In our fast-paced, digitally formatted culture of sound bites and tweets, thinking about broader issues such as food systems and Jewish values may seem overwhelming. What does kashrut mean in the 21st century? Should junk food, like Coca-Cola, Doritos and Oreos, be deemed kosher? And what is our responsibility to help the 48 million Americans, including 15 million children, who go hungry each year?
These may seem like daunting issues that are beyond the scope of one’s daily life. But it is exactly this challenge that can, instead, be an opportunity to more deeply connect to Jewish traditions and teachings while also choosing foods that are more healthful and safer for you and others.
Having the opportunity to collaborate recently with the Jewish Food Experience® to create Jewish Value Cards gave me, and others, a way to reflect upon and challenge others to think about how the social, economic and environmental impacts of our food choices can be guided by Jewish beliefs. Food is a central aspect of Jewish life, from weekly Shabbat meals to kosher food laws. Many of our practices, memories and associations with Judaism involve food!
And while some Jewish customs might sometimes seem to just add more “busyness” to already hectic lives, they can actually offer moments to pause, reflect and be mindful. Such brief moments can elevate mundane behaviors. Explains Avi West, Senior Education Officer and Master Teacher at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, “Seeing the act of eating—and the shopping, preparation, and disposal of waste—as an act of holiness, we can elevate our lives and even impact the world.” Marcia Friedman shares, “As a Jewish cookbook author, I think a lot about the ingredients for recipes—not only whether they are traditionally kosher but also whether they are humane, sustainable, safe and so on.”
When it comes to food issues, such as farm workers rights, sustainable agriculture hunger and food waste, there are important Jewish teachings and responsibilities asked of each of us. The cards can be starting point for deeper reflection, conversation and action around these issues. Friedman notes, “These cards prompt us all to ask more complex and value-based questions about the food we eat, food production and food security,” and West explains, “These cards make us pause to consider eating as a sacred act.”
Here are some ideas for places to share and use the cards:
- Pass them around at a Shabbat or holiday meal and have guests take turns asking each other questions and discussing.
- Share them at your Passover seder, and lead a conversation about how they relate to the holiday.
- Include them in a food basket or mishloach manot for Purim.
- Share them on your synagogue’s bulletin board, newsletter or listserv, or replace your regular Shabbat sermon with a communal discussion of the issues in the cards.
- Bring a representative from an organization related to one of the card topics for a conversation at your synagogue or community center, and distribute the cards to attendees.
- Initiate a community challenge; for example, as a community, adopt one suggested practice.
- Hold a gardening or cooking event at a Hebrew or day school or local Jewish institution, followed by a card-led conversation.
- Discuss the cards and the issues they cover in a bar/bat mitzvah sermon or event.