'Eco-Kosher' Jews Have An Appetite for Ethical Eating

May 8, 2009

Author: Mary MacVean and Duke Helfand

Source: The Los Angeles Times


With Sabbath candles burning and 14 guests seated around her dinner table, Joanna Arch held up a cup of kosher red wine and chanted the kiddish kiddish prayer in Hebrew:

"God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he rested from all his creative work."

As is the custom, the guests observed the holy day of rest with a meal, but with a twist: They were sharing a "sustainable" Sabbath dinner on this Friday evening, with food that was locally grown, mostly organic and intended to elevate their practice of Judaism.

Arch and her husband, David Andorsky, passed around goat cheese -- made at home -- sprinkled with oregano, thyme and chives. Sarah Newman brought ratatouille made with her home-canned tomatoes and vegetables from a farmers market.

The others, too, prepared food that was not only kosher and vegetarian, they explained, but provided a way for them to strengthen their ties to their faith and to live out a Jewish imperative to protect the Earth.

The dinner reflected a powerful current in Jewish culinary consciousness: Growing numbers of people are choosing to express their values through the food they put on their tables, altering the most basic day-to-day decisions about nourishment. It's why Jenna Snow picked loquats from her yard -- rather than buying them at the store -- for the custardy cake called clafoutis that she made for the Sabbath potluck.

The movement has become so popular in recent years that synagogues increasingly are forging relationships with farmers, farm education programs are starting up and Jewish "sustainability" conferences are attracting sold-out crowds. At a three-day gathering in Northern California in December, volunteers even learned how to kill, pluck, salt and rinse their own turkeys.

"Food is the most intimate relationship we have to the nonhuman world," said Zelig Golden, a San Francisco lawyer who co-chaired that gathering. It was the third food conference sponsored by Hazon, a New York-based environmental organization that in 2004 branched out into food issues. It has since become the primary force behind many programs in the sustainability movement -- an effort to use natural resources responsibly to avoid depleting them.

"Jewish tradition has a lot to say about the use of land, the treatment of animals and workers," said Nigel Savage, Hazon's executive director. "Jewish tradition should heighten our awareness of the choices we are making."