Jews Eating Well - Not as Obvious as it May Seem



Rachel Cohen


A snapshot of Jewish Food Movement includes congregational projects, educational efforts and global ones.


Originally published on the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's blog on 7/11/11


The old axiom of Jewish holidays, "they tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat!" isn't so simple these days, as Jewish communities across North America work to redefine "Jewish food justice" through local, national and global efforts. Synagogues, JCCs and Jewish non-profits have long led efforts to fight poverty by feeding those in need in our communities. However, we've recently started inverting the service model of distributing pre-processed and packaged foods at the end of a long supply chain, choosing instead to grow food and serve it locally, and tackling the root causes of our inequitable and unsustainable food system. And Reform congregations and camps are proud leaders in this work.

A recent article on going "beyond canned food drives" highlights the work of Irving J. Fain Social Action Award ( honorees KAM Isaiah-Israel in Chicago and Temple Shalom of Aberdeen, NJ, congregations leading innovative, interfaith garden projects that distribute food locally. The article also highlights Jewish food groups like Urban Adamah, a new initiative in California that combines Jewish teaching and innovative techniques through farming in the city of Berkley. Urban Adamah takes a unique approach to food service as well, delivering their locally-grown produce to hospitals and health clinics to ensure that patients receive fresh and nutritious food along with medical treatment, supporting recovery and long-term health. As Tali Weinberg explained, "It felt really good to me to partner with a health clinic, because food is about medicine..Sure, food is about celebration, but for many people it literally saves lives." Through hands-on work, these leaders are "closing the loop" by distributing food locally, teaching kids about agriculture and nutrition, and fighting economic injustice. All of this comes together as what one author describes as a "conscious fulfillment of Jewish values" around environmental stewardship, fighting poverty and teaching future generations to care for people and the planet.

But these projects - creative and life-changing for individuals as they may be - will never alone be enough to build a sustainable food system that serves all people. That's why Jewish food activist Oran Hesterman focuses on food policy in his new book, Fair Food
For Hesterman, his Jewish upbringing in both the cities and farmland of California taught him that food and social justice are inextricably linked and that the "right to eat well" is central to the social justice dream. 

Fair Food provides a practical guide for individuals to be part of this big and necessary change. Hesterman outlines the simple steps - shopping at a farmers' market or gardening - and the complex politics that inform the Farm Bill and the need for public advocacy to change these policies. Hesterman argues that people in low-income communities and food deserts understand the need for healthy eating equally, but face insurmountable barriers to putting this knowledge into action. That's why he envisions a food system that is not only environmentally sustainable, but that also makes good food accessible to all. Through his writing and work with the Fair Food Network in Ann Arbor, MI,
 Hesterman is trying to make this vision a reality.

And the work is going global! The CSA model is making the jump from North America to Israel, 
with an increasing focus on local and seasonal eating across The Land as Reform Jews in Israel think about what food justice means in a country with both big agriculture and massive deserts. It's all tremendous work and we're proud to support and engage directly in these efforts through the Union for Reform Judaism's Green Table, Just Table Initiative ( As Mia Hubbard of Mazon explained, "What the Jewish community is doing is part of a much larger effort," she said. "But to see Jewish institutions contribute in this way is very exciting." 

Rachel Cohen was the Sustainability Program Coordinator at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism from 2010-2011.

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