"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


Do Jewish 'Enviros' Have to Be Vegetarians?

On Tuesday, The Jew & The Carrot featured a thoughtful essay by Rabbi David Seidenberg titled "The Meat of the Argument: Do Jewish Enviros Have to Be Vegetarians?" I'll start off by answering the question in the title: No. In rare situations, when animals are raised and shechted in conditions like those of the goats killed at last year's Hazon Food Conference, it's not necessary for Jews to be vegetarians in order for them to be true environmentalists. Rabbi Seidenberg does a good job of articulating the position shared by Hazon (the organization responsible for the conference and The Jew & The Carrot), and while it is not a view that I endorse, it is one that I have come to understand. But there are several factors that we must consider.

The conditions for the Hazon Food Conference goats were relatively humane but not perfect. Rabbi Seidenberg claims that the goats were shechted "in the most conscientious way one could ask for kosher slaughter to be done," but I believe that slaughtering an animal as part of a spectacle in front of a large crowd (in which "some people were really shaken up," as The Jew & The Carrot's Leah Koenig put it) does not constitute "high enough" "integrity of the shechitah" (Rabbi Seidenberg's words) for it to be acceptable. Furthermore, while the living conditions of the animals on the farm that the Hazon Food Conference goats came from might be "as good as it gets," they aren't perfect. In a must-read heebnvegan guest post last year, Jackie Topol (who was a fellow on the grounds of the farm that the Hazon Food Conference goats came from) talked about how her fellowship led her to go vegan. In her guest post, Topol questioned her experiences collecting eggs, milking goats, and separating kids from mother goats. Perhaps the only "perfect" alternative is not to raise and kill animals for food at all.

The "relatively humane" conditions that the Hazon Food Conference goats were raised and shechted in are different from the conditions of animals killed for the vast majority of store- and restaurant-bought meat in the U.S. That meat almost exclusively comes from large-scale commercial operations that prioritize profit over animal welfare, leaving animals to suffer myriad abuses and injustices that heebnvegan readers and Hazon supporters are already familiar with. In addition, the environmental devastation caused by factory farms and industrialized slaughterhouses should be unacceptable to any true environmentalist. The situation presented in Rabbi Seidenberg's essay is distinct from the usual considerations associated with the "Should Jews eat meat?" question.

"Relatively humane" kosher meat is not available on a large scale and probably never will be. Conversations about what's best for the Jewish community must take this into account. In December, in response to a post by Koenig about the goats shechted at the Hazon Food Conference, I asked, "Given [the Orthodox Union's head of shechita] Rabbi Mandel’s point that Jews 'eat as much meat as we do' (i.e., that the market for kosher meat is quite large), how is it possible for this 'model' of shechita to be 'what the future of Jewish meat eating could look like' (i.e., on the large scale)?" Koenig replied, "Your first question is a really good one and I don’t know the answer - I do know that CSAs are also a 'drop in the bucket' compared to the large scale industrial food system …." I appreciate Koenig's response, but until someone does know the answer and can provide it, I'll assume that there isn't one. I think that focusing on isolated situations can distract attention from bigger issues. At worst, I think that discussions like this (as important as they are) might fit this description offered by Rabbi Seidenberg:

[There] was a part of me that worried we were giving people a reason to kvell over their own meat-eating, that [vegetarians at the Hazon Food Conference who supported the position that it was acceptable to shecht the goats and even ate some of the meat themselves] were affirming for [meat-eaters] their membership in the fraternity of carnivores. In the Torah and prophets, eating meat is sometimes treated as a kind of drunkenness. When the lives of creatures are at stake, I am wary of that kind of revelry.

