Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sustainable food

I have talked about the issue of sustainable food before in this post and other posts before it, but this one was the one that I liked the most of my early posts. Sustainable agriculture is something that is often on my mind or at least comes springing back to the front of my mind every once in a while. This seems to occur as I try and move toward a more vegetarian lifestyle, I am not sure I will ever give up sea animals, but I am working on fowl and have recently kind of regressed on the whole not eating pig thing. I am not sure how much of a stickler I will become in the end toward not eating fowl and pig, but I am trying to really cut down on how much I eat them. This is a long and involved story and not one that I am going to go into on this post, but know that this process has been going on for over ten years now. So I think about where my food comes from and I love going to farmers markets and was happy to find a good fish market and even milk from a local dairy that is sold in my local grocery store. I am not totally trying to eat only local foods, although that would be interesting and something I might try at some point, but I am trying to find foods that I can be more sure of do not have added chemicals and are fresh. Case in point I got salmon this weekend and when I asked the man at the fish store about the salmon, he brought out the whole tail end of the fish and then asked how big of salmon steaks I wanted and how many. I am not sure it could have been much fresher for this area and I sure could taste the difference. The price was really good too, which helps.

I had seen an interview on the book channel, I am not sure what it is called, but I think it is CSPAN and most of the times it is talking about books, press conferences from books are what I usually catch on it and most of the time it is interesting for me to hear about new books. Michael Pollan was on talking about his new book, In Defense of Food: An eater's manifesto, which sounded interesting, but as i looked it up, I decided to read one of his other books first, The Omnivore's Dilemma. After placing this on my wish list for Amazon.com, it sat for a while and then this weekend I remembered it again and decided to try and get it from the county library system. Well this seems like a great idea except I am sitting in line at the 64th position. Yes that is right there are 63 people in front of me that want to get this book from the library first and there are 131 people that want to read In Defense of food. This is a great thing and I am glad that so many people want to read these two books, but it is a bit frustrating to just have to wait in line for books that you want to read. I am thinking of buying them, but am unsure about that. (If anyone has a copy that they would be willing to lend me of either of these books, email me and let me know. I promise to return them to you, I just want to read them before I commit to buying them.)

So anyway, sustainable food was back on my mind again and then I read a Dvar Tzedek on this weeks parshat. To translate that, Dvar means the word, if I remember my Hebrew correctly, and in this instance refers to a writing or discussion of the weekly Torah portion or parshat. I get these discussions from a wonderful organization, American Jewish World Services, who does a lot of good social justice things around the world and whose commentaries on the parshat always focus on social justice issues. So this weeks parshat is in reference to the laws of kashrut and why these laws seem to be random and why no scholar has ever really figured out why some animals are banned while other animals are not banned. There are a lot of different explanations that scholars have come up with, but none that really seems to totally answer why this is so. Anyway, so the commentary discusses how at times boundaries are good and freeing for individuals. I am going to just cut and paste the end excerpt from this commentary here as this is the relevant part to my point here.

Parshat Shemini 5768
By Rabbi Elliot Rose Kukla
March 29, 2008

In Parshat Shemini, we are taught to avoid eating many animals, including crawling insects, shrimp, hares, swine,
bustards, storks, herons of every variety, hoopoes and bats.1 We are told that sea creatures must have fins and
scales, land animals must chew their cud and have true hoofs. No explanation for these apparently random biblical
dietary laws is given. Throughout Jewish history, our sages have puzzled over this mysterious parshah looking for
underlying principles. Maimonides, the 12th century philosopher and physician, suggests that this mystifying list of
forbidden foods is based on principles of nutrition and reflects an awareness of the importance of the health and
vigor of the human body as a sacred vessel.2 Other classical medieval commentators, such as Sforno and
Nachmanides, theorize that the point of these restrictions is to protect the spiritual (as opposed to physical) health
of the people of Israel, to separate us from the other nations and to teach us gentleness toward creation.3

What all these commentaries have in common is an acknowledgement that, whatever the rationale might be behind
the laws of kashrut, what we eat has an impact on how we live and reflects our values. Creating boundaries in our
eating teaches us to eat mindfully and to carefully weigh the impact of our food on our bodies, our communities and
the world.

In the contemporary global village, the Torah’s message to limit what we eat can and should include consideration of
the impacts of our food choices on global social justice. The commercial coffee industry, for example, chronically
underpays and mistreats workers in the Global South, and the low labor standards of the industry as a whole impact
the well-being of entire economies in the world’s poorest countries. Purchasing non-fair trade coffee and other
forms of produce picked by underpaid workers conflicts with this parshah’s message to choose foods mindfully.

This portion challenges us to express our most intimate and deeply held values with every mouthful. It asks us to
speak out against the exploitation of farmers and laborers in the Global South and to insist upon foods and drinks
for our homes, our synagogues and our workplaces that are traded fairly and that promote the values of the Torah
– compassion and justice for all living creatures.

