INTERVIEW with a VEGAN
It is time for Mankind to switch from the "language
of squares" to the "language of rhomb"
with Israel Gelfand and Tatiana V. Gelfand
for the of Animal Rights Center "VITA"
Questions prepared by Irina Novozhilova and Konstantin Sabinin
Interview written by Tatiana V. Gelfand (July 2008)
VITA Good afternoon, dear to our vegan
hearts Israel Moiseevich and Tatiana!
In Russia, it is not yet known that you are vegans, yet the information
about this and your example can be "contagious" for many
people -- not only for those who know and remember you well but
also for other people who do not yet know much about the issue.
The example of great people always influences the choice of many…
We would like to have an interview with you and Tatiana about this
topic, and we are sending you our questions.
Israel As a rule I do not give interviews. Better ask my
Tatiana; she understands these topics well.
Tatiana Let me ask Israel your questions, and I will write
down all his answers. I will also share my impressions about Israel
and some of my own thoughts.
VITA We know that both you and your spouse-Tatiana, are vegans.
Who was the first in your family to think about this issue and how
have you arrived to this decision?
Israel I thought about this long ago.
Tatiana I am sure that everyone thinks about why we eat animals,
and we come up with this question even in childhood. I remember
well that when I was little I asked my parents about this and received
the standard answer for that time: "because people are used
to doing it." At about the age of 15, I wanted to "rebel"
and tried nutrition according to Paul Bragg, Norman Walker, etc.
I felt great but nevertheless, unfortunately, could not resist at
that time the social pressure. I regret this very much!
Our family story of the transition to veganism is the following.
In the US we received mailings from "PETA"
(People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) with descriptions
of the horrors of factory farms. Israel said that one day people
will stop eating animals once and for all. Feeling his support,
I started going back to my adolescent wish "not to eat carcasses".
First, I limited it to only fish and was buying it less and less
often. Possibly our taste started to change because my family members
started avoiding fish, saying, "I don't feel like eating it
And then one day at the dinner Israel said that "he is no longer
going to eat animals because eating them is wrong". To those
who know him well, it would be clear that his decision was final.
VITA How long ago did this happen and how did you become
Tatiana We became vegetarians in about 1994. This transition
was not much noticeable for us and was so natural that it did not
seem at all like we were "giving up something" which was
On the other hand, our transition to veganism was very essential.
This time I was the one to announce it, after I met animal rights
activists who were vegans, at an AR Conference in 2000. This changed
my life, and became a "before and after" experience.
It became clear to me that I too really wanted to help the animals
and our planet in general. Within a few months, I found vegan substitutes
for milk products - it was difficult for me to drop yogurt and butter
right away. First, Israel continued eating milk products, especially
aged cheese but gradually, within about a year, he stopped consuming
VITA Tatiana, you said that veganism became a "before
and after" experience for you. Could you, please, explain what
Тatiana When I became a vegan I felt like a "load dropped
off my shoulders", this was the load of hypocrisy. According
to Israel, he felt the same way. In fact, many vegans share the
same experience. I started feeling some kind of lightness inside
as if I felt inner peace for the first time in my life. I felt that
I could now look at myself in the mirror without shame.
VITA Israel Moiseevich, what was the actual starting point
Israel The first conscious starting point was my dear wife-Tanya,
the mother of my daughter. This decision came gradually.
VITA What finally convinced you of this decision?
Israel I do not understand.
Тatiana We had a whole philosophical dialogue (see below)
in response to this question. I want to note that the geometrical
construction mentioned there is not essential by itself and is not
explained. It is enough to consider it as a metaphor.
Tatiana. Can you tell me why you stopped eating
animals in 1994?
Israel (Smiling) Who knows what a young man has in his head?
Tatiana. Does this mean that now you will eat animals?
Israel No, I will not.
Tatiana But why? Why would you not eat animals now?
Israel This has to be and will be built into the rules of
Tatiana What else can you say about why you are not eating
Israel There is nothing else to say.
I can give an example. When we go for a walk we often meet a boy
one and a half years old. First, he was afraid of me. And then,
one time when we met, he gave me his favorite car. This is all.
Tatiana I understand what you mean but how can one explain
this to others? What is the relation to animals?