Last but not least, the question "Do Jewish Enviros Have to Be Vegetarians?" implicitly suggests that only environmental issues should be considered in the "Should Jews eat meat?" debate. That's like asking "Do Jewish Enviros Have to Be Good Parents?"—there are many reasons for Jews to be good parents that have nothing to do with the environment. There are many reasons to avoid meat, of course, as I discussed last year on my Counting the Omer blog, where I featured 49 reasons to go vegetarian. As Jewish Vegetarians of North America president Richard H. Schwartz noted in response to Rabbi Seidenberg's essay, "animal-based diets and agriculture violate Jewish mandates to preserve our health, treat animals compassionately, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, help hungry people and pursue peace" and "animal-based diets are contributing to heart disease, several types of cancer and many other chronic, degenerative disease[s]."

Kol hakavod to Rabbi Seidenberg for sharing his thoughts and to The Jew & The Carrot for keeping the conversation going.


New J-Blog Calls Judaism 'The Vegan Religion'

Last month, a new J-blog named Baruch Ben-Zev: Go On, Reb made its debut with a post titled “Judaism: The Vegan Religion.” A follow-up post several days later clarified and expanded on various matters discussed in the original.

Baruch Ben-Zev claims that it is “axiomatic” for “a true Jew” to be “a vegan, or, at the least, a lacto- or lacto-ovo-vegetarian.” The post uses some nice-sounding language like “the vegan insight of Judaism” and “the ancient vegan Jewish sages.” Its chief biblical case for a vegan diet is the fact that Genesis 1:29 calls for one, but few people will find this convincing because—as came up in responses to the post and in the follow-up—it fails to account for later developments in the Bible. (I contend that the later developments still point to vegetarianism as an ideal, albeit not with as much certainty as G-d’s original plan).

The post also includes several asides with encouraging reasons to go vegetarian, including the health benefits of a meat-free diet and reasons why humans don’t have the physiological characteristics of carnivores.

Baruch Ben-Zev's post makes some bold claims and uses some language that I would avoid, but kudos to the blog for its efforts to get the message out there. Here's hoping that Baruch Ben-Zev continues down that path.


Yom Huledet Sameach, heebnvegan!

It's been three years and roughly 25,000 hits since I started heebnvegan. As has become a tradition, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all the "heebnvegan faithful" who read, comment on, and suggest ideas for this blog. Thank you to the other J-blogs that are doing such a great job of covering Jewish food issues (particularly Failed Messiah and The Jew & The Carrot). Last but not least, thank you to Boris Dolin and Jenny Goldberg for their guest posts about ShalomVeg.com and Passover, respectively.

Here are some of the highlights from the last year in Jewish-vegan news:


Kapporos Cruelty and Possible Consumer Fraud Exposed

Kapporos is a ritual performed before Yom Kippur in which some Jews choose to wave live chickens above their heads before the birds are slaughtered. Using money for tzedakah (charity) instead of live birds is a widely accepted alternative.

The JTA reports that PETA sent a letter today to New York government officials asking them to crack down on one particular kapporos center in Brooklyn. A video made by PETA and posted to YouTube by the JTA clearly shows that animals are handled roughly and kept in unsanitary conditions. The video depicts how animals are crammed into tiny transport crates, where they lack food, water, and adequate space to move around for up to 24 hours.

The video also notes that approximately two-thirds of the chickens used were disposed of rather than being donated to tzedakah, which goes against one of the main points of the ritual. Participants in the ritual were not made aware of this. PETA contends that this may constitute consumer fraud.

The bottom line here is not that individuals are aiming to be cruel but rather that inhumane treatment of animals becomes systematic and inherent in any large-scale institutionalized process that treats animals as mere objects.

The JTA's article
The video on YouTube
Last year's heebnvegan recap about kapporos


Vegetarian U.S Champ Wins Air Guitar World Championships

Craig "Hot Lixx Hulahan" Billmeier and I have a lot in common. We've both played air guitar on top of a dugout at a professional baseball game. We've both had to play Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" in the compulsory round of an air guitar competition. And we're both vegetarians who love Israeli falafel.