As my patient John taught me, limits are not always limiting. Limits create space for both individual and world
healing. Boundaries around how we live and what we eat help to create a world where there is room for that
within each of us that is truly limitless to safely unfold – our human dignity and our capacity for true freedom.

1 Leviticus 11:14-19
2 Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, 3:48
3 Nachmanides and Sforno on Leviticus 11:13

Rabbi Elliot Rose Kukla is a Chaplain Resident at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF)
Medical Center and Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute. He is also an activist, writer, organizer and educator.
He has lectured and led workshops on gender and sexual diversity in Judaism throughout Israel, Canada and
the U.S. Before moving to San Francisco, Elliot served as the rabbi of the Danforth Jewish Circle, Toronto's
social justice-oriented synagogue. Elliot was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
in 2006.

To read the entire commentary, it is here, and click on the one for Shemini.

So again sustainable agriculture reared its head and reminded me that not only am I doing good things for myself by focusing on more local produce and by cutting down on the amount of corporate food I am eating, but also I am aiding the entire world. I am helping farmers who grow coffee by making sure that I try and only get fair trade coffee. I am aiding the local small farmers by buying their milk or beans or fruit. I am helping the local bakeries when I buy their bread, if I don't make it myself, and finally I help a world economy that is struggling because of corporate greed to find ways of healing. One final note, there are several articles that I have seen, this is the only one I could find right now and it is about Horizon organic milk, that have pointed out that organic food is a big buzz word right now and so just because it is organic does not make it better and in fact local food is the best.


Tengrain said...

Both of the Pollan books are good, but they should be read in sequence. I would also add another Pollan book to your list, The Botony of Desire. It will change your views on humans as being the masters of the world.

Omnivore quite literally changed my view of food; the Defense of Food gives you some guidelines on changing how and what you eat.



FranIAm said...

This post blows me away Boxer and I am left in a rare speechless moment.

With a lot to reconsider.

GourmetGoddess said...

When you get here, I will order them through the College's loan system..... especially during the summer it is very easy to get books, even if they are popular. Yeah, faculty status.

It was funny seeing this post, as I have been working on a post of my own about factory farming vs hunting and heritage farming(won't be up until this weekend though). Mine will have a somewhat gruesome photo though....

Brave Sir Robin said...

The biggest problem with trying to do this is thus:

Most Americans, well, many Americans are slaves to the system.

I live in a very small town. There are two grocery stores. One is Walmart, and I NEVER buy food there, so I basically have one store.

There is no farmer's market within 30 miles, so the cost of gas and the car exhaust somewhat offset the "buy local" aspect.

In addition, many, many Americans stretch their food budgets just to feed the kids. Buying local, organic, or sustainable foods is just not an option for a vast sum of America.

Bottom line - (and this is why I'm a Democrat) - Fundamental change is needed in the production and distribution chain. The "free market" will only pursue profit. WITHOUT REGULATION and incentive from our Government, Sustainable food in America will remain a dream for most of the population.

Great Post!!


GourmetGoddess said...

As this economic crisis hits us, I forsee a shift away from the current system, as it pertains to food production and distribution. The system as it exists is not sustainable in the long term. If we attempt to do so, I have nightmare vision of the implementation of Fidipur, as described in Sheri Tepper's Beauty.

I live both in fear and in delight of the possibility of a total economic collapse. I am certainly wondering how long it will be before there will be no more access to gas or heating oil. I am preparing for the possibility of becoming akin to a pioneer woman - moving to the country, doing sustainable farming, going into twon three times a year ala Laura Ingalls Wilder.....

Boxer rebel said...

Tegrain- That was my thought too, to read the Pollan books in sequence. I am just working on getting them.

Fran- I am glad that this post was this powerful to you.

GG- Thank you for that offer. That is awesome and yay faculty status. You rock girl. And as to your later post, you know I am all about living in a farm and exiting the current economic system.

Sir Robin- I realize that this is a difficult premise and that it is not attainable for most, but it is still a good premise, IMHO. Also, it is funny that you mention the current economic system and the struggles that most people have feeding families and the organic foods are economical for most as that is my next post that will be up in a day or two. I saw that as an issue so kind of broke it down a bit, but I was going to post about that exact issue next.

Whiskeymarie said...

I have been making an honest effort to eat locally/organically whenever possible. Yes, it's expensive, but I'm willing to sacrifice a pair of shoes/whatever to not fill my body with crap.
I am sooo looking forward to summer and the St. Paul farmer's market, where everything sold has to be raised/grown/produced within 50 miles of the city.

Whiskeymarie said...

Oh, and I LOVED "botany of desire", but I have yet to read the other Pollan books.
Shame on me.