Jewish veganism

Jewish veganism

(The following book review was first published on as a post of The Beet-Eating Heeb, one of the Chronicle’s blogs. Jeffrey Cohan is the blog’s author.)

If the Beet-Eating Heeb were to write a book, he might call it “Holy Eating.”

After all, what two words better describe Jewish veganism?

So imagine The Beet-Eating Heeb’s surprise (he won’t say dismay) when he discovered a newly published book called “Holy Eating: The Spiritual Secret to Eternal Weight Loss.” And the author not only happens to be a fellow member of the Pittsburgh Jewish community, he is someone BEH is personally fond of — Dr. Robert Schwartz.

But wait a minute. The last time BEH checked, his friend Bob Schwartz was working as a sex therapist. Now he has written a book about eating?

Upon hearing about this book, The Beet-Eating Heeb immediately contacted Bob’s publicist, presented his Official Blogger Credential, and obtained a reviewer’s copy.

Then BEH dove into the book, anxious to see if the author’s definition of “holy eating” was veganism.

The book is subtitled “The Spiritual Secret to Eternal Weight Loss.” But The Beet-Eating Heeb knows that a well-designed vegan diet will help overweight people shed pounds.

As it turns out, “Holy Eating” is a 173-page elaboration of one big idea. And it’s the same big idea that undergirds this very blog.

Here it is: The most compelling intellectual, moral and personal reasons for behavioral change often won’t produce change at all if they don’t have a religious or spiritual component.

That’s hardly a novel concept. It is the core of 12-step addiction programs.

However, very few other diet books advocate a spiritual approach to weight loss. Similarly, very few other animal welfare or personal health blogs advocate a religious approach to veganism.

So The Beet-Eating Heeb is feeling some brotherly love toward Bob.

On the vegan question, though, Bob kept The Beet-Eating Heeb in suspense.

About a quarter-way through the book, in a chapter called “The Kabbalah of Eating,” Dr. Schwartz quotes another author as saying, “A Jewish mystic meditates on how the food has been created and is being kept in existence every minute by God’s will,” which leads to “mystic joy.”

You don’t need to be a Kabbalist or even Madonna to recognize that keeping animals confined in obscenely crowded conditions, then killing them about one-third of the way through their natural life span, hardly sounds like God’s will. Meditating about factory-farmed meat, milk and eggs does not lead to mystic joy.

But Bob did not explain the type of food — the Jewish mystic was meditating on.

Not until page 137 does the good doctor broach the subject of what a holy eater should — and should not — consume. The first 85 percent of the book focuses exclusively on how much one should eat. (In a word, less.)

Bob deserves full credit for noting that God’s first dietary instructions to humankind included only fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. Animal products were not on the list of approved items.

But the definition of “holy eating” in this book does include meat — just not much.

Dr. Schwartz strongly urges his readers to reduce their meat consumption, for health and spiritual reasons.

At the end of a chapter titled “So What Should I Eat?” Dr. Schwartz summarizes what he calls the “essential food guidelines derived from the Bible.” Conspicuously, meat is not explicitly mentioned in his summary, while he does urge his readers to “eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.”

So you can see why The Beet-Eating Heeb believes Bob is heading in the right direction, even if he doesn’t quite reach the holiest destination.

BEH cuts Dr. Schwartz some slack. Equating veganism with holy eating would probably be a bridge too far for this book, considering Bob already risks alienating many readers by suggesting that obese people are spiritually deficient at mealtime.

So even if nonvegans are a couple of cards short of a full spiritual deck, as The Beet-Eating Heeb would say, Dr. Schwartz could not make that point without relegating his book to the worst-seller list.

What if you have no intention of becoming a vegan but you need to lose weight? Should you buy this book?

The Beet-Eating Heeb says yes, if …

The “if” is, if you consider yourself a spiritual person, preferably but not necessarily of the Jewish variety. If you are spiritual, invoking God consciousness while eating might indeed be your secret to eternal weight loss. Dr. Schwartz presents several approaches, including meditation, in an accessible writing style.

If you’re not a spiritual person, well, The Beet-Eating Heeb feels sorry for you, and out of sympathy will steer you away from this book.

By the way, BEH just thought of a name for his future book: “Holier Eating.”