Tonight, Hot Lixx did something that I'll probably never do: He won the Air Guitar World Championships. Hot Lixx, who became the first two-time U.S. champion earlier this month, is the first American to win the world crown since 2004. As the Los Angeles Times' music blog put it, "Forget the Olympic medal count, America just won the only title that matters Friday at the Air Guitar World Championships in Oulu, Finland." Congratulations to Hot Lixx for making Uncle Sam proud!

Earlier this week, Hot Lixx commented on heebnvegan to say that he's vegetarian. Yesterday, while on a plane en route to Finland, Hot Lixx responded to my interview questions about vegetarianism (and his experiences touring Israel with his punk band, Your Mother). Here he is in his own words.

For how long have you been vegetarian? Why are you vegetarian?

Been vegetarian since 1996. Always toured with bands who were veg/vegan but being young myself, I resisted the ideology out of a sheer teenaged need to do anything opposite of those around me. Eventually one day I swapped out cow’s milk for soy milk in my breakfast cereal to see if I would become less tired mid-morning. It worked and from there it was just a slow modification on my eating style. Realized I could swap out meats for hearty alternatives, started to take note of vegetables I enjoyed, etc… Deep down all the reasons people go vegetarian affected me, so when I was finally strong enough to change my lifestyle I had a wealth of justifications – health, politics, cruelty, environmentalism…they are all valid reasons for living a veggie lifestyle.

Air guitar is about world peace. Is vegetarianism consistent with that?

Of course the concept of vegetarianism angles itself towards making the world a better place on so many levels. There are many paths to enlightenment, these are but two of those paths.

Do you credit vegetarianism for your success as the United States' first two-time air guitar champion?

No. I credit vegetarianism for the great influx of amazing mock-meat restaurants in the Bay Area. I credit winning to stupid and unsafe acts of ridicularity.

Later this week, you'll be going to Oulu, Finland, to compete in the Air Guitar World Championships for the second time. Have you found that the Oulu area is vegetarian-friendly?

I’m actually on the plane to Finland right now! Finnish people eat a lot of fish, it’s everywhere and in everything. However, they are also a progressive country and are aware and compassionate towards vegetarians. In Helsinki there is a very strong veggie community (mostly the punx, of course) and Oulu is a college town so they have veggie options at a lot of the restaurants.

I'd love to hear about your experience touring Israel with your band.

As far as touring goes, I had a band called All You Can Eat and we put out a split record with the band Useless ID from Haifa. We would always go see any foreign band that came through San Francisco in order to meet them and talk about international underground music. Usually we would try and parlay these experiences/connections into a tour and so AYCE planned to go to Israel after meeting up with UID. AYCE couldn’t make it so I swapped the tour with my ‘other’ band Your Mother. We went over there in July 1997 and planned on staying for 10 days. We had such a good time we stayed for a month. There was so much history there that it took us a long time just to vaguely understand all the conflicts. Thankfully we were with people who were impartial to the whole mess and explained (in what I believe to be) very neutral terms. It was eye-opening to be sure. And very enriching. And the food was AWESOME. Best falafels ever.


Some Recent Posts Have Gotten Great 'Pickup' on Other Blogs

It's so nice to have a place in the Jewish blogosphere. After blogging for three years, it's clear that I'm not just standing on a soapbox. My blog posts are often part of a larger conversation.

In June, I wrote about the creation of the Jewish food blogosphere as its own niche, and Just Call Me Chaviva expanded on the idea.

Last month, I talked about the plight of injured vegan air guitarist Jacob "The Golden Ghost" Calle. The Houston Press' blog picked up the story with the title "Circus Animals Tortured Because of Air Guitars." (In my post, I talked about the spate of injuries during this year's air guitar season; since then, Craig "Hot Lixx Hulahan" Billmeier became the first-ever two-time U.S. air guitar champ and fell victim to the trend. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Billmeier "landed awkwardly on his left hand - the hand used to play the frets on an air guitar - and badly mangled his thumb. Billmeier held up the disfigured digit to a grossed-out audience. But during the break, Billmeier taped his hand in a makeshift cast and was able to return for the finals.")