Israel This is part of the essence of life.
Tatiana Well, this is also not very clear. You see, it is
very important to explain this to others. For example, in China,
they currently produce fur, they skin live animals-cats, dogs, foxes.
There are no ethical norms there. Besides, they dye this fur in
purple and burgundy colors to make it look like artificial. This
is totally absurd. And people do not stop to think, they buy it.
How can one explain to them that this is wrong? Please, share your
thoughts about it.
Israel Because there is a missing link and it cannot be avoided.
Tatiana What missing link?
Israel I told you some time ago about a little girl who was
excited about the geometrical construction of squares and a rhomb.
One can look at two squares or one can see a rhomb.
Tatiana I do not understand. How is this relevant?
Israel Everyone is disregarding the possibility that there
exists a rhomb.
Almost no one understands that it is missing. Rhomb cannot be expressed
in the old terms, in terms of squares. This is the missing link.
Very few mathematicians felt this… For example, Dedekind wrote a
book: "What are Numbers and What Should Numbers be".
Tatiana Oh, I understand: in the construction there were
two squares with sides equal to one-these are rational numbers,
and the diagonals of these squares -i.e. sides of the rhomb, are
irrational numbers. Dedekind was exactly the one who discovered
Israel (Laughing) He has not discovered them. They always
existed. And this is the essence!
Tatiana I think I started to understand the connection. The
question itself -- why is it wrong to eat animals, is the wrong
question, isn't it? It is formulated in the wrong language, in the
"language of squares". This is, as you told me for the
Kyoto Lecture, is a "non-adequate
language". There must be another language-the "language
of rhomb", or "irrational". And this language is
Israel (Nodding) Yes. The question why is it wrong to eat
animals cannot be answered in terms of squares.
Tatiana I have also understood that just as the irrational
numbers always existed this other language also existed… Ah, it
is clear now! - Even a one and a half year old boy can feel this
Israel Only few people understand this. Albert Einstein understood
Tatiana By the way, he was also a vegetarian.
Israel By asking a question about vegetarianism we presuppose
that one can avoid vegetarianism. But it is unavoidable!
Israel I do not understand only why the war started, the
Tatiana This was exactly why. Even starting from Pythagoras,
500 b.c. (we only know about Pythagoras!) many famous people understood
this-Leonardo Da Vinci,
Albert Schweitzer, Albert Einstein, Milan Kundera, Bernard Show
and others. They all said that as long as men will eat animals,
people will kill each other.
VITA How did your students respond to your new point of
Israel I hope, positively.
VITA What difficulties did you encounter?
Israel I do not understand.
Tatiana I had difficulties when we became vegetarians. At
every meal in a group of people I had to withstand a current of
sarcastic remarks, strange looks or aggressive attacks and questions
such as, "Why do you not eat meat?", "Do you have
health problems?", "And why are you not concerned about
people? Mankind has enough problems besides animals!"
Israel does not have such difficulties!
Nowadays, at least in the US, practically everyone knows the word
"vegan", sometimes they ask to clarify it. Moreover, very
often instead of former sarcasm and aggression people show their
interest in this topic or even excuse themselves for not being vegan-"What
do you eat then?", "Where do you buy food?", or "I
tried being a vegan but failed", "I'd like to go vegan
one day"… So the times are changing.
You know, this is like in a saying of Arthur Schopenhauer: "All
truth passes through three stages: first it is ridiculed, second
it is violently opposed, and third it is accepted as self-evident."
VITA Did you have resistance and arguments from doctors?
Tatiana Israel's physician, our friend, invited us sometimes
to a holiday dinner where, of course, there was an abundance of
food-all kinds of meat, eggs, cheese. Of course, the hostess was
asking Israel to try her cooking. Israel asked very politely what
was the plate made of, and if he did not like the ingredients he
just repeated a short phrase: "I will not eat this". No
comments, no arguments-- very simple.
VITA What was the effect of vegetarianism on your health?
