The second day of the 2009 Hazon Food Conference is another GORGEOUS, sunny California day. This morning I was able to attend two sessions. The first was focusing on kosher slaughter, specifically regarding the chickens which were slaughtered and prepped by volunteers at the conference a few days ago. The next session I attended was focused on how, as individuals and communities, we can better situate ourselves in the fight against hunger.
The first session was a panel discussion including Caleb Barron, the farmer who raised the chickens, Rabbi Seth Mandel, the head of meat inspection for the Orthodox Union who was present at the chicken slaughter for the conference, and Naf Hanau, the novice Connecticut-based shohet who slaughtered the chickens. The program was a fascinating look at the state of kosher slaughter in the industrial setting, and how it was in “the old days,” and where it may go in different communities.
Here are some interesting facts provided by R’ Mandel of the OU:
50 years ago, kosher meat was locally produced. In this context, a shohet is slaughtering 10-12 animals a couple of times a week. Much less beef was consumed because one cow produces 500 lbs of meat, which without refrigeration goes bad in about three days. According to R’ Mandel, there is one kosher slaughterer who still functions under this context in St. Louis. Today, an industrial chicken plant will slaughter 60-75 chickens per minute, that is almost 2500 chickens an hour. In the industrial setting, a slaughtering knife is checked every 5-10 minutes to ensure for humane and painless slaughter. Today we have fewer shohets who are more proficient and have more expertise. This creates a more humane slaughter for the animal since the shohet is well practiced and therefore very efficient and able. Contrast this with a few dozen volunteers chasing chickens for the first time, we have to ask ourselves, what situation are the chickens better off in?
According to meat eaters (I’m a vegetarian of over a dozen years), pasture chickens taste much better than factory farm chickens, but are also exponentially more expensive (compare $1.20/lb to $6/lb). Also consider that non-kosher chickens, after they are eviscerated (have their insides removed) are dipped in over 30 kinds of chemicals to clean off the bile and bacteria from the punctured internal organs. Since kosher standards require that internal organs be intact, the evisceration process in kosher slaughter is done by hand or vacuum, rather than pressure, and therefore the bacteria does not contaminate the meat, therefore it does not need the chemical baths. Kosher industrial produced chickens are instead dipped once in lactic acid to prevent bacteria from being spread.
This did not change my opinion on meat consumption in any regard, however it did make me realize how important it is, in the name of humaneness, to have an expert shohet who practices his art on a daily basis. That being said, it became even more clear how unsustainable the industrial method truly is. The only answer, in my opinion, is for Jews to eat as little meat as they possibly can. Take the advice of Rambam, and eat meat 1-2 times a week; or that of Rav Yosef Karo to only eat it once in a while on Shabbat. The number one culprit of climate change is methane production from industrial farms. Decreasing your personal meat consumption, or choosing to only consume pasture meat, will make a huge impact.
The next session was focused on advocacy, organizing and lobbying to end hunger. It was presented by Eric Shockman of Mazon and by Scott Mincow of the LA Federation. Together, Mazon, the Federation and a series of other LA based social justice non-profits are working together on various campaigns to combat hunger around the world. LA is a special example because we are statistically the hunger capital of America, despite the immense wealth that can be found in the city. We know statistically that hunger is not about a lack of food. We have enough food in our communities to feed the world a few times over. The issue is one of resource allocation.
And now for some facts from Eric Shockman on hunger:
1/8 of the 4 million residents of Los Angeles go hungry. 800,000 residents are on food stamps, and an estimated 1 million more who could have access to them but choose not to take them. 1.2 billion people internationally are food insecure, 17 million American children in 10 states are food insecure. According to Shockman, and he should know since it’s his job and he wrote the Obama administration’s plan on hunger, hunger can and should be ended in our lifetime. We know how, and we have the resources, we just need the political will.
Shockman advocates individual involvement and volunteerism, in conjunction with political activism, local lobbying and community organizing. However, he astutely warns, “don’t get wrapped up in yourselves.” In other words, if one’s motivation in charity work or activism is self-fulfilment, your mission will end when your fulfilment runs out. Rather, realize it is above us all and we must find empathy and understanding of those in hunger. How? He challenges all of us to try the Food Stamp Diet Challenge.
What is this challenge you ask? Live for one week spending no more than $21. The motivation of this activity is not to feel good about one’s economic standing, or feel bad about the standing of another. It is to, in some remote way, walk in the shoes of those who live in poverty. Such an experience, in theory, should inspire us to work with more passion and more impetus to end hunger. And, according to Shockman, ending such hunger is a very real and achievable goal.
I’m out of time now, and will try and write more about this topic after Shabbat when I report on the Shabbat activities. Look back here for more Saturday night.