Food for Thought

on Saturday, 01 August 2009. Posted in Rabbi Marshall's Articles

The ORacle, August 2009 Issue

God: Thou shall not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk. (Exodus 23:19)

Moses: You mean we should not mix milk and meat?

God: Thou shall not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk. (Exodus 34:26)

Moses: Ah. You mean we should wait three hours between milk and meat!

God: Thou shall not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk. (Deuteronomy 14:21)

Moses: Got it, God. You mean we should have two complete sets of dishes.

God: Whatever, Moses. Have it your way.

Jews have been grappling with kashrut – literally what is “fit” - for nearly 3,000 years. The laws of kashrut are centered on the idea of holiness through separation. These include:

  • Prohibited and forbidden species
  • The prohibition against mixing milk and meat (“You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk”—Exodus 23:19) seeking to separate the life-giving force of the mother from the death of her child.      
  • Kosher slaughter.

Our struggle is how we interpret these laws as modern Jews. As we consider which laws are most meaningful for us, our Torah leads us to think more broadly about ethical consumption, and a growing number of people today realize that our food choices have significant ramifications - for ourselves, our families and the world around us. By rethinking kashrut, we can potentially redefine what it means for food to be "fit" - not only for us, but for the community and the earth as well.

I recently joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)—buying shares in a local organic Jewish farm and picking up my fresh veggies each week. For a month now I’ve been eating according to the natural cycles of the Pacific Northwest. It is a different experience to have to wait until foods are in season to eat them. Sometimes this means getting a pound of radishes I do not know what to do with, but it also includes trying five new varieties of lettuce and exploring new recipes for fava beans. It has been powerful for me to meet the farmers who are harvesting my vegetables, to nourish myself with local organic food, and to connect to our agricultural cycles.

As we consider ethical consumption, let us expand our definitions of kashrut to include:

  • Issues of food security and hunger. Programs such as Challah for Hunger, Table to Table, and Mazon all offer opportunities to feed the hungry in our communities. American Jewish World Service also helps farmers in the developing world with sustainability issues.
  • Becoming allies for the communities most affected by worker injustice in farming, food production, and food service: low wage farm workers, processing/packing house workers, truckers, hospitality/restaurant/hotel workers, etc. Let us work as a Jewish community to support their efforts for living wage, benefits, health/safety/training measures, policy concerns, such as immigrant rights/immigration reform, full access to education, social services, and participation in civic life.
  • Supporting local organic farms. There are farmer’s markets almost every day of the week in Snohomish County. For a complete guide visit: http://www.pugetsoundfresh.org.

B’tay Avon, Bon Appétit!