This year will be the third year my Jewish vegan friends and I celebrate “veder,” our version of a vegan Passover seder. All of the traditional dishes are served — matzah brie, brisket, gefilte fish, potato latkes, matzah ball soup, kugel and macaroons — in veganized versions without meat, dairy or eggs. Though not all the dishes are appropriate for Passover, the meaning of the holiday and the traditional foods serve to reconnect us to our Jewish roots. Not only is all the food vegan, we incorporate nonhuman animals into our service.
As we thought about what a veder might mean to us, we began to put together what would become our haggadah. It’s similar to those used in most seders, focusing on escape from slavery and celebrating the meaning of freedom. Where it differs is our inclusion of nonhuman animals.
As ethical vegans, we see the eating and using of other animals for food, clothing, entertainment and scientific experimentation as unethical. We see animal rights as the next great social justice movement. As Jews and vegans, we share the values of justice, equality, fairness and compassion not only towards humans, but to nonhumans as well. And so when we tell the stories of oppression, we tell their stories as well.
Our table looks just like any other seder table, except our seder plate is slightly different. Rather than a lamb shank bone, we use a dog cookie cutter to make a playful bone-shaped piece of tofu. We replace the egg with a small dab of commercial “egg replacer” used in vegan baking. We will be serving wines by Vegan Vine, which uses no animal ingredients in the fining/filtering process. Most people, including a large amount of vegans, don’t know that a majority of wines are fined with egg, gelatin or isinglass, the fish bladders of sturgeon. Even some kosher wines may be made with animal ingredients that render them unfit for the typical Passover meal.
Last year, we were able to include Frederick and Douglass, our beagles who were rescued from an animal testing lab in Spain the day before Thanksgiving 2011. They were named after the famous escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Frederick and Douglass also escaped from a life of enslavement and are now part of our family. In fact, Douglass actually found the afikomen last year! Hundreds of millions of nonhuman animals suffer in private and university laboratories all over the world. And so their story is included in our veder.
We use the holiday not only as a time for community, but also to recharge our batteries. The dinner not only nourishes our bodies, but also inspires us to work harder in our fight to end the oppression and violence towards other animals. Retelling the story of Passover inspires us in that slavery was once an accepted part of most cultures, a lot like the enslavement of animals is today. Yet in most parts of the world, human slavery is no longer accepted. Unfortunately animal slavery is still part of the fabric of our culture.
As fellow Jews, I ask that you take a fresh look at the meaning of freedom. Does your definition include nonhuman animals? If not, why not? Passover is a great time to begin to include animals in your moral world.
Gary Smith is co-founder of Evolotus (www.evolotuspr.com), a PR agency working for a better world. Gary blogs at The Thinking Vegan (http:thethinkingvegan.com) and has written for Elephant Journal, Jewish Journal and as a guest blogger for Mother Nature Network (MNN.com). Gary and his wife adhere to a vegan lifestyle and live with their cat Chloe and their two rescued laboratory beagles, Frederick and Douglass, in California.