Earlier this month, I blogged about Hekhsher Tzedek's animal welfare guidelines. I think it's pretty cool that a post on Hekhsher Tzedek's blog linked to my post alongside stories from The New York Times, The Jewish Press, the Associated Press, and other major news outlets.

Yesterday, I wrote about non-Jews who have come up as part of my Jewish punk research, and Teruah (the Jewish music blog that featured a post about my air guitar career last month) posted about it immediately. Teruah's first post about me was very exciting and flattering, but I appreciate this recognition of my research and writing about Jewish punk at a much deeper level. Yesterday's Teruah post directed readers to my February 2007 heebnvegan post titled "Jewish Punk and Tikkun Olam" as well as articles I've written for the Forward, New Voices, and the New Vilna Review. Here is an excerpt of yesterday's Teruah post:

It turns out that, like me, Michael has a thing for any intersection of Jews and punk music. And he's written a lot more than I have about it. His most recent piece "The Non-Jewish Side of My Jewish Punk Research" is a hoot, chronicling a wide range of non-Jewish punks with some association or affinity for Jews. Take Total Passover, "a Jewish-themed punk band that played in Iowa in the early 1990s" led by the Jewish Andy Levy. ... And on it goes, including discussion of bands ranging from the Dead Kennedy's to the Mexico City based Polka Madre, a punk polka band that uses Hebraic lettering and Jewish star in their logo.

If you're at all interested in Jewish punk, read the article and check out some of his other articles and blog posts.


The Non-Jewish Side of My Jewish Punk Research

As regular heebnvegan readers know, I've written numerous posts and articles about Jewish punk. When I seek to learn more about bands that play Jewish-style music or discuss tangentially Jewish subject matter, I often ask musicians if they are Jewish. If they are, I try to learn more about how their Jewish identity influences their music. If they aren't Jewish, I often feel awkward because I don't mean to suggest that non-Jews shouldn't play Jewish-style music. Of course, inquiries into Jewish music would be superficial if they only addressed whether musicians are Jewish, as though they were just being name-dropped in Adam Sandler's "The Chanukah Song." My questions allow me to learn more about Jewish punk, but I do occasionally regret that they might seem shallow or myopic.

Some people (including Jews) don't appreciate this line of questioning. In his book The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk, author Steven Lee Beeber notes that Tamas "Tommy Ramone" Erdelyi (the drummer of The Ramones) asked, "Are you trying to out Jews with this book?" Richard "Hell" Meyers (the frontman of Richard Hell and the Voidoids) refused Beeber's request for an interview because he didn't want to be "defined" by his Jewish background. Beeber saw the importance of connecting musicians' Jewish identity to their art, but he couldn't help but reflect:

Was I merely trying to lay claim to a group of individuals who had no similarities other than a superficial cultural link? Was I using the worst sort of reductionist thinking and flattening them to two-dimensional representations of one thing and not another? Was my complicated argument based at bottom on a dichotomistic, black-and-white, overly simple division between "Jew" and "Gentile"? . . .

An argument could be made for this. I don't think it would hold. I am focusing on what I consider the 'Jewishness' of certain individuals, but in doing that I'm not saying that Jewishness is everything. I'm only saying that it plays, to varying degrees, a part.
No matter "how Jewish" musicians who play Jewish music or invoke Jewish themes might be, their relationship to Judaism is an important consideration. Here is some information about the non-Jews who have come up as part of my exploration of Jewish punk.

