Jews Eating Well – Not as Obvious as it May Seem!



gtjt.jpgBy Rachel Cohen
(originally posted on RACblog)

The old axiom of Jewish holidays, “they tried to kill us, we survived,let’s eat!” isn’t so simple these days, as Jewish communities acrossNorth America work to redefine “Jewish food justice” through local,national and global efforts. Synagogues, JCCs and Jewish non-profitshave long led efforts to fight poverty by feeding those in need in ourcommunities. However, we’ve recently started inverting the service modelof distributing pre-processed and packaged foods at the end of a longsupply chain, choosing instead to grow food and serve it locally, andtackling the root causes of our inequitable and unsustainable foodsystem. And Reform congregations and camps are proud leaders in thiswork.

A recent article on going “beyond canned food drives” highlights the work of Fain Award honoreesKAM Isaiah-Israel in Chicago and Temple Shalom of Aberdeen, NJ,congregations leading innovative, interfaith garden projects thatdistribute food locally. The article also highlights Jewish food groupslike Urban Adamah, a newinitiative in California that combines Jewish teaching and innovativetechniques through farming in the city of Berkley. Urban Adamah takes aunique approach to food service as well, delivering their locally-grownproduce to hospitals and health clinics to ensure that patients receivefresh and nutritious food along with medical treatment, supportingrecovery and long-term health. As Tali Weinberg explained, “It feltreally good to me to partner with a health clinic, because food is aboutmedicine..Sure, food is about celebration, but for many people itliterally saves lives.”Through hands-on work, these leaders are “closing the loop” bydistributing food locally, teaching kids about agriculture andnutrition, and fighting economic injustice. All of this comes togetheras what one author describes as a “conscious fulfillment of Jewishvalues” around environmental stewardship, fighting poverty and teachingfuture generations to care for people and the planet.

But theseprojects – creative and life-changing for individuals as they may be -will never alone be enough to build a sustainable food system thatserves all people. That’s why Jewish food activist Oran Hesterman focuses on food policy in his new book, Fair Food.For Hesterman, his Jewish upbringing in both the cities and farmland ofCalifornia taught him that food and social justice are inextricablylinked and that the “right to eat well” is central to the social justicedream.

Fair Food provides a practical guide forindividuals to be part of this big and necessary change. Hestermanoutlines the simple steps – shopping at a farmers’ market or gardening -and the complex politics that inform the Farm Bill and the need forpublic advocacy to change these policies. Hesterman argues that peoplein low-income communities and food deserts understand the need forhealthy eating equally, but face insurmountable barriers to putting thisknowledge into action. That’s why he envisions a food system that isnot only environmentally sustainable, but that also makes good foodaccessible to all. Through his writing and work with the Fair Food Network in Ann Arbor, MI, Hesterman is trying to make this vision a reality.

And the work is going global! The CSA model is making the jump from North America to Israel,with an increasing focus on local and seasonal eating across The Landas Reform Jews in Israel think about what food justice means in acountry with both big agriculture and massive deserts. It’s alltremendous work and we’re proud to support and engage directly in theseefforts through our own Green Table, Just Table initiative.As Mia Hubbard of Mazon explained, “What the Jewish community is doingis part of a much larger effort,” she said. “But to see Jewishinstitutions contribute in this way is very exciting.”

Howcan you be part of it all? Bring your community together for foodjustice this fall as part of Food Day, a campaign to address food accessand sustainability issues in communities across North America. As apartner in Food Day, the URJ has developed resources to incorporate food justice into your High Holiday and Sukkot celebrations.And it’s not too late to register to join URJ Social Action specialistNaomi Abelson and hundreds of other food activists at the Sixth AnnualHazon Food Conference this August in Davis, California. Learn more about the conference and use the code “URJFOOD” for an $85 discount when you register!

Rachel Cohen is the Sustainability Program Coordinator at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C.

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