Since our call for donations, St. Bridget’s has received approximately forty thousand dollars. That’s real money. That’s real money that is making sure people have food, that their rent is paid, that they are getting legal representation, and that is reuniting families. Also, Rubashkin’s has responded to our lead. They have given meat (what else?) to the workers’ families, and are negotiating a way to pay the families at least part of their lost wages.
Bottom line – Yasher Koach. Thank you for donating and thank you for spreading the message. Our little campaign has made a difference. Now it’s time to move on, to figure out what the next steps are. Here are some ideas.
- Research: We need to find out what is actually going on in Postville, and in all Rubashkin’s plants. How many plants are there? How many people work there? What are their conditions? How much are they paid? Where do their animals come from? How are the animals treated? How much of the market does Rubashkin’s actually control? These questions and more we need answers to. Anything we do needs a clear goal, and to come up with a goal for the future we need to understand the present.
- Boycott: We can stop eating Rubashkin’s meat. Now, consumer boycott’s don’t work so well, and we don’t necessarily represent a large consumer base, but, we can have an impact indirectly. When you go to make your purchases, ask your local butcher, grocery store, restaurant, where they get their meat. Most meat is the same in quality in America, and your average buyer is only looking for the best deal. If he hears people don’t want Rubashkin’s, he might change, even for only a few consumers. Remember, no one is walking into a store demanding that it only buys Rubashkin’s.
- Pressure the OU: Thanks to a teacher I know for this idea. The OU gives Rubashkin’s their kosher certification. While the OU has dismissed the idea of hechsher tzedek, they have in the past revoked certification for other moral issues. Perhaps direct pressure, over this specific problem, could lead them to revoke their certification or at least engage Rubashkin’s. We might not have much power directly over Rubashkin’s, but the OU does.
- Alternatives: If we want to make this work, we need to offer alternatives. There are a few small independent kosher meat processing plants, but they are few and far between. The only large, national alternative is Hebrew National. (ahhh.. I hear your gasp) Hebrew National was the standard in kosher meat for years, well into the 1970’s. Then, a policy decision of the OU sent Hebrew National out of favor, and now it’s regarded as only slightly more kosher than Oscar Meyer. However, all of that is unfounded. The more I read and the more people I speak to, the more I hear that Hebrew National is as kosher, and now with everything we know probably more kosher, than Rubashkin’s is. It is a real possibility we need to explore – bringing Hebrew National back into the fold.
- Reduce: Even after we get past this storm, our problems are not solved. The meat industry in general, and the kosher one in particular, has lead us down a dangerous path. Our current meat industry is not sustainable, and is not particularly profitable either. Producers constantly need to find ways to squeeze the last pennies out of their beefs, and that means abusing workers, mistreating animals, and injuring our environment. Any actions we take have to keep in mind the long term picture, and that will involve significantly reducing our meat consumption. It’s scary, and it won’t be easy, but it is something we need to do.
These are just the first ideas that I have. There is much more that can be done and I want to hear from you about the initiatives we should follow. Also, let’s not forget. Rubashkin’s is not some horrible evil that needs to be eradicated. It is a company, that in the pursuit of profit has made mistakes. They are severe mistakes, but they can be corrected. We need to figure out what we want Rubashkin’s to do better, and hold them accountable. Once the company changed, it should be welcomed back into our community, and applauded for following Torah, producing truly kosher food, and doing the right thing for themselves, for Jews and for our entire community.