“Without sustenance, there is no Torah. Without Torah, there is no sustenance.” Pirke Avot 3:21)
I feed people. I don’t know why I’m so into pushing food. Perhaps because my grandmother stuffed me full of food. Leftovers make me nervous, and my fear of being hungry explains the ratty, half-full baggies of granola, nuts and dried fruit that (shamefully) spill out of my purses and jacket pockets. Is it a Jewish thing?
I grew up with Shabbat dinners every week and 40-person seders each year. Food is central to my expression of Judaism, so it makes sense to me that Jewish organizations are focusing time and money on global food justice.
Food access and sustainability is something that most Jews can connect to, and not just culturally.
The Torah references food justice with its commandments of shmita (letting land lay fallow every seven years), leket (leaving fallen produce for the poor to collect) and bal tashchit (to not destroy).
Last Hanukkah, I attended Hazon’s Food Conference, where I learned about Jewish efforts to reform the way the US delivers international food aid and how some of our country’s policies promote the injustice of hunger.
I came to understand that US policies regarding international food aid may harm the world’s most vulnerable communities. I also learned about the collective efforts of our country’s Jewish community to reform the Farm Bill—which covers international food aid policy—and to enable equal access to food around the globe.
Currently by US law, the vast majority of food aid is shipped from the US rather than bought closer to an affected region needing the aid. Shipping food is slow, expensive and wasteful and fuels economies of dependency.
By supplying food for free or selling it below market rates, the US government undercuts wages that local farmers receive, which detracts value from their products and makes competing in local markets almost impossible.
Yet, in fragile post-conflict and post-disaster economies, many individuals are fueling their economies with innovation and industry despite harmful policies and hollow relief efforts. They are starting businesses and building schools. How can we, as Jews, join them in solidarity?
The American Jewish World Service (AJWS)—along with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), Hazon, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger (MAZON) and the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)—united to form the Jewish Farm Bill Working Group, which leverages Jewish voices to push Farm Bill reform in Congress.
In February 2012, more than 15,000 people signed the petition as Jewish groups joined forces to begin the Campaign for a Just Farm Bill.
By joining Jewish communities throughout the country in efforts to reform US international food aid standards, we can support economic growth and stability in post conflict and disaster affected regions. One way you can support the development of healthy economies by taking action with AJWS’s Reverse Hunger Campaign.
As a result of sustained pressure and a mounting campaign, the US government now is considering reforming international food aid policy by pushing for a more flexible approach, one that invests in local agriculture, develops self-sufficiency and, with the same dollar amount, feeds more people in less time.
It pains me that stuffing my pockets with granola before I leave the house is a unique privilege, and that not all grandmothers are able to fill their grandkids’ bellies until they are full. But the spirit that fuels my desire to feed others is the same one that binds the Jewish community in the fight towards a just food system and more effective food aid.
Together, we can ignite change—and if there’s one thing that brings Jews together, it’s food.