Jewish Storytelling Tradition in the Food Justice Movement

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Jewish Storytelling Tradition in the Food Justice Movement

Written by Leah Lazer


This spring, Leora Mallach of Ganei Beantown supported me in initiating FOODAISM. This community storytelling project explores the intersection of Judaism, food, and farming as it plays out in the identities and work of members of the Boston Jewish food justice community.

FOODAISM involved interviewing members of the Boston Jewish food justice community to engage them on questions including:

  • Why do you combine your interests in Judaism and food justice or farming?​
  • How has Judaism influenced your social values or your interest in food justice, and vice versa?
  • What do you find in the Jewish food justice community that is different from spaces that are just focused on food justice or farming, or spaces that are just Jewish?​​​
  • What do you see as the role of Jewish food justice organizations in engaging with non-Jewish populations?

As Jewish food justice initiatives continue to emerge, grappling with these questions personally and collectively will be crucial to maintaining transparency and dialogue.

I filmed one-on-one interviews addressing these questions and edited them into two-minute video clips highlighting salient topics from our conversation. I posted them on the FOODAISM website that contains a summary of the project, the interviews, and a forum space for community-generated dialogue. With this infrastructure in place, I hope the coming months will allow me to grow FOODAISM, incorporating more voices and fostering an active forum page for spontaneous conversation.

For me personally, FOODAISM took on new significance as I prepared to begin work at Hazon Philadelphia, contributing to programs about Jewish sustainability, food, and farming. Many friends asked me reasonable questions: “What is Jewish sustainability and Jewish food justice? Is it simply sustainability targeted at the Jewish community, or is there Jewish content as well? Are there meaningful Jewish traditions of sustainability and food, or is it a forced marriage of issues by people who are interested in both sustainability and Judaism?” I struggled with these questions as well, and hoped that FOODAISM interviews would further my thinking.


While FOODAISM gave me some clarity on those questions, my most meaningful takeaways were entirely different. I heard many unexpected reasons why doing work on sustainability, food justice, or broader social justice in a Jewish context added huge benefits for the people performing the work. Judaism served as a source of supportive community that allowed them to continue emotionally draining work, allowed them to incorporate explicit aspects of spirituality, and more. If combining work in Judaism with sustainability and food adds so much value to the participants, why does it matter if the subject areas are inherently interwoven? Something that brings people such joy is valuable regardless of a historical connection between the issues.

My second takeaway was a new perspective on what Judaism can contribute to the food justice movement: a rich tradition of storytelling. Jewish history and culture is vast enough to encompass almost anything, but few would argue that stories are anything but central to Jewish tradition. Stories also formed a central part of my Jewish connection as a child. My mother, a Jewish educator with a professional background in children’s book publishing, raised me on lyrical and gorgeously illustrated Jewish literature. For hundreds of years, Judaism has understood a concept that the fundraising and movement-building world has now embraced: people connect viscerally to specific, relatable, personal stories, which can be extrapolated to illustrate broader values and inform their view of a larger movement. Combining the Jewish tradition of storytelling with the accessibility of online social media platforms and the powerful stories emerging from food justice spaces could be the ideal marriage that propels the food justice movement forward in the public eye.


FOODAISM is supported by Leora Mallach at Ganei Beantown, Julie Dobrow at Tufts University, the Moral Voices program at Tufts Hillel, and the insightful, inspiring interview participants.

Leah Lazer has a B.A. in Food System Studies from Tufts University in Boston, MA, is an alum of the Urban Adamah Fellowship in Berkeley, CA, and is thrilled to be starting a new role as Program Associate with Hazon in Philadelphia

כ״ז באייר ה׳תשע״ד (May 27, 2014)