Local Organic Community

Food is as important an aspect of Jewish culture as are study and prayer. From Shabbat meals to Passover seders, each time we eat we have an opportunity to create a holy act. The traditional religious laws of kashrut, which govern how and what we eat, give us important guidelines about how to respectfully consume food in a way that causes the least amount of harm to livestock in the process. However, in our age of industrialized agriculture there are new ethical decisions around eating that our ancestors did not face. Our ancient laws equip us to think ethically and ecologically about our food choices today.

Eco-kashrut is a growing movement that wrestles with these new questions from a Jewish perspective. Dealing with the environmental concerns around eating, eco-kashrut addresses treatment of farmers who grow our food, energy consumption to transport food, and the sustainability of the farming techniques used. Ultimately, like the original kashrut laws, its goal are to bring us help us to raise our consciousness about our food choices. For example, our generation must decide if genetically modified crops or animals treated with hormones to promote growth qualify as eco-kosher. Is it eco-kosher to serve a meal on throwaway plastic plates, or to bless challah made with eggs from mistreated and unhealthy chickens?

These are big questions about how to make eating a holy act in accordance with the laws and traditions of Judaism. Most importantly, both kashrut and eco-kashrut call upon us to elevate our consciousness about what we put in our bodies and what practices we support. I’ve found that the more able I am to tell the story of the food I’m eating, the more enjoyable the meal. In my community we often have big Shabbat potluck meals where each person brings a homemade dish to share. A “food tour” is a tradition we have incorporated to bring us more in touch with the land. Before eating, each person describes his or her dish and tells the story of where the ingredients came from. From farmer’s market raddichio wrapped around roasted eggplant with goat cheese, to a salad made of backyard greens, to soup made of squash from the box of vegetables we get delivered every week from a local farm, each person has a story to share that in some way illustrates our connection to the land and food we eat.

The more we know about our food and where it comes from, the more able we are to appreciate it. Then, we are filled and satisfied not only by the food, but also by the love and warmth of our community. When we finish our meal and bless what we have eaten, we can pray with hearts full of gratitude towards those who grew and prepared our meal. Judaism provides an alternative to the current fast food culture we live in. As Jews, we have a different blessing for wine than we do for bread, for example, because our tradition recognizes the necessity of bringing consciousness to every action we take, especially when it involves such a life-sustaining act as eating. For us, the food tour is yet another way of blessing our meal.

As we prepare and share organic local foods at Shabbat, we create something else even more important: local, organic community. It’s happening; you can really feel the energy. More and more people are discovering how we can eat in a way that is healthy for people and healthy for the earth. Most of us aren’t farmers; we live in cities and suburbs far from where our food is grown, so it can be difficult for us to think about the soil our vegetables were grown in, or the people who picked it for us. From traditional Jewish blessings to food tours that tell the story of a meal, each step we take to connect to our food sources connects us to one another and to the land that sustains us.

This article was first published inĀ GreentimesĀ in 2008