Ethical Eating

Zoe Jick
February 20, 2012
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The following is an excerpt from the introduction to my senior thesis for the religion department at Wesleyan University. The title of this essay is “The Jewish Relationship to Ethical Food,” and throughout the esssay, I point to moments where Judaism and values of ethical consumption converge in the act of eating.

“When I began learning to cook, I fell in love with Alice Waters. Owner of Chez Panisse, Berkeley’s iconic restaurant famous for growing its produce on site, Waters is best known as the tiny woman who single-handedly jumpstarted an American food revolution. With fierce gusto, she pushed the sustainable food movement to the forefront of American consciousness through determined activism and delicious organic fare. No one could ignore this fiery woman’s environmentally conscious food ideology, especially when she served the best organic spinach ever tasted, right from her backyard. Wondering why Waters’ philosophy about food resonated with me so deeply, I began to read more about the sustainable food movement. Michael Pollan’s famous manifestos littered my bedroom floor, yet it wasn’t until reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent publication, Eating Animals, that I located the multi-faceted connection between this movement and my Jewish sensibilities about food.

In Eating Animals, Foer explains his decision to become vegetarian in response to the brutalities in factory meat processing today. The book, published in 2009, is Foer’s call to arms for modern consumers; he urges us to investigate the hidden back-story of contemporary food production and to make educated decisions regarding consumption with this information in mind. Foer’s desire to make conscious and ethical choices about food is guided by a modern emphasis on food activism, yet is also self-consciously Jewish. While making ethical judgments about food is a growing national trend, Foer’s logic is distinct in the degree to which Jewish values inform his perspectives.

Realizing this trope in Foer’s book, I understood that the sustainable and ethical food movement resonated with my intrinsically Jewish sentiments toward food. Jews, regardless of their religious observance, often reference this relationship between Judaism and food when describing their eating habits. The connection is fundamental to their Jewish identities; Yonah Bookstein, who teaches the rules of Kashrut to Jewish Sunday school children, remarks on the students’ attention when learning this subject: “their interest in food issues is part of their Jewish DNA. It’s the culmination of thousands of years of culture telling them to think about their food.” Because this focus is ingrained in Jewish tradition, Jews often sculpt their food choices based on Jewish values. Furthermore, this relationship acts as a feedback loop: just as Jewish eating traditions shape Jewish culture, Jews then engage with contemporary food issues to reshape Jewish eating traditions.”

For the full text, please contact me directly. Through researching this essay, I better understood Judaism’s focus on ethical consumption. This value is so deeply ingrained, in fact, that we are meant to reflect on our consumption habits three times a day through the prayers that bracket our meals. Hopefully, we all can remember to pause our hunger for those moments, and change (if even so slightly) our habits to be more ethical and Jewish.

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Zoe Jick is a graduate of Wesleyan University, where she studied religion. Currently, she works as the New York Regional Director for the World Zionist Organization and she holds a recruitment position for Masa Israel Journey. Zoe also writes a travel food blog, which can be found at www.everywhereeating.wordpress.com

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