Netjajev SS
In 2005, I learned that Schizophrenic Records, a Canadian label and distribution company, was selling a split record featuring Sweden's Netjajev SS and Holland's Johnny Cohen & The New Age Nazis (see my article that talks about the latter band). Schizophrenic Records' Web site described the album as "2 Jewcore bands total HC [hardcore] Holocaust." A representative from the record label told me that "they are Jewish HC/street punk bands" and that "there is no room for anti semitic, neo nazi s*** at our label or distro or with the people we associate with." I e-mailed Netjajev SS to find out if the band had an anti-Semitic outlook and if any of the band members were Jewish. Band member Magnus Lundberg responded and claimed that "neither" is the case. I then purchased the album.

The cover for Netjajev SS features two Jewish stars. The song "Talmud Boy" includes the lyrics "How long can Steven Spielberg sniff Zyklon B gas?" and "[T]he righteous is da Jew we've to exterminate and all the circus monkeys... Exterminate!" If the band had any Jewish members, perhaps I'd look for some explanation of how those lyrics aren't as appalling as they seem, but I can't help but conclude that this song has a horribly offensive, unacceptable anti-Semitic outlook.

Dead Kennedys
That same year, I saw that Wikipedia and Jew Watch (check out an article about Jew Watch's anti-Semitic nature) listed Eric "Jello Biafra" Boucher, the founding frontman of the Dead Kennedys, as a Jew. I knew I couldn't trust either of those sources to be accurate. But I figured that Jello Biafra's potential Jewish background would offer fascinating insight into Dead Kennedys songs like "California Über Alles" and "Nazi Punks F*** Off."

Many months after I asked if he was Jewish, Jello Biafra e-mailed me to say, "I am not really Jewish. I found out recently I'm 1/8th, but I was not raised in a religious or ethnically conscious home." He added that the two songs I mentioned "are against fascism and violent fascist behavior," which I already knew. Had he actually considered himself Jewish (or been in touch with the Jewish roots he does have), it'd be fair to examine those songs in a different context.

Total Passover
In early 2006, I learned about Total Passover, a Jewish-themed punk band that played in Iowa in the early 1990s. I corresponded with some of the band's former members around that time and got to meet the band's ringleader, Andy Levy, later that year. I believe that Levy was the only Jew in the band, but the rest of the band members fondly recalled their days playing Jewish punk.

Bassist Tom Meehan said, "While I'm not Jewish, I did think the band was a good fit for me. . . . Even though I was born and confirmed Catholic, I proudly wore the Star of David around my neck. This really freaked my parents out!" Guitarist Jesse Trent said, "To me, being in Total Passover wasn't really about the whole Jewish thing. I mean, yeah, okay, I was down with the cause, and in fact, I too still own a star of David necklace that I wore even after I left the band. I was only Jewish by association. But I dug it." Guitarist Kurt Johnson added that "after my parents found out I was hanging around Jewish people they had me de-programmed and my head filled back up with the proper and correct Catholic dogma. So most of those Total Passover memories are lost to the ages ... along with any memory of owing Tom twenty dollars."

Photo courtesy of Tom Meehan

In late 2006, I found out about the Zydepunks, a New Orleans band that mixes punk rock with various types of folk music, including klezmer sung in Yiddish. I e-mailed the band to find out what their connection to klezmer was, and frontman Christian Küffner said none of the band's members are Jewish. He added, "I'm certain there is Spanish Jewish ancestry on my mother's side, but how far it goes back I cannot tell." He said that accordion player Eve Venema was "the one who got us into Klezmer in the first place - she's a Judeaophile (from a Dutch Reformed family)."

When I met Venema at the 2006 Hanukkah tour that I covered for the Forward, she told me that she got into klezmer while living in Spain. At that tour's opening show, Küffner introduced the Zydepunks as "the honorary gentile band from Louisiana." And as I wrote in my article, "Bassist Paul Edmonds proudly wore a yarmulke on the second night of the tour, and Jewdriver quipped that he’d be Jewish by the end of Hanukkah." The Zydepunks didn't need to be Jewish to fit right in.

