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On Using the Holocaust Analogy

Several times last week, I (and a vegan friend) was met with: If billions of cows are going to die this year, how in the world does me not ordering the filet mignon make a difference?

Here was our response: If, during the Holocaust, a Jew or one of the five million non-Jews ("the others") came to your door in need of refuge, and you could save that one person’s life, would you say, "millions are dying and are going to die, what difference does it make if I save this one person?"

You would (I hope) save that one individual, despite the harsh reality of what was happening to other individuals similar to that one.

Though there are oodles of differences in the two scenarios, the point is that when you can save the life of an individual (someone who has an interest in living their life free of pain, imprisonment, enslavement, or an untimely and gruesome death), you do that.

With each meal, we have the opportunity to save lives. Others–far more others–will surely die each minute. But with each person who chooses to opt out of the slaughter, more lives are saved. If by being vegan you save 100 lives per year, you will save thousands–all by yourself–in your lifetime. And each person you help transition to veganism will save thousands more.

If that boggles your mind, begin with your next meal today and decide to save a life. I’m having an all-organic meal composed of quinoa, asparagus, broccoli, peas and shallots (with a touch of Earth Balance and some Bragg’s) for lunch today. There’s plenty of protein, fiber, calcium, Vitamin K, Vitamin C and folic acid, plus all the amino acids in Bragg’s. It’s low in fat, its glycemic value is nice and low so my blood sugar won’t go crazy, and it’ll give me plenty of energy for my afternoon run.

And nobody died for it. Each meal gives you an opportunity to express your belief in nonviolence and your desire to save lives.

What are you having for lunch?

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Saving a life is not usually what an individual meal is about. The meat is already dead, and not eating it is not going to bring it back to life. If a meal of meat was about the life of the animal, then I would go out looking for fresh roadkill to throw on the grill. Of course, in real life I would do no such thing; I don't even have a grill.

    The difference is in the consciousness of the one doing the eating. Meat pollutes the mind and perverts the intelligence. It makes us accept and even appreciate nasty things like war. It gives the opposite of enlightenment; more like en-heavy-ment, weighing us down. Meat is very bad for us spiritually. The Vedas teach that meat eaters cannot know God, they are so cruel.

    Oh, and I had apples with peanut butter, and a handful of cashews for lunch. Today is ekadasi, the eleventh day after the new moon, when Hare Krishna devotees fast from grains and beans. Same is done on the eleventh day after the full moon, also called ekadasi (literally meaning, "eleventh day.")

    September 23, 2007
  2. For me, through supply and demand, each meal is the opportunity to not add to the cycle of violence by paying someone to kill an animal for me. It is not an immediate, literal saving of a life. But just as we say that when you buy a purebred puppy from a store or breeder rather than adopting, a dog in a shelter is sentenced to death, we use the metaphor or saving a life. The more people who choose a nonviolent diet, the less the demand will be for violence toward animals in the future. There more people who choose not to use animals, the fewer animals will be bred to use.

    September 23, 2007
  3. Sean D. #

    This doesn't just happen with animals. There have been studies showing that people are more likely to act to help one person than to try to contribute to help millions of people. It may be hard to get people to move to help millions of people on Darfur, but if the heartbreaking story of one person in Darfur is told, people are more likely to help.

    Animal charities know this, and so their fundraising often tells the tale of a single animal that they helped.

    There are reasons for this that are irrelevant as it's hard to change human nature. The trick is, I think, to use this information as best we can. It may be that we just have to try to get people to focus on the one animal they are eating and how wrong it was to bring her into this world only to take her life for food. As soon as we start talking about "billions of animals" people tend to just shut down their compassion.

    September 24, 2007
  4. Absolutely, Sean.

    There's all kinds of things wrong with the Holocaust analogy the way I used it. But it functions to snap the person out of thinking about the impossible: impacting the billions.

    Instead, they immediately think of that one person at their door. And that helps them think about the one cow whose flesh or secretions they won't eat. One of my favorite aspects of the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary site ( is that it does tell stories of individuals. In my perfect world, when someone asked what difference it would make to not order a steak, I'd whip out my iPhone (I don't have one) and show them the story of Sherman from PPS.

    That should make a vegan out of anyone!

    September 24, 2007
  5. One of the things that stuck with me was the number of whole animals the average person is eating per year and in a lifetime. That made it apparent that even one year of abstention would save a small flock of lives. I think a picture showing those animals might be a useful in getting a message across.

    September 24, 2007
  6. Ellie #

    I think so too, Emily. It's estimated vegetarians save about 95 animal lives per year. Over the course of a lifetime, that's thousands of animals.

    September 24, 2007
  7. Ellie #

    Another thing about the Nazi mentality is that it was modeled after the selective breeding and killing of "unfit" animals.

    As you said, Mary, there are big differences between the Holocaust and our treatment of non-human beings, but I think Nazi eugenic policies were the same. Even to the point that killing humans to relieve overcrowding, or to save them from "lives not worth living" was called "euthanasia".

    From what I've read, this was done to give the appearance of a medical (doctors and nurses assisted) and even humane way of solving the problem. I can't remember how many times I've heard so-called "animal advocates" make the same claim about homeless dogs and cats.

    September 25, 2007

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