped to survive in environments that would shred Pioneer’s finest seed corn.


Brown’s thesis is not without a way out. The cheap but finite oil and coal that powered the machine age that he lived in must be replaced with something plentiful and cheap. And the raw materials that drove the machine age must be recycled.

Brown’s prescription was nuclear and/or solar power. Nuclear power never lived up to its “Atomic Age” promise due to the problems of waste storage and the potential for toxic release. It still has a place, and the time frame for new plant construction will fit in with the long-term transition to non-hydrocarbon power sources.

Solar power offers a better alternative. But it needs incentives to produce and to direct more capital toward development until it becomes an economically viable alternative source. Solar power WILL become a cheaper alternative to oil, coal and gas. But the question of WHEN is draped in uncertainty. That uncertainty could damn millions, perhaps billions.

Brown calls the switchover the “rate of conversion” problem:

Continuance of vigorous machine culture beyond another century or so is clearly dependent upon the development and utilization of atomic or solar power. If these sources of newly applied energy are to be available in time, the basic research and development must be pursued actively during the coming decades. And even if the knowledge is available soon enough, it is quite possible that the political and economic situation in the world at the time the new transition becomes necessary will be of such a nature that the transition will be effectively hindered. Time and again during the course of human history we have seen advance halted by unfavorable political and economic conditions. We have seen societies in which technical knowledge and resources were both present, but where adequate capital and organization were not in existence and could not be accumulated sufficiently rapidly. [Emphasis Added.]

We will have a better idea how the road to the last day of June 2134 will be traveled on the last day of June 2034. It can be a nice road traversed with efficiently powered vechicles or a dirt path trudged by hungry peasants.

There is one huge difference between the Last Day of June 1934 and the last day of June 2034. On the last day of June 2034 we will have some idea of what the future may hold.