As the national discussion about food widens to include terms like food desert, food insecurity and food justice, Jewish food activists are broadening their responses to hunger in new and creative ways.
At the Hazon Food Conference West, I sat in on a panel discussion that highlighted examples of individuals and communities that are helping provide healthy sustainable food to all. Here are some of their stories and what drives them:
• Eli Goldstein, manager of EKAR Farm in Denver, which broke ground a year ago, spoke about his project which is a combination of a 50-plot community garden and a two-acre farm, situated next to a Jewish day school. This year the farm produced 8,000 pounds of food, with the help of over 1200 volunteers of all ages, including the students next door. EKAR’s food is donated to the Jewish Family Services food pantry in Denver. Goldstein’s explained his motivation: “Rather than ask, ‘What problem am I addressing?’ I ask, ‘What value am I adding?’”
• Anne Hromadka the chair of the Progressive Jewish Alliance’s LA Food Justice Committee incorporates her work on food justice into the Hebrew school class she teaches. After watching a video about Top Ramen and learning about its lack of nutritional value her students learned of a local Jewish food charity collecting large quantities. They asked the organization if they could donate healthier soups instead. The class mobilized the entire religious school to collect healthy food. A neighboring larger synagogue heard about the students’ activism and switched the focus of their food drive to collect more nutritious foods as well. Hromadka said of the project, “As an educator, I want the kids to understand that the root word of tzedakah is tzedek. Justice is what drives tzedakah. That’s the most powerful and beautiful thing Judaism has brought me.”
• Ilana Schachter, a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College, discussed a project she runs for Jewish and Muslim teens. The group studies the food cultures and laws of both religions. Students discovered a great deal overlap between the two religions; food justice teachings are very similar, as are the laws of kashrut and halal. There’s even an eco-halal movement that parallels the eco-kashrut movement. Schachter commented, “Anybody can get involved in the interfaith work I’ve been doing. What you really need is an identified value of what you want to work toward, and passion and energy to carry it out.”
Liz Schwartz is a free-lance writer, researcher and food activist in Portland, Oregon. She is also an avid gardener, cook and eater.