Adrienne Krone began thinking about the entire system of kashrut—Jewish dietary laws—and how to relate ethically to food while researching historical religious diet movements as a Duke University graduate student. Today Krone is assistant professor of religious studies and director of Jewish life at Allegheny College, and her class “Judaism, Justice, and Food” examines the complex justice issues related to food, Jewish biblical dietary laws and rabbinic regulations, and the various aspects of food production.
“The kosher system gives you a moment to pause and ask whether it’s something you should be eating. It’s also an opportunity to see how people’s ethics inform their actions,” said Krone. And those ethical issues, she said, arise when discussing agriculture’s role in carbon emissions.
Indeed, gas emissions from food production adversely affect climate change, reports the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, meat and dairy account for approximately 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Increasingly, Jewish institutions are voicing concern and taking action on ethical food practices—beyond traditional notions of kashrut. Citing animal agriculture’s contribution to worker injustice, climate change, and pandemic risk, nearly 200 Jewish clergy and organizational leaders say that kosher certifications, as they currently stand, do not meet Jewish ethical standards. As part of a campaign by the Jewish Initiative for Animals, they are calling for institutions and events to adopt more sustainable food practices out of concern that nearly all kosher animal products, like those that are nonkosher, are produced on factory farms.
On factory farms—whether kosher or nonkosher—chickens, cattle, fish, and other animals are confined in tight quarters, and injected with hormones and antibiotics that cause suffering and arrest their natural development. The Sentient Institute, a nonprofit think tank, estimates that 99% of U.S. farmed animals (70.4% of cows, 99.8% of turkeys, 98.2% of chickens raised for eggs, and over 99.9% of chickens raised for meat) live on factory farms, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture data. The Sentient Institute also estimates that, based on the confinement and living conditions of farmed fish, virtually all U.S. fish farms are suitably described as factory farms—though currently there is limited data on fish farm conditions.
“You have a responsibility to be aware of any chains of pain that you contribute to,” said David Wolpe, Max Webb Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and one of the JIFA signatories. “I don’t think it is intrinsically wrong to eat animals but I think that the way animals are farmed and killed is appallingly inhumane …You have the choice of the products that you support and the meat that you eat. If you choose to eat meat, don’t deceive yourself that the animal hasn’t suffered to find its way to your plate. It doesn’t matter if it is a free-range chicken—the suffering is enormous and unrelenting. Make an ethically aware choice and do not pretend to sleep.”
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