On that same tour, I interviewed the lead singer of Jewdriver, who goes by the stage name "Ian Stuartstein." He told me that only two of the band's four members were Jewish. He said that while he and guitarist "Max Bagels" have a deep understanding of the meaning behind the group's Jewish shtick (e.g., lighting a menorah onstage, wearing yarmulkes while performing, having bagel fights, drinking Manischewitz wine, commenting on anti-Semitism), the two non-Jews in the band "just think it's funny."

Polka Madre
Yesterday, I saw Polka Madre in concert in Richmond, Virginia. The Mexico City-based band blends punk and polka, and according to their MySpace page, their "princip[al] influences lie in Jewish music and the old sounds of Gypsy and Eastern European cultures." The band includes clarinet, accordion, bass, guitar, and drums.

After Polka Madre's set, the band's merchandise salesperson gave me a button featuring the band's name and a Magen David. When I asked her about the symbolism, she said that the band plays klezmer and that one of the band members is half-Jewish. But frontman Eric Bergman then told me that there aren't any Jews in the band. He said that the extent of the band's Jewish connection is that he was born in Finland (he claimed that Finnish music and Jewish/Eastern European music are similar in nature) and that his mother had been to Israel three times. I'd probably look to write an article about the band's take on Jewish music if any of the band's members were Jewish, but a Jewish angle doesn't seem like an appropriate way to tell Polka Madre's story.

Update (6/17/09): Oi-vey
In February 2009, Menashe Yaakov of Moshiach Oi told me that following one of the band's performances, the DJ played the song "Saturday Night" by Oi-vey, which includes a "Hava Negila" interlude. The song appeared on a 2004 compilation called Cheap Sampler Vol. 3, which was released by the British record label Damaged Goods. Today, Ian from Damaged Goods told me, "Oi-vey was more of a made up name for a six-track EP (a double 7” called ‘The New Wave Of The Close Shave’ (Damgood 0111) each track was by different people including Snuff, Hard Skin and a few indie bands all doing spoof Oi songs, therefore Oi-vey. I’m pretty sure there were no Jewish connections, it was basically another band (Oizone) with me attempting to sing, just a good pun! Wish there was more of a story for you."


Following Up on Last Week's Post About AgriProcessors

Articles about AgriProcessors keep coming in, and I can't help but follow up on last week's post about the slaughterhouse and its ongoing controversies.

I talked about how common articles articles about the kosher meat industry have become. The Jew & The Carrot has a terrific post rounding up some of the latest coverage of the AgriProcessors story, and the post links to an article in The Nation that discusses media coverage since the May 12 immigration raid:
The raid received some coverage in the mainstream press but has gained serious traction within the Jewish news media, which have been focusing attention on workplace abuses and animal cruelty at the Postville plant since at least 2004. While the New York Times has written eleven articles on the raid, the Forward and the Jewish Week (both weekly publications) have run twelve and fourteen, respectively, and the JTA-- an international Jewish wire service--has posted twenty-five.
Those numbers back up my conclusion last week: "In the Jewish media at the very least, all eyes are on the kosher meat industry. Please take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to get people to see what's wrong with the kosher meat industry and consider adopting a vegetarian diet."

I also discussed how Dawn Watch was urging people to send letters to the editor to The New York Times in response to an op-ed about AgriProcessors by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld that didn't discuss animal welfare much. Yesterday, the Times printed a half-dozen letters to the editor in response to the op-ed. It looks like only one of the six (the last one) attempted to take the animals' side, and it appears that it was cut short so that it couldn't make much of a point:
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld writes about the horrors of a kosher slaughterhouse where "news reports and government documents have described abusive practices." But he says almost nothing about reports of how badly the animals were treated there.

Religious slaughter is still slaughter.
Last but not least, here's a quote about AgriProcessors from The Onion (a satirical "news" organization):
Man, having to slaughter animals by the kosher process of a single cut across the throat to a precise depth, severing both carotid arteries, both the jugular veins, the vagus nerves, the trachea and the esophagus, no higher than the epiglottis and no lower than where the cilia begin inside the trachea, thus causing the animal to bleed to death would probably really f*** you up as a kid.


