"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)


Examiner.com Examines Kashrut, Humane Slaughter, Vegetarianism, and More

This past week, Examiner.com featured a three-part series about kashrut by San Francisco chef Eric Burkett.

Tuesday's introductory piece noted that "kosher is big business" and that "3 in 5 people who purchase kosher foods buy them for perceived quality rather than religious reasons."

On Wednesday, Burkett explained why kosher foods aren't necessarily superior in quality and why "buying something labeled 'kosher' doesn’t necessarily mean the product is any healthier, more nutritious, or more pure than the same non-kosher item." He also noted that kosher foods deemed pareve might still contain eggs and fish, which means that "pareve" and "vegan" are not synonymous:
For vegetarians and vegans, kosher certification isn’t necessarily a free-pass, either. Have you ever looked for the word “pareve” on a package and interpreted it to mean the product doesn’t contain dairy or meat products? If so, you’re only half right. Pareve products don’t contain meat or dairy, but according to kashrut, fish and eggs aren’t classified as either meat or dairy. Food can be made with eggs, for example, and still be considered pareve. For many vegetarians, that may not be such an issue; for a vegan, on the other hand, it presents a bit of a problem.
Thursday's finale discussed the AgriProcessors saga and the role of ethics in kashrut. Burkett concluded, "Whether you choose to buy kosher or not, know where your food comes from. What you eat affects more than just your diet."

Kol hakavod to Eric Burkett for educating readers about these issues!


More Miscellaneous Than You Can Shake a Stick At

Article About Jewish Vegetarianism in South Florida
Yesterday, Florida's Sun-Sentinel featured a terrific article titled "Meat Scandal Gives South Florida Jews Kosher Dilemma." The article begins by telling the story of an 83-year-old Jewish woman who writes columns promoting vegetarianism in her community newsletter. The article ends with a great quotation from Rabbi Barry Silver: "The rationale behind keeping kosher has always been to spare the animal pain. The practices now are the opposite: They are causing the animals to suffer. If you want to be true to your Jewish beliefs, you would become a vegetarian."

Natalie Portman References AgriProcessors at the Oscars
Jewish actors Natalie Portman and Ben Stiller presented an award at the Oscars together on Sunday. Stiller was imitating and ridiculing Joaquin Phoenix, which led Portman, a vegan, to say, "You look like you work at a Hasidic meth lab." JTA's The Telegraph explains, "Portman was likely referring to the May 2008 federal raid on the Hasidic-owned and operated Agriprocessors meat processing plant in Postville, Iowa, in which federal agents alleged to have discovered, among other infractions, a facility for producing methamphetamines."

NYU Student Takeover
On Friday, I blogged about the NYU student takeover. As of press time, it appears that 18 students will be suspended for the duration of the week and then return to classes on Monday. NYU's student newspaper noted that one student organization has already left the Take Back NYU! coalition and that the animal rights group was considering the same:
One group, the Asian Cultural Union, left the coalition Saturday night, according to a TBNYU spokeswoman. And member group Students for Education and Animal Liberation will likely consider severing its ties with the coalition at its next meeting, co-president Ashleigh Lewis said.

“They started alienating people a while ago,” the CAS sophomore said. “They were being too radical, I think, for a lot of people’s tastes. What you need to be successful is public support, and I think they lost that.”

Book About the Foie Gras Debate
Mark Caro of the Chicago Tribune has a book called The Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000-Year-Old Delicacy Inspired the World's Fiercest Food Fight coming out on March 10. The book, which will be released by Simon & Schuster, includes discussions about foie gras feuds in Chicago, California, Philadelphia, and Israel. Click here to read my 2005 post about what's wrong with foie gras from a Jewish perspective.

Air Guitar Judaica
Dates for regional competitions for the U.S. Air Guitar Championships will be announced soon. Check AirGuitarUSA.com for updates. The competitions have grown a great deal since 2003. On Thursday, the USAG blog quipped that "when they first started this thing the best my bosses could do was get a handful of USAG dradles donated from the 92nd Street Y. Look at us now!"

I recently discovered that my last name was being used in online fan-fic stories. Digital Tunnel recapped my amusing back-and-forth with the author. Click here to read his account; do a search on the page for "Croland."

