A recent lecture delved into the history and current relationship of the Jewish response and responsibility to the food justice movement, including a Chicago synagogue's decision to turn its front lawn into an urban farm.
Does the food movement have potential to reinvigorate Jewish life?
That's the question that Lila Corwin Berman, associate professor of history and director of the Feinstein Center at Temple University, explored in her What Is Your Food Worth talk this Wednesday night at Rodeph Shalom: "A New Judaism from the Tabletop: Food and the Transformation of American Judaism and Jewish Life."
According to its website, What Is Your Food Worth is the Feinstein Center's program that "seeks to stimulate conversations about food, ethics, sustainability and eating Jewish."
Corwin Berman's lecture focused on "three Jewish frameworks — space and place, belief and community — that are being remade because of the food movement in American and Jewish life." About 25 people participated in the meaty discussion to consider the relationship between Judaism and food justice, a term that refers to how we determine the accountability and fairness of our food system's production and practice for both producers and consumers.
Corwin Berman pointed out during her talk that being at the forefront of a social justice movement is nothing new for Jewish activists. As an example, she cited the many influential Jewish figures in the women's rights movement over the past century. And true to form, when we examine the food justice movement's most vocal leaders, we see people like Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman and Michael Bloomberg, all voices which remind us to consider where our food comes from and how it is produced.
Of course, Jews have embraced concepts like "farm to table" long, long before their current popularity. For example, we eat freshly harvested apples dipped in honey during Rosh Hashanah and we enjoy meals al fresco in our autumnally decorated sukkahs during Sukkot.
Corwin Berman also mentioned several Jewish food justice programs like the CSA (community supported agriculture) at Rodeph Shalom and organizations like Hazon, whose stated mission is to "create healthier and more sustainable communities in the Jewish world and beyond."
What really caught my attention during the event was Corwin Berman's story about a synagogue in the Hyde Park section of Chicago, located across from President Obama's home. KAM Isaiah Israel is one of the oldest Reform synagogues in the Midwest. It has a strong history of being committed to social justice — so strong, in fact, that five years ago, the congregation transformed its front lawn into an urban farm. Today, it is Chicago's largest donor of farm fresh harvest grown within the city limits.
I spoke with the synagogue's president, Robert Nevel, to learn more about the program and how KAM Isaiah Israel attracts people to sign onto its mission of food justice.
"Switching people's mindsets from education and advocacy to a more muscular social justice and hands-on growing and delivering food is a lot of work — six tons' worth," he comments, referring to the annual amount of food donated by the synagogue.
Nevel says that the decision to focus on food justice — something that is easy to understand and that affects everyone — has proven to be a popular one among his congregants. "The urban farm unites people across generations. On any given day I could see a 3-year-old farming next to an 83-year-old."
Here are two more upcoming food justice-related events being hosted by Rodeph Shalom, which is located at 615 N. Broad St. in Philadelphia:
Hazon Food Festival
An all-day conference dedicated to food justice, green living and Jewish food culture.
Sunday, October 20 at 9:30 a.m.
"A Place at the Table: One Nation, Underfed"
Movie Screening followed by a discussion with Yael Lehmann, Executive Director of the Food Trust.
November 3 at 10 a.m.
Vote with Your Fork,
The Bubbi Project