While Of Church and Steak: Farming for the Soul is not directly speaking about Hechsher Tzedek, it is being posted here to show how the relationship between religion and food is changing, and not just in Judaism. The Conservative movement has already succeeded in being taken seriously even as the Hechsher Tzedek rules are further refined and developed. There is much yet to do before the first Hechser Tzedek is placed on the first product, but as the following article clearly demonstrates, the work which we are doing is sacred work and is making a difference in terms of how people understand the religious imperative of what makes something truly fit for consumption.
By JOAN NATHAN
August 22, 2007 New York Times
NEAR a prairie dotted with cattle and green with soy beans, barley, corn and oats, two bearded Hasidic men dressed in black pray outside a slaughterhouse here that is managed by an evangelical Christian.
What brought these men together could easily have kept them apart: religion.
The two Hasidim oversee shehitah, the Jewish ritual slaughtering of meat according to the Book of Leviticus. The meat is then shipped to Wise Organic Pastures, a kosher food company in Brooklyn owned by Issac Wiesenfeld and his family. When Mr. Wiesenfeld sought an organic processor that used humane methods five years ago, he found Scott Lively, who was just beginning Dakota Beef, now one of the largest organic meat processors in the country.
Mr. Lively adheres to a diet he believes Jesus followed. Like Mr. Wiesenfeld, he says the Bible prescribes that he use organic methods to respect the earth, treat his workers decently and treat the cattle that enter his slaughterhouse as humanely as possible.
“We learn everything from the Old Testament,” Mr. Lively said, “from keeping kosher to responsible capitalism.”
Humane, sustainable practices like Mr. Lively’s are articles of faith for many Americans concerned with the way food gets from farm to plate. But they are even more deeply held matters of faith for a growing number of farmers and religious groups. In the past few years protecting the environment has emerged as a religious issue. Now, something similar is taking place in the way people of faith view their daily bread.
Christians, Jews and Muslims who see food through a moral lens are increasingly organized and focused on showing their strength. The Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill, a national coalition of more than a dozen religious organizations, is lobbying Congress for legislation to help small farms. The National Catholic Rural Life Conference is helping congregations and universities in the Midwest buy local produce from family farmers.
Environment-minded Jews are asking the leaders of Conservative Judaism to rewrite their kosher certification rules to incorporate ethical concerns about workers, animals and the land. Hazon, the Jewish environmental organization, has set up community-supported agriculture programs, or C.S.A.’s, in which customers purchase shares of a farm’s harvest.
“This is the first time I have seen such a deep and growing involvement of the faith community,” said Brother David Andrews, who is on sabbatical from his job as executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and has followed these kinds of issues for 30 years.
If this nascent cause was taken up by large numbers of churches and synagogues, the economic effect alone could be profound. “The religious movement is a huge force,” said Arlin S. Wasserman, the founder of Changing Tastes, a consulting firm in St. Paul that advises food companies and philanthropic organizations on trends in food and agriculture. “Already, religious institutions oversee the production of $250 billion per year in food if you bundle together halal, kosher, and institutional buying.
“Religious leaders have been giving dietary advice for decades and centuries, telling us to eat fish on Friday or to keep kosher in your home. What we are seeing now are contemporary concerns like the fair treatment of farm workers, humane treatment of animals and respect for the environment being integrated into the dietary advice given by the churches.”
Religious officials say agricultural issues seem to be particularly appealing to younger people.
“Food and the environment is the civil rights movement for people under the age of 40,” said the Rev. John Wimberly, pastor of the Western Presbyterian Church in Washington.
The church recently helped restore a small farmers’ market called the Fresh Farm Market at Foggy Bottom, using its facility to house tents, signs and carts. At the end of the day parishioners glean the food left at the market for their soup kitchen.
The ideas behind faith-based farming relate to the principles of several popular diet books that take inspiration from the Bible, like “Holy Cow! Does God Care About What We Eat?” by Hope Egan (First Fruits of Zion, 2005); “What Would Jesus Eat?” by Don Colbert (Thomas Nelson, 2002); and “The Maker’s Diet,” by Jordan S. Rubin (Siloam Press, 2004). All advocate a return to what they see as the healthy eating practices and humane livestock treatment described in the Bible.
