Last Sunday in the bustling streets of Amman in Jordan, a young Muslim women wearing a hijab and a suit of lettuce made a stand for vegetarianism. Amina Tariq, who is a member of the animal rights group PETA: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, held up a sign playfully stating ‘Let Vegetarianism Grow on You’ which explains why she was covered from her neck down to her toes in lettuce.
Part of PETA campaign to raise awareness in the Middle East, Amina (pictured left) didn’t have long to make her point as she along with Ashley Fruno of PETA were quickly pulled to one side by the Jordanian police, questioned for around three hours and then released. Minus the lettuce suit, of course.
Whilst Amena and Ashley were able to attract a large crowd of equally confused and curious passersby (as well as reportedly causing a traffic jam), did they manage to spread the vegetarian message to the masses?
The logic behind introducing vegetarianism in the Middle East is fool proof- it’s cheaper, healthier and will also end a lot animal cruelty in the factory-farming slaughterhouses of the region.
People whose eat plant-based diets are better protected from heart disease, diabetes, obesity, strokes and cancer. Vegetarians also have stronger immune systems and live on average 10 years longer than meat-eaters do.
Eat Less Meat, Save More Water
It is also a lot better for the environment. As Fruno told reporters at the protest, “The consumption of meat, eggs and dairy products is the number one cause of climate change and a major contributor to resource depletion, pollution and even world hunger.”
The Middle East and African nations are pouring precious water supplies into meat production while diverting it away from other essential services- in fact, livestock production worldwide accounts for 8% of global human water consumption.
And according to PETA, each day animal agriculture consumes a shocking 2.5 trillion litres (550 billion gallons) of water which is enough for everyone in the world to take eight showers. Now, that’s a lot of showers especially when you consider the increasing water difficulties the region is facing.
In fact, water is an increasingly volatile issue in the region. In recent months, tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to protest the increasing water shortages and pollution in the River Nile (which no doubt livestock contribute to) is rife. Whilst there have also been protests in the past due to the high price of meat in Egypt, when it comes down to it, you don’t need meat to survive but you do need water.
Vegetarianism in Islam
PETA has also been very careful to argue the benefits of vegetarianism within an Islamic framework. They have sponsored two websites (Islamicconcerns.com and Islamveg.com) which extoll the values of vegetarianism and maintain that a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle is compatible with Islamic belief. Whilst recognizing some ambiguity in rulings, they state that many Muslim jurists have issued legal rulings that show vegetarianism is permitted in Islam.
Quoting Hamza Yusuf who remarks that traditionally Muslims would have been semi-vegetarians, they also highlight the need to at least moderate the intake of meat especially when excessive consumption is clearly discouraged in Islam.
Personally, I’m a little dubious about whether the Middle East is ready for full-on vegetarianism especially when negative attitudes towards vegetarians exist worldwide but I do see hope for a message of moderation in meat consumption.
In the words of Amina, I also want the Middle East to ‘turn a new leaf’ and embrace vegetarianism. Even if that is just semi-vegetarianism.
Top image via calliope; other images via AP