Dr. Gary L. Francione is the distinguished Professor of Law and Nicholas
deB. Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy at Rutgers University School of
Law, Newark, New Jersey. His book, "Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal
Exploitation,” was published in 2008. His forthcoming book (with Dr. Robert
Garner), "The Animal Rights Debate:
Abolition or Regulation?," will be published in Fall 2009. (Photo by N.
Romanenko). He was the keynote speaker at JAINA Convention 2009.
There is almost unanimous support among Jains for
not consuming meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. The basis for Jain vegetarianism is two-fold.
First, Jains consider that eating these products violates the
foundational principle of Ahimsa.
Jains are forbidden from committing intentional violence against all
mobile beings, whether they have two, three, four, or five senses. The mammals, birds, and fish that
humans regularly consume all belong in the highest class of those beings with
five senses—a class in which humans belong as well. This prohibition is not limited to what a person does
directly but extends to those causing others to do Himsa as well as to
approving of the Himsa of others.
The standard Jain diet not only seeks to eliminate violence to animals
but also has the effect of minimizing the Himsa to plants, which are one-sensed
beings, necessary to feed humans.
Animals raised for meat consume more plant protein than they produce.
Second, a meat-based agriculture is an ecological disaster and a central
tenet of Jain philosophy involves our obligation to minimize our impact on the
environment. Because we need so
many crops to feed the billions of animals that humans consume, we use an
enormous amount of land to grow those crops, resulting in forest destruction
throughout the world; as older pastures are destroyed through overgrazing, new
land is cleared to replace them.
It takes much more land to feed an average meat-eater than a vegetarian.
Animal agriculture also consumes enormous amounts of other resources,
such as water and energy. In addition to the consumption of huge amounts of
water and energy, animal agriculture results in serious water pollution, and
contributes significantly to global warming burning of fossil fuels for
transport purposes. Deforestation
to produce more land for crops and grazing also results in the release of large
amounts of carbon dioxide.
Although considerations of Ahimsa and ecology mean that we should not
consume the flesh or eggs of animals, many Jains consume dairy products and use
dairy products (and wool) in temple rituals. I respectfully submit that for the same two
arguments—violence against animals and ecological concerns—that the Jains
consider a move toward a pure vegetarian diet, what is today called veganism.
Dairy products involve inflicting suffering and death on mobile,
five-sensed beings. Some forms of
production are more brutal than others but under the very best of circumstances
there is a great deal of suffering involved in the production of these
products, and the death of animals is a necessary aspect of any industry or
practice that uses animals.
Animals used in dairy production are kept alive longer than meat
animals, treated as badly if not worse, and end up in the same slaughterhouses
after which humans consume their bodies.
The male babies of dairy cows are sold into the veal industry and most
of the females are used in the dairy industry. It is an endless cycle of exploitation, suffering, and
death. There is an inextricable
relationship between the meat industry and the dairy issue.
Similarly, the very same detrimental ecological concerns are also
applicable to dairy foods. The environmental impacts of processing dairy
products are considerable, including the discharge of large quantities of
liquid effluent with high organic loads, when whey from the cheese making
process is not used as a by-product and is discharged along with other
wastewaters. Effluent discharged
directly into water bodies can cause a depletion of oxygen levels.
The dairy industry consumes large quantities of fresh water, use
chlorofluorocarbons for refrigeration, causing ozone depletion. Most dairy products are packaged in
plastic or plastic-lined containers, or cans, and these results in a
considerable amount of solid waste.
Some Jains defend the continued consumption of dairy products on the
basis of tradition—that is, the fact that Jains have been consuming dairy
products for as long as anyone remembers means that it must be acceptable to
continue doing so. But if Jainism
stands for anything, it represents the notion that ethic principles are a
matter of rational thought and careful consideration and that tradition can
never be a sufficient answer to an ethical problem.
Some people think that it is difficult to be a strict vegetarian but
that is not the case. There
are now a large variety of delicious non-dairy "milks” (soy, rice, almond)
available and these can be used for cooking and in beverages. There are delicious vegan "butters”
made from soy that can substitute for ghee. Most Jains have already done what most non-Jains would
regard as the difficult part—they have removed meat, poultry, fish, and eggs
from their diets. Taking the
additional step of eliminating dairy products is the easy part.
A note about the use of animals for clothing and rituals: Leather is not merely a by-product of
the meat industry—it is an important part of the economics of that
industry. Leather processing has
harmful environmental effects.
There is terrible cruelty involved in producing wool. Silk worms are
boiled alive to make silk garments.
Once again, there are many alternatives to wool, leather, and silk. The
use of animals for all these purposes unquestionably involves Himsa.
I became a vegetarian in 1978 after visiting a slaughterhouse. It was terrible and I became convinced
immediately that I could no longer eat animal flesh. I eliminated all animal products from my life in 1982 and
became a strict vegetarian when I recognized that there was no logical or moral
distinction between flesh and dairy or other animal products. They all involved Himsa; they all
involved horrible suffering; they all involved death. As a practitioner of Ahimsa, I could no longer ignore the
harm in which I was participating.
The sentiment in the Jain community is moving in the direction of strict
vegetarianism. Jain community
leaders have sought to facilitate discussion of this issue within the broader
community. But most important of
all, Jain youth, particularly those born in the United States and Canada are
increasingly embracing strict vegetarianism and not wearing animal clothing as
well. As these young people assume
positions of leadership in the Jain community, the rejection of all animal use
will become more widely accepted.
We live in a world of unspeakable violence that only gets worse by the
day. It is more important than at
any time in the past to speak up for peace and nonviolence. Although no one has a monopoly on these
precious values, Jainism is the only tradition that emphasizes Ahimsa as the
foundational principle of spiritual practice. Ahimsa Paramo Dharma.
Jains are in a unique position to be the emerging voice of sanity in an
insane world and have the responsibility to do so. Nonviolence begins with what we put in and on our bodies.
I offer these thoughts respectfully for your consideration. I recognize
that many Jains are not yet strict vegetarians and it is not my intention to
judge or to offend those people. I
am only trying to apply what I understand to be important Jain principles in a
consistent way. If I have offended
anyone, Micchami Dukkadam.