The Ongoing AgriProcessors Saga

I'm signed up for daily Google News alerts about AgriProcessors, and ever since the May 12 immigration raid at the slaughterhouse, I've seen links to hundreds of news articles. In a sense, I'd long yearned for the day when the spotlight would shine on the kosher meat industry and there'd be frequent commentary in secular media, the Jewish papers, and the Jewish blogosphere. However, the volume of information has been overwhelming and I have made no attempt to cover every development on heebnvegan. If you're looking for regular updates about the AgriProcessors story, sign up for the Google News alerts and check out Failed Messiah frequently. I've talked about the story a few times and I'm sure it'll keep coming up, but I must stress that heebnvegan is not the source for breaking news about AgriProcessors or related developments.

Today, Dawn Watch (a media watch list for the animal rights movement) sent out an e-mail titled, "DawnWatch: Vegan living, gorillas, and kosher laws in the New York Times this week 8/4 -- 8/8/08." I immediately opened it and got excited, but I quickly realized that I'd already read the Times op-ed about AgriProcessors. This shouldn't be taken for granted, but prominent articles about the kosher meat industry are so common these days that their mere existence is no longer cause for excitement. The Dawn Watch alert noted:
Animal advocates who have been involved in our movement for a few years ... are familiar with the horrifying undercover video slaughter images that came out of Agriprocessors -- images of tracheas being ripped out of fully conscious animals, and animals trying to stand up while taking minutes to die. ...

As kosher laws were written at least partly to protect against egregious cruelty to animals, it is a shame that an op-ed would leave the animals out of the picture when questioning, on grounds of cruelty, this plant's standing in the kosher community. We have an opportunity, however, with letters to the editor, to shine some harsh light on the animal suffering.

My original post about the AgriProcessors raid (which I've since taken down) essentially made the same point. This week, Los Angeles Jewish Journal editor-in-chief Rob Eshman noted, among other things, that he's been inundated with letters to the editor about kosher meat. Also this week, The Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt wrote that "the controversy has sparked a long-overdue discussion about the larger meaning of the mitzvah of kashrut, a conversation that includes values as well as ritual and could result in some substantive improvements."

In the Jewish media at the very least, all eyes are on the kosher meat industry. Please take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to get people to see what's wrong with the kosher meat industry and consider adopting a vegetarian diet.


Hekhsher Tzedek's Animal Welfare Guidelines

On Thursday, the Conservative movement's Hekhsher Tzedek program released guidelines for its "justice certification" initiative, which paves the way for stamps of approval to accompany kosher certification marks on kosher food products. The guidelines discuss what it means for a company to be ethical for a host of issues, including treatment of employees, environmental impact, and corporate transparency.

I'd been suspicious that animal welfare concerns would not be a part of the final guidelines, but they are included. In practice, many mainstream abuses of animals will still be able to get Hekhsher Tzedek's approval because the requirements set by groups like the American Meat Institute don't do much to protect animals. Hekhsher Tzedek's promotion of the Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) program is a step in the right direction, but my understanding is that relatively few farms actually are HFAC-certified.

The best way for kosher consumers to ensure that they're not supporting tza'ar ba'alei chayim in the meat industry is by not buying meat. But I understand that this is not Hekhsher Tzedek's motive, and I didn't expect Hekhsher Tzedek's definition of "justice" for animals to match mine. At the very least, these guidelines reinforce the point that animal welfare is very important in Judaism and must be taken into account in practice.