Tatiana Israel's health benefited from vegetarianism despite
the late transition - he was over 80 years old. Veganism had an
even more positive effect on his health - Israel's previously high
blood pressure became 120/70, pulse 65-70, some other previously
unpleasant symptoms disappeared. This was puzzling to the medical
personnel (unfortunately, Israel fell at the university due to a
broken elevator and fractured his hip so that he had to become acquainted
with the medical system). We had a difficult time explaining how
it could be that at his age Israel is practically not taking any
medications (except vitamins), and we had to leave a long list of
medications in the questionnaire blank.
VITA Did vegetarianism (veganism) help you solve problems?
Tatiana I am appending an abstract from an article about
Israel in New York Times in 2003: " 'I think I am able to work
as well as I could 40 or 50 years ago', said Dr. Gelfand who attributes
this productivity, in part, to a strict vegetarian diet, which he
adopted along with his wife Tatiana, a decade ago."
VITA Were you familiar with the issue of cruel experiments
Tatiana (to Israel) Can you say what is your attitude in
regards to animal experiments?
Israel (After a long pause, looking at our cat, Kisa, who
is always next to him)
How can one cut Her open?! This is a sin!
VITA What methods do you think could have potential in replacing
the experimental animals in different areas of biology?
Israel There are many such methods.
Tatiana As a person who worked at the Institute of Physiology
and is interested in biology, I would like to share my opinion.
First of all, one has to understand clearly what problem is being
solved and what for. When studying at the university, I heard an
anecdote about a professor of biology who is giving a talk about
his 25-year long research: "I have discovered that the length
of the path around an ant-hill is always approximately three times
longer than the path through the ant-hill center."
And now seriously, here is the quote by Dr. Richard Klausner, the
Director of the National Cancer Institute, "The history of
cancer research has been a history of curing cancer in the mouse...
We have cured mice of cancer for decades - and it simply didn't
work in humans."
VITA We know that you played a role in the fate of a Russian
student who was the first to refuse openly to participate in the
animal experiments during the educational process.
Your opinion was at that time taken into account. What is your position
about the freedom of choice for students for whom such experiments
contradict their moral principles?
Israel I have deep respect for these students.
VITA One can often hear from defendants of animal experiments
that even the use of human cell cultures does not allow simulation
of the biological processes in organs. At the same time in medical
and bio experiments they often use species of animals which have
completely different anatomy and physiology than humans. How would
you explain their contradiction?
Israel They do not have a point of view.
Tatiana And you? How to study biology?
Israel First of all, with clean hands.
Tatiana You do not mean this literally?
Israel Of course not.
Tatiana And second?
Israel Second, as well as first, - with clean hands.
VITA What is the difference between America and Russia in
regards to their attitude towards animals?
Tatiana From my point of view, the main difference is that
in Russia no one would even think about "proving" that
animals feel pain and "do not like" to be killed. This
is obvious even to a child, or especially to a child! The majority
of people intentionally close their eyes to the fact that they participate
(directly or indirectly, i.e. by paying someone else to do this
dirty job) in the torture and slaughter of animals. In America,
the common sense is somehow lost among the sets of rules and laws.
Many people "are waiting to be proved" that animals feel
pain and to be told what should they do as the consequence. But
how can it be "proved" at all that a person who is writhing
with pain is not pretending?
As far as I know, no one became a vegetarian after viewing any proofs
about what is cruel and what is not. On the other hand, many people
made an instant transition after they saw the eyes of animals that
were being killed or even the eyes of animals that were being transported
to a slaughterhouse.
VITA We would like to ask Tatiana a few questions.
How popular is vegetarianism in your surrounding in America?
Tatiana Practically anyone with whom I speak about this has
some vegan relatives or friends. They say that among college students
about 30% are vegetarians.
VITA Are there many vegans among scientists?
Tatiana I do not know whether attitude towards eating or
not eating animals changes in scientists but I know that even people
who grew up "on meat", like animal farmers, change their
habits. One such farmer with a 40-year experience in farming, Howard
Lyman, became known for his bestseller "The Mad Cowboy:
Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher that Won't Eat Meat". Currently
he is not only a vegan but also actively appeals to the "sanity"
of Mankind. I remember how he ended one of his presentations: "I
imagine our grandchildren sitting on our laps and asking us: "Is
this really true that you were eating animals?"
VITA And what are the choices for food products?
Tatiana There is vegan "sausage", vegan "ham",
vegan "beef", vegan "chicken", egg substitute,
and other vegan versions of these "common" food products.
