Culture, Justice, Religion


In the industrial societies that we live in, our so-called leaders have abandoned concern for our physical health, for the safety of our food supplies, and for our moral souls. Upton Sinclair wrote about this phenomenon in the disgusting meat-packing plants of Chicago over a century ago. The situation has little improved in that time. It is absolutely scandalous, it is criminal, that we have no food security.
We need some way to verify that we are eating food that is healthy, and that the animals that we eat, if we choose to eat animals, have been treated humanely. Most importantly, we need to have a direct relationship for our food, at the very least, one that is as direct as possible. We must have accurate and verifiable information about the sources of our food and the way in which it comes to our tables.
Every culture has certain rules regarding the types of food that are permissible to eat, and the methods of preparation that must be followed in order to be consumed by humans. Some of them make logical and ecological sense. Others made sense once upon a time, but are no longer applicable. Mostly, the rules serve to separate groups of people, so that adherents of different faiths will not break bread at the same table.
In terms of the laws of Kashrut, the Jewish culinary code, there are some decent theories about the origins of certain food aversions. For example, if a plot of land is used to grow wheat, it may feed 100 people. If the same plot of land is used to put cows out to graze, then only 40 people will be fed. But if pigs are put on that same acre, only 20 people will eat. They’re useful on farms because they’ll eat anything, but pigs make for an inefficient meat source.
If precious desert resources are squandered to make bacon and ham, it can only result in the stratification of society — some will eat like kings, and others will not eat at all. The Jewish and Muslim prohibition against the eating of pork may be an institutionalized defence mechanism that wards against the ever-increasing disparities of wealth that results from an agricultural economy.
But if you ask most rabbis about the real reasons for Kosher food, they will admit to you that it is to isolate their constituents from contact with non-Jews. Sharing food with others is one of the most intimate acts that we engage in daily. It is easier to control people when their contact with outsiders is severely limited by a series of obtuse rules and regulations.
Now if you ask the average Jew for the reasons for Kashrut, they will probably offer up the often-touted excuse of “better health.” They may even propose that the laws of Kashrut protect animals from abuse. And their is a kernel of truth to this. But it is definitely not the main reason for it; if that were true, then foie gras, the force-feeding torture of geese would be considered unkosher.
After an intense campaign by anarchist animal-rights activists, the Israeli Supreme Court outlawed the practice in 2003, and the Knesset (Israeli Legislature) permanently banned it in 2005. But in Halacha, religious law, no rabbi has ever issued an edict forbidding it. As always, most of the clergy is in bed with the capitalists: they make 30 billion dollar a year profits from exploiting animals and the environment, so they turn a willfully blind eye.
This isn’t conjecture: undercover agents of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have documented video footage of the shchita that goes on at glatt kosher slaughterhouses, and it’s disgusting. In response, rabbis only respectfully requested that they stop. The radical Jewish Renewal movement has initiated an ecological kosher certification process, but they are marginal to the mainstream; the atrocities to animals continue unabated.
We desperately need a new standard of Kosher, one that does not exist primarily to support a bureaucracy of cronies that make their living by supervising the separation of people from their fellows and from the truth about the animals they eat. We need a system that ensures consumer control, ecological and ethical practices. We need to be sure, we need a new kosher, an eco-kosher… an eKosher, an ECOSURE.
Below is a list of categories that I have come up with that are important for me. The list is probably incomplete — my knowledge of food issues is far from comprehensive. But it is a start: 22 categories of information that I want to know about everything that I eat. At every meal, we must remember the law of life; we must remain conscious of the fact that everything that we eat if not only a source of life, it is life itself.
I’ve come up with a sample sticker that could be stuck onto every food product bought and sold that conveys this important information. Quality control data can be verified independently by different non-profit organizations, that would be identified by a 4-digit code beside every qualifier. Anyone could then look up the name and contact information for these companies on a central website.
If you want to eat healthy and morally, the best way to do it is to harvest all of your food yourself; then you know exactly how it got to your plate. But if you want to continue to live in a complex society, then the only way that you can ensure your own physical and moral health is by demanding that the food industries reform themselves. Maybe then, one day, ECOSURE will be not a pipe dream, but the internationally recognized standard.

  • SPECIES – type of animal (name)
  • GENDER – sex of animal (F/M)
  • GENES – wild, bred, or laboratory modified (W/B/L)
  • HORMONES – natural or artificial (if artificial, names of hormones)
  • FOOD – genes inherited or altered (I/A)
  • SOIL – organically or chemically-enriched (O/C)
  • CRITTERS – natural or artificial insecticides/pesticides (N/A)
  • CYCLE – amount of nutrients returned to the soil in g
  • DENSITY – how much space each animal has (in square metres)
  • SUNLIGHT – amount of outdoor time daily (in hours)
  • HEALTH – illness history of the animal (in “Grade” – A/B/C/D/etc.)
  • FARMER – renumeration of the lowest-paid labourer (in $ hourly wage)
  • RITUAL – rites performed upon lifetaking
  • SLAUGHTER – method of lifetaking
  • PROXIMITY – amount of animals that are killed in one session
  • ORGANS – part(s) of the animal contained within
  • DATE – Gregorian date of slaughter
  • PACKAGING – non-biodegradable landfill material in kg
  • RECYCLED – ratio of recycled non-biodegradable packaging material in %
  • TRANSPORT – distance travelled from farm to processor to point-of-sale in km
  • LABOUR – renumeration of the lowest-paid processor (in $ hourly wage)
  • ENERGY – total input required to put product on the shelf, in Joules

3 thoughts on “Ecosher

  1. A few things:
    1. There are other good reasons for keeping kosher (connection to tradition and heritage, constant reminder of desire to live according to Jewish principals, etc). It’s great that you have a new idea, but you don’t necessarily have to put down people who adhere to the traditions while presenting it (though I think your criticism of foie gras, etc, is valid, you’re quite condescending to the consumers in your pieces as well and I fail to see how that is constructive). I’m sure many people who keep Kosher would like to get even more thoroughly ethics-vetted food.
    2. While I’m sure it upsets you that we live in a capitalist society, it is the reality– so how much would ecosure programs (that is, raising livestock to proper standards, paying farmers at least $15/hr and calculating all this data) cost farms and consequently consumers? Because frankly, it does sound expensive, and if the price of meat is going to shoot up, it’s going to be a tougher sell in the marketplace.
    3. What nonprofit is going to manage this? Who is going to start a new nonprofit for it? How are they going to raise funds?
    I hope you’ll keep developing the idea– it’s promising, but there’s a lot of detailling to be done before it’s viable. Or were you just hoping that someone would pick it up and run with it?

  2. I think this is a great perspective on this issue. When people ask if I keep kosher, I say yes — but eco-kosher. While my list of what’s important is not as granualar as this — it’s still important.
    Keep talking and keep the conversation going.

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