Culture, Justice, Religion

Blogging the Hazon Food Conference–Day 2 cont. & 3

This post is from memory, as the sessions I’m blogging on were during shabbos, so I wasn’t taking notes, so forgive me for being less than complete. click below for some insights from the sessions and from some personal conversations I had throughout the day.

Friday night Nigel Savage, founder of Hazon, gave his address to the conference. The basic premise of his charge is that Hazon is a different type of organization, because it doesn’t have “members” who pay “dues.” It depends on volunteers, it has a small budget, and its work depends on us, as individuals. It depends on our choices and our values and staking a claim for a Jewish environmental ethic. It was, all in all, inspiring to hear from, not just Nigel, but various major players in the Jewish sustainability movement. There are good Jews of all variations who are doing really good work.
Saturday I sat in on a couple of sessions, and like yesterday, some inspiring and motivating and one that was downright terrifying, again. The first session of the day that I sat in on was on mindfulness in eating. It was an interesting conversation that incorporated Jewish tradition and thought, Buddhist thought, some new-agey stuff, and peoples’ personal opinions. It was interesting to hear how our personal relationship with food, in our contemporary, industrialized system is so disconnected. It really makes one think, how many meals do we eat and are conscious of the process of eating. I know, myself, I eat with books in front of me, newspapers, I eat in the car, I eat watching TV or movies. Every once in awhile, I can gather the mindfulness, but it would be something to engage with our food in a mindful manner. I don’t think we’d have let our food become industrialized if we had that mindfulness.
At lunch I had the pleasure and honor to sit and chat with Rabbi Morris Allen, and had the chance to pick his brain about Heksher Tzedek and his experience with the Rubashkin family. He gave me this quote, which surprises me and makes you think. He said, “If Agriprocessors had taken our advice in 2006, they’d have been the Ben & Jerry’s of the kosher meat industry.” How amazing that the Jewish community could have avoided this scar on our reputation and the pain in our hearts at seeing such abuses and crimes. All in all, what I learned from my conversation with Rabbi Allen was that one person, with the right intention and humility, can change their community. What was also surprising was to hear him discuss the Orthodox world responding to Heksher Tzedek–not so much the negative reactions he experienced, but seeing Orthodox groups like Uri L’Tzedek and others not seek to work with him or use his work, but rather “create the wheel” themselves, perhaps because they simply did not want to work with a Conservative community. Sad, to my opinion.
I had wanted to follow Rabbi Allen to his session on “the Battle over Kashrut,” but he told me it was more important to go hear Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, so I did. And my lord was that terrifying. I can’t repeat the facts and stats, but he told the history of modern industrial food production, and it became clear why is was voted one of America’s most important visionaries. He wants to rid us of the term “consumer.” He says, “Tuberculosis used to be called ‘consumption.’ Fire consumes. We don’t want to be called ‘consumers,’ we’re ‘creators.'” Wow, talk about vision.
He illuminated that 40% of the seeds (stat may be wrong) in production are provided by 5 corporations that are chemical companies. CHEMICAL COMPANIES!! WTF! Why are we letting chemical companies have ANYTHING to do with our food? I can’t get into the rest of the scary info he provided, but like yesterday, after a scary session like that, I asked the question “What are three things we can do as individuals?” His response:
2. Buy local AND (not or) organic, only
3. Support the organic movement in all its forms
Kimbrell is a visionary and a radical thinker, his organization is seriously important and will only become more important as our economy plummets and our food supply becomes more scarce. We have allowed our food supply to be stolen from us by virtue of ignorance, misinformation and fault public policy geared towards business. He forces us to rethink progress and efficiency. According to Kimbrell, efficiency is for machines, not for food. And he’s right. And machines and food should not be confused. Let’s take his vision and move forward toward real progress, not the regression that our food systems have taken in the last 50 years, seeing the decimation of the American farmer and the rapid increase of degenerative diseases in children and adults alike.
The Jewish approach to this crisis should include not only the political activism and advocacy, but a spiritual awareness that the world is God’s and we are mere visitors and tenants. Let our sense of obligation and chosen-ness transcend religious observance and move towards obligation and chosen-ness to assist the planet towards sustainability and the citizens of the world towards health.

4 thoughts on “Blogging the Hazon Food Conference–Day 2 cont. & 3

  1. What was also surprising was to hear him discuss the Orthodox world responding to Heksher Tzedek–not so much the negative reactions he experienced, but seeing Orthodox groups like Uri L’Tzedek and others not seek to work with him or use his work, but rather “create the wheel” themselves, perhaps because they simply did not want to work with a Conservative community.
    Are they overlapping? My understanding was that Uri L’Tzedek’s certification is for restaurants and Hekhsher Tzedek is for packaged food, but maybe I misunderstood.

  2. BZ-
    One of Uri L’Tzedeks projects is about restaurants, but it’s not so much about sharing the work as sharing the information which has been the problem.

  3. MS-
    Uri LTzedek, as I understand it, is involved in a few different avenues of the “battle over kashrut” as it’s been framed. One of their projects is to consult with restaurants and to certify their workers are treated appropriately. But that’s not the extent of their work. What Rabbi Allen seemed to be saying in our conversation is that he has experienced that many of the Orthodox groups who he has spoken with who are doing similar work, perhaps in different avenues, like BZ is bringing up, that Heksher Tzedek is giving their symbol, Magen Tzedek, to food products that already receive hekshers, based on the treatment of the workers. But, there is overlap in the information that can be shared. This kind of activism is all about networking and sharing ideas and concepts and information. But, acording to Rabbi Allen, the ORthodox groups, in his experience, are hesitant to work with him. He believes, from his experiences, that this is because he is a Conservative rabbi and there is hesitation in the Orthodox world to work with non-Orthodox groups. Rabbi Allen seemed to feel that if the movements could transcend halakhic differences and find common ground on justice issues all of their work may be easier.

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