Mr. Lively, who follows the Maker’s diet, slaughters about 45 steer a day at Dakota Beef. Larger facilities will slaughter 2,000 or more.
“We take time to be sure the animal has been processed humanely,” he said. “This is not only important for our humane handling standards, but it is also very much biblical in our minds.”
The slaughterhouse weds ancient practices with modern insights and technology. Much of the plant was planned with the help of Dr. Temple Grandin, a designer of humane livestock facilities and professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University. She suggested changes like shielding the animals from humans milling about and nestling them in a comfortable head-holder as Tal Ginter, the shohet, or kosher slaughterer, wields the knife that slices their jugular vein, rather than first stunning the animals, as is a common commercial practice.
“It is not a horrible thing,” said Mr. Ginter, who worked in the slaughterhouse until recently under the supervision of Crown Heights Kosher and the Orthodox Union. “It looks bloody, but according to the Bible and the Torah, you have to be mindful of the animal and let it die as fast as you can, to cause less pain.”
Many of the ideas in the faith-based agriculture movement were expressed 30 years ago by advocates of eco-kashrut, a Jewish environmental consciousness movement. Jewish groups like Kosher Conscience in New York and blogs like the Jew & the Carrot (jcarrot.org), which is sponsored by Hazon, are still in the forefront. Two years ago the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, which has long been involved in agriculture issues, gave the Alliance for Jewish Renewal a two-year, $200,000 grant to start the Sacred Foods Project, which developed ethical guides to food buying.
For some religious people, change starts from the ground up, beginning with the way they treat the land. Dr. Adnan Aldayel, a Saudi Arabian financial consultant living in New Rockford, N.D., runs what he believes is the nation’s only organic halal producer, Dakota Halal. “We try to raise our animals the proper way, the right way,” he said. “We are the custodians of the ground.”
Environmentally sensitive farming has been taken up by at least 50 orders of nuns in the United States and Canada. Their number has increased about fivefold in the past decade, said Sarah McFarland Taylor, who recently published a book about this movement, “Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology” (Harvard University Press, 2007).
Among them is Sisters Hill Farm, a seven-acre organic farm in Stanfordville, N.Y., operated by the Sisters of Charity of New York. When they began working the land in 2000, it had not been cultivated since 1940. The sisters sell some of their vegetables at a stand on the farm and some through a C.S.A. based at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx.
“We decided to revive this farm so that the sisters could have a place to go to from the city to do something in a sustainable way to care for the earth,” said Sister Mary Ann Garisto, director of ecological concerns for the Sisters of Charity.
For many who farm according to religious principles, the treatment of animals is a great concern. Catherine and Myron Horst of Dickerson, Md., wrote about the problem on their Bible study Web site, biblicalresearchreports.com, in an article called “Farming Based on the Word of the God.”
“The secular corporate business world and the state universities have dismissed God from the farming picture,” they wrote. The Horsts wanted to alter that picture when they took over a 38-acre farm seven years ago.
“We asked the Lord what we were to do with the farm,” said Mr. Horst, a born-again Christian.
So he and his wife put their chickens out to pasture during the day, gather the eggs by hand, and move them back to shelters at night. It is far more work then keeping them cooped up or caged, but for the Horsts the Bible’s promise of dominion “over every living thing” entails responsibilities as well as rights.
Faith-based farming can also mean taking responsibility for the hired hands. Roy Brubaker, a Mennonite who grows strawberries, blueberries and vegetables on his 20-acre farm near Mifflintown, Pa., said: “My faith tells me that workers should be fairly paid. I have never paid the minimum wage. That is not the biblical standard for a living wage.”
Joel Salatin, who is considered a guru of organic agriculture, said he has seen a change in the people who visit his Polyface farm in Virginia.
“Ten years ago most of my farm visitors were earth muffin tree-hugger nirvana cosmic worshipers,” Mr. Salatin said. “And now 80 percent of them are Christian home schoolers.”