In our family, we feel that there is enough delicious and healthy
food without animal products or their substitutes. We do not have
a problem with food choices. Rather I have a problem due to the
suddenly discovered abundance of vegan recipes-it is appealing to
try them all.
VITA Did you have funny incidents related to vegetarianism?
Tatiana We had a funny story about tofu. The first one to
buy tofu was Israel and he asked me to cook it. Gently speaking,
I said that "I did not buy this jelly-fish and I am not going
to cook it". The first package of tofu had to be thrown away
after about 10 days. But Israel bought the second one. I will not
tell you what my reaction was. In a few days, Israel did something
with this tofu and, as I think, ate it. After this he was buying
tofu regularly and fried it with onions and fresh pepper in soy
sauce (which he also brought into our cuisine). The smells were
so good that one day I asked to try his meal. It was very delicious.
Since then I am grateful to Israel for the "tofu discovery"
and I use it now in many recipes.
VITA And what is your everyday food? Your favorite products,
Tatiana Usually we start the day with a fruit shake. Don't
know what can be more delicious than mango-soy milk shake ("lassie")!
Israel likes to eat steamed vegetables, just "usual" cabbage,
broccoli, carrot, eggplant, then brown rice (according to the Japanese
teaching of Macrobiotics this is the most balanced food, i.e. it
balances the energies of Yin and Yang); also soy dishes, beans.
I prefer lots of raw salads and desserts. My special recipe is vegan
"Tiramisu" for which I received compliments from native
These days I am fond of sprouts - they are very simple to grow and
are very nutritious. From lentil, bean and other sprouts one can
quickly make different meals - hummus, cutlets, or sprinkle them
over other dishes. Russian women do not need to be taught the cooking
creativity. And the satisfaction from such food will last for a
In fact, only when I became a vegan I felt for the first time that
instead of the "always hungry" state there could be a
state of pleasant satisfaction-i.e. when there is no desire to grab
and chew something!
VITA Tatiana, tell us, please, about the theory of illnesses
due to the body intoxication.
Tatiana I am afraid that I cannot say anything new, and I
am not a biochemist; though I read a lot about these issues. This
is something which is discussed all the time: over-acidity, free
radicals, cell aging, cleansing… The point is that besides the body
temperature there is another very essential parameter-acidity of
the blood, more precisely, blood has to be slightly alkaline (pH=7.365).
Many processes in the cells are based on the ion movement; therefore
if the level of pH changes it can be equivalent to reducing the
electric tension or even to "unplugging from the outlet".
Thus, the body is trying to survive by any means-by "pushing"
where it can the excessive acidity which could not have been excreted.
Of course, the weak organs suffer the most - different ones in different
people but the reason is in fact the same-over-acidity of the body.
Some physicians and biologists think that even cancer develops due
to the same reason.
Besides this, the body is trying to "hide" the excessive
acidity by storing it in the fat cells. Therefore, when someone
is quickly losing extra weight, acidity is released into the bloodstream,
and one might experience symptoms of a mild intoxication.
Another way the body protects itself against serious threats from
acidity is by building up cholesterol on the walls of blood vessels.
Acidity can easily make holes in these walls thus creating an emergency.
Therefore, the body has a mechanism to close the possible leakage.
If more acidity comes into the blood, the built-up layer of cholesterol
might leave no space in a vessel and block it.
The second important point is that all animal products are highly
acidic while the majority of vegetables and non sweet fruit are
alkaline or slightly acidic. Acidity is created in the body also
due to stresses, polluted air, probably due to all modern way of
living. Then it all goes like an avalanche. An acidic environment
is perfect for many "creatures" - microbes, fungus, mold,
etc., which in turn produce highly acidic "excrements".
This does not sound very appealing! But the good news is that if
the blood and body acidity levels are normalized all these creatures
die and the cell processes return to normal. It is up to you to
decide what to eat.
VITA Did you do any kind of sports? We know that you, Tatiana,
Tatiana. As far as I know, Israel did not do any sports -
he was busy with other things.
