Posted on Wed, February 11, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
0 Comments | Categories: Labeling, Meat,
by Slow Food USA intern Gabrielle Redner
Food labels such as Organic and Free Range are meant to provide us with some sense of security about our food, but sometimes it feels like the more I know about the label, the more I have to question it. When I can’t get to the farmers market, I opt for Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, but normally I don’t buy meat there, even if it is labeled Organic. I just feel better buying from a person who raised the animal until it became the meat in my fridge.
Recently, I had to buy chicken from the supermarket, because I was cooking a kosher meal for a friend. Personally, I saw the purchase as an exception to my usual habits: I had to step out of my comfort zone in order to adhere to religious law. I later learned that some people who purchase kosher meat expect the Kosher Heksher (label) to mean that the animal was raised and killed in ethical conditions. Some people even buy kosher meat because they assume it was produced according not only to Jewish law, but also to Jewish ethics. Buying kosher meat for them is like getting the guarantee I get from the farmer’s market. However, when the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the world, AgriProcessors, was Nina Budabin McQuown, contributor to the Jew and the Carrot (a blog that covers the intersection of Judaism and sustainable food issues) put it, “There seems to me to be a pretty enormous disconnect between Jews who think that kashrut is a system of laws designed by god to help our ancestors eat ethically, and Jews who think kashrut is a system of laws designed by God, period.”
People feel strongly about purchasing food with labels that demonstrate how the animal was raised (Certified Humane), the impact of production on the environment, the amount of chemicals used, and how workers were treated (Fair Trade). People also feel strongly about purchasing food with a Kosher Heksher on it. Do religious labels and ethics labels carry equal weight for those who care about both?
“There is a difference between doing things for religious purposes and doing things for ethical purposes,” said Leah Koenig, a freelance food writer and contributor to the Jew and the Carrot. “If someone who liked to eat locally is at the airport and they are hungry, and all they can find is a bag of Doritos, they are likely to buy the Doritos, but if I’m at the airport and there is nothing but a ham sandwich, I’m not gonna eat it.” While someone might let their ethical standards slide as I did (or felt that I did) when buying kosher, but not organic, chicken from the grocery store and not a farmer, mere inconvenience will not propel a person to break their adherence to religious law.
What are Leah’s hopes for the future? “In my ideal world, we’d be able to know that our food is kosher, for the people who want it to be, and that a similar amount of thought was paid to how the animal was raised The kosher community understands what it means to limit yourself with a higher purpose in mind, how great would it be if they were able to translate their intensity about eating to follow a particular law to ethical issues?” The desire to adhere to religious law while eating in a socially and environmentally responsible way has blossomed has blossomed into a new heksher called Magen Tzedek,, soon to be found alongside the Kosher Heksher when applicable. It is the manifestation of that “translation of intensity” that Leah hopes for. It will recognize kosher foods that also have low environmental impact; transparency in development; and fair treatment and safety for employees ( you can read more about it here).
There is a burgeoning group of individuals making the connections between kosher slaughterers, called shochet, and their local farms. Businesses like Kol Foods (Kosher, Organic, Local) and Mitzvah Meat are springing up, providing people with ethically produced, locally raised, kosher meat. The gap between eating kosher food and eating ethically is narrowing. All people, no matter what beliefs—religious or personal—they adhere to, should and will (if we continue on this path) be able to eat food that is good, clean and fair.