The following are Hekhsher Tzedek's guidelines for animal welfare:

Companies that work with animals should have policies and practices in place to ensure they are treated humanely at all points of the production cycle. Companies will be favored for the Hekhsher if they have strong quality management and animal welfare policies in place. Companies may be disqualified from receiving the Hekhsher if they perform poorly in the aforementioned areas or if they have been involved in serious or widespread controversies relating to product safety, marketing, or the treatment of animals. The following indicators will be used to assess compliance with these criteria:

Animal Welfare Policies. Companies will be favored for the Hekhsher if they adhere to the Humane Farm Animal Care Standards (HFAC). Companies will remain eligible for the Hekhsher provided they adhere to animal welfare guidelines that are endorsed by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) or National Council of Chain Restaurants (NCCR.) These include the animal welfare guidelines of the following producer groups:

o American Meat Institute
o Dairy Quality Assurance-National Milk Producers Association
o National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
o National Chicken Council
o National Turkey Federation
o United Egg Producers

The USCJ and RA view adoption of, and compliance with, FMI-NCCR animal welfare guidelines as a minimum standard, but encourage the adoption of more robust animal care standards (i.e. HFAC.)

Animal Welfare Controversies. The company’s record with regard to animal treatment/cruelty controversies. Companies will be favored for the Hekhsher if they have avoided any major, recent controversies. In the case of controversies, efforts will be made to corroborate the claims, including requesting company comments on the allegations.


The Nine Days Save the Day!

Tomorrow is my shul's Men's Club's annual baseball outing, which is usually preceded by a hot-dog buffet. (To their credit, they have included veggie dogs in past years.) But this year's menu was changed from hot dogs to a pareve spaghetti meal. During the announcements at Shabbat services this morning, a shul board member joked that the switch is an attempt to attract more vegans. (I'm pretty sure I was the only vegan in attendance this morning, and he confirmed that the comment was just for me.)

I hate to admit it, but I wasn't sure what the real reason was for the switch. When I asked, I was told that at the last minute, someone realized that the event would fall during the Nine Days preceding Tisha B'av, when, except on Shabbat, meat is prohibited. Now, I knew that Tisha B'av begins a week from tonight. I knew that the Nine Days had begun. And I knew that meat is off limits during the Nine Days (I even indirectly blogged about it last year). But seeing as how I avoid meat year-round, I failed to put it all together in my mind.

I won't be able to attend tomorrow, but here's hoping the vegetarian version of the annual event goes well!


Garfield's Favorite Food

I didn't grow up in a kosher home, but I remember that even before I went vegetarian at age 15, my mom usually made lasagna without any meat. When I went vegan later on, it seemed that all vegans loved to load up lasagna with mock meat and nondairy cheese.

Lately, I've been trying to cut back on processed soy foods. Many of them are convenient, delicious, and vegan, but a diet with mock meat at the center of every meal isn't very varied, to say the least. And unprocessed whole foods are far healthier, of course.

On Tuesday, I was trying to figure out what to make with the spinach, eggplant, and green pepper in my fridge. I was inspired to do something I'd never done before: make vegan lasagna with whole-wheat lasagna noodles, no mock meat, and no mock cheese. I just used the noodles, the veggies, sauce, and seasoning. Think of it as a healthy, tasty use of the ingredients I had on hand rather than a bona fide lasagna.

If you want the real thing (well, the real vegan thing), try the namesake recipe from a blog called Kosher Vegan Lasagna.

Some of my vegan friends just didn't understand. Below is a sampling of the Q&A that ensued.

Are you turning into a hippy?
I'm more of a quasi-punk than a hippy.

Don't whole-wheat lasagna noodles taste terrible?
I often burned the no-boil regular noodles, so at least these are healthier.

Couldn't you at least use the tofu recipe for nondairy cheese in lasagna if you didn't want to use ready-made vegan cheese?
If I'm trying to vary my diet and I eat too much soy, I don't gain anything from using the tofu recipe.

Where do you get your protein?
You sound like a meat-eater! The day I was asked, I'd had hummus as part of my breakfast and miso soup and mock ham from a Japanese restaurant as part of my lunch. Does that sound like a protein-deficient day that was hollerin' for soy cheese or a second helping of fake meat?