I did a lot of sport activities from childhood. Already at the age
of 15-16 I noticed that if I did not eat any meat products, and
ones with white flour, the following day, I could downhill ski the
entire day - and at that time we had no lifts and we climbed the
mountains with the skis and ski boots on! People were surprised
by my stamina.
In order to break the myth that vegans are physically weak, I will
mention that the double
ultra-marathon winner is vegan. An ultra-marathon is a 135 mile
race from Death Valley to California, often in temperatures of about
130F. It is considered one of the toughest races on earth. There
are vegan athletes in other kinds of sports as well.
VITA Israel Moiseevich, and what is your attitude in regards
to the other uses of animals: for fur, leather, for hunting, in
circuses, zoos, animal fights?
Israel I stopped wearing leather shoes and belts; I simply
got an aversion to them.
VITA And you, Tatiana?
Tatiana I just cannot look at the women in fur. I can only
see what they are in reality-women covered by carcasses. There is
no question about the beauty of this-rather I want to yell, "Look
in the mirror, open your eyes!" Often I have a bitter feeling
that long ago I myself was wearing small fur garments (luckily my
life was too busy to care for fur). Now this feeling only helps
me to appreciate more that my eyes as well as my heart, have opened.
VITA Do you think that mankind will arrive to a society based
on respect for all life on this planet?
Israel I am an optimist and I believe that this is unavoidable.
Please, ask Tanya to give you the saying of a Nobel Prize winner
Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Tatiana "There will be no justice as long as man will
stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker
than he is."
VITA What, in your opinion, is the most effective way for
the information about animal suffering to reach people (through
articles, or media programs, or someone's personal experience)?
Israel (Laughing) All of the above.
Tatiana And I think there is no one "most effective"
way. What do people like more-books, films or pictures? - It depends.
Each person, I believe, has somewhere deep inside a kind heart;
the person might not even know himself (or herself) how to reach
VITA Is the animal rights movement noticeable in the world?
Israel This movement is unavoidable. I am an optimist: in
the battle between good and bad, the good cannot lose.
Tatiana Of course, it is noticeable. At the same time, those
who made careers on the use of animals possess already large resources,
while making a new path is always more difficult. This is why I
realized that in the modern world good people no longer have the
luxury of doing nothing: we all need to be active in the protection
of our planet, nature, and animals.
VITA What is your opinion about the presentation at United
Nations in December 2007 that animal farming is one of the main
factors of destroying the environment which causes global warming?
Is there such a threat?
Israel I am an optimist. Even though such a threat does exist,
it cannot take over.
Tatiana In my opinion it is enough to look at the data. Each
year the tropical forests are cut for animal farming at the rate
of 125,000 square miles. Tropical forests are essential for the
ecology and climate-they produce the main part of oxygen and consume
a significant amount of CO2 on Earth. Beside this, global warming
is caused by methane. According to materials of the International
organization, Earth Save,
methane has 20 times more green-house effects than CO2, and in quantity
it grows faster than CO2. The main source of methane is animal farming
and its waste - animal excrements. Enormous amounts of these excrements
also cause another environmental threat. They contain a high level
of nitrates, which are very dangerous for people. Nitrates get washed
into the water, causing 99% of water pollution. Unfortunately, meat
consumption continues to grow rapidly.
Isn't it easier to stop eating meat than trying to radically reduce
our energy usage? Moreover, the first action is in the hands of
every individual and is easily available at any moment.
VITA What would you like to wish to vegans?
Israel To remain vegans.
Tatiana To be an attractive example of a person who knows
that he or she is on the right path.
VITA What would you like to wish to people who are not yet
Israel (Smiling) Humanity.
Tatiana (Laughing) Probably I have a guess what Israel
means by this. May I comment? Israel liked very much the response
of Mahatma Gandhi. A reporter asked him, "What do you think
of Western Civilization?" Mahatma Gandhi said: "I think
it would be a good idea!" My guess is that Israel's answer
is from the same "series".
Tatiana (to Israel) Can you say in a different way
what would you like to wish to non vegans?
Israel I will be very glad if my opinion presented in this
interview will be useful to them.
© T.V. Gelfand, 2008.
This interview or any of its part cannot be reproduced, translated
to another language or modified in any way without written permission
from T.V. Gelfand.
With any questions, please, contact T.V. Gelfand at email@example.com