To describe a webinar as life changing sounds so dramatic, doesn’t it? But it actually happened. As crazy as it sounds, Sourcing Higher Welfare: Navigating Food Claims and Choosing Best Options, facilitated by Beantown Jewish Gardens, felt as if it was developed with me in mind. It has really forced me to reconsider my relationship with animals products, and I’m taking steps now to cut them out of my diet (almost) entirely.
I should explain my background: My undergraduate degree is in Hebrew Bible, from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. My relationship to keeping kosher shattered as a direct result of doing in-depth coverage of the Pottsville scandal for The Jewish Advocate in 2004. For the past 10 years I have maintained Cheap Beets, a pescatarian food blog. One of these days I’ll get around to finishing the Master’s degree in Food Studies I started when I worked at Boston University.
So a two-part webinar about animal welfare offering both a text study in the first half, with the second half devoted to animal welfare and the environment? That’s so me! So when asked for my opinion on it, my first thought was, “I don’t know who else this would appeal to, but I loved it!”
It was a real treat to be able to do some Torah study the first night, and with Aryeh Bernstein, who I knew in college! We began with a really great pasuk from Exodus 23:5:
“If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there, be sure to help them with it.”
We tossed some ideas out. I understood it to mean to have compassion for the animal. I was reminded of Eliezer’s test for Rivkah based on how well she cared for the donkeys at the well. But it’s more than that, explains the Talmud. You can’t just unload the donkey and walk away. You must also stay for the reloading, because it can happen again to the donkey.
I didn’t know what to expect for the second webinar, which was really led by Farm Forward’s Jewish Initiative for Animals. Honestly, most of the content was stuff I knew before. How eating cows is basically the absolute worst thing to do to the Earth. But hearing it again, especially in light of what we know about climate change, really made an impression on me. I don’t cook animals, and I eat them pretty infrequently. In high school, when I was a vegetarian for environmental reasons, I announced one day that I was going vegan, my parents responded back, But Molly, you love fish! And it was true, I do love fish. That’s always been the sticking point for me.
But this webinar really opened my eyes to the mass destruction fishing does to the seabed. I was shocked to learn about by the 98% kill rate for net fishing. The idea that removing a salmon from its habitat is like removing a tiger from the wild also made a major impression on me, enough to get me to rethink my relationship with smoked fish. I will cling to my fish sauce, though; as I learned eating anchovies is the least destructive thing to do with the ocean.
I am also moving now to cut out dairy from my diet. I’m terribly lactose intolerant anyhow, so it shouldn’t be going in my body. I’m still having a little trouble with butter though – it’s just so good. I already only serve my kids organic milk and we try stick to locally sourced cheese. I brought home an interesting cheese from New Zealand last month and my husband pointed out the amount of carbon it must have taken to get it here.
I won’t be animal-free all the time. I live in a farming community where I can pull up to a neighbor’s driveway and pick up a dozen eggs, so I know how those chickens are being treated. I’m a local honey addict, and bees are what keeps the environment green and humming. Next month, when 12 of my relatives sit down with me at First Night Passover Seder, they will be served a vegetarian but not vegan meal. Now that would be inhumane to my Ashkenazi family. And anyways, what’s Passover without Temp-tee cream cheese on matzo, with cherry preserves on top?
I am currently on the Kiddush committee at my shul, where I helped create a vegetarian kiddush. (That’s why I got forwarded the informationa bout the webinar). I plan to take the best practices I learned back to my team and make it part of our guidelines.
This webinar has inspired me to move farther along towards cutting out animal products altogether, and carefully choosing the ones that I do use. And for that I am very grateful.
You can see more information about the Ta’amim Tovim Educational Series here.