Is the Bride Vegetarian? Is the Groom Jewish?
Jewish singer Lisa Loeb got married last month. Loeb has been rumored to be vegetarian, but The New York Times reported that Loeb "considers herself to be a 'vegequarian' — which she defines as a vegetarian who eats fish, and, in her case, sometimes a bit of bacon." The Times noted that her wedding to Roey Hershkovitz included a Jewish ceremony with a rabbi. Jewcy debated whether the groom is a member of the tribe:
He Might Be a Jew Because ...
  • He is from Cliffside Park, NJ.
  • His last name is Hershkovitz.
He Might Not Be a Jew Because ...
  • From the announcement: "That December they dined with friends on the Upper West Side, followed the next day by "a nondate" lunch date for two in Greenwich Village, where Ms. Loeb said they shared "a Fluffernutter" and also a concoction of peanut butter, banana, honey and bacon called'an Elvis.'"
  • Also from the announcement: "They began spending a lot of time together. But the next spring, both agreed that their timing was off. “Over a sad shrimp quesadilla, we realized that we really needed to break up,” Ms. Loeb said. “We were in different places in our lives.”


The Perfect Seder Plate for Your Vegetarian Passover

Designer Suzanne Herzberg has created a beautiful vegetarian seder plate with images of a beet instead of a shankbone as well as the traditional seder plate foods. The seder plate is 12 square inches and comes with five small glass dishes. This travertine-marble seder plate is normally $125 (with free shipping and handling in the U.S.), but if you order before March 18, you'll get a 10 percent discount. Matching trivets and coasters are also available for purchase.

Herzberg started selling the vegetarian seder plate two years ago and estimates that she has sold about 30 so far. Her Web site, VegetarianSeder.com, notes that this is the world's first specifically vegetarian seder plate. The seder plate was featured in Hadassah Magazine last year.

Herzberg explains that the beet is a common alternative to the shankbone at vegetarian seders. "I believe most vegetarians use a beet for a replacement for the shankbone, primarliy because it appears to 'bleed' when cut into," she says. "The beet is also mentioned in the Talmud, Pesahim 114b, as one of the foods that can appear on the seder table."

Vegans who shun eggs and shankbones needn't feel excluded, says Herzberg. "I am sympathetic to those who do not eat eggs," she explains. "I see the egg, however, as both a powerful symbol of spring and a celebration of life. I think it's possible to view its depiction on the seder plate in those ways, even if one chooses not to include an actual egg at the seder."
Go to VegetarianSeder.com to order a vegetarian seder plate. Order before March 18 to receive the 10 percent discount.


NYU Student Takeover

I started grad school at NYU a month ago, and I don't have much knowledge about extracurricular activities or undergraduate life at this point. I was surprised to learn that several dozen students barricaded themselves inside a cafeteria from Wednesday night until this morning in an effort to protest a laundry list of items. Their main goal was financial transparency for NYU, which seems legit enough, but the long list of unrelated demands alienated many people who might otherwise support the cause.

The protesters displayed a Palestinian flag outside the cafeteria and had two distinct demands related to Palestinian issues: "That the university donate all excess supplies and materials in an effort to rebuild the [Islamic] University of Gaza" and "That annual scholarships be provided for thirteen Palestinian students, starting with the 2009/2010 academic year. These scholarships will include funding for books, housing, meals and travel expenses." I think supporting the people of Gaza in a humanitarian crisis is a worthwhile issue, and I don't see these demands as inherently anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. I have no problem with individuals' choosing to donate supplies and materials to the Islamic University of Gaza, but support for the school in the wake of recent warfare is not the role of NYU. Regarding the full scholarships, I fail to see why 13 Palestinian students deserve this special consideration and how this can be thought of as practical. I can't imagine that NYU would actually heed these two demands, and their irrelevance to the protesters' main goals will only hurt their cause.

Animal issues were not left out either. Why do the protesters want budget disclosure? There are quite a few reasons, but one of them is that "students deserve to know if our tuition supports animal research many consider cruel." Take Back NYU!, the group that organized the protest, notes the following on its Web site: "Almost always, all the food [served at events] will be vegan; the rest of the time there will be at least a significant vegan option. Usually it will also be freegan, organic, and/or local. And maybe just cheap."

Ultimately, each of the protesters' demands must be assessed on its own.

Update (2/21): StudentActivism.net explains why Palestinian issues were part of Take Back NYU!'s demands: "Since early January, students at more than twenty universities across Britain have staged sit-ins demanding administration action on Palestinian issues. Two weeks ago, students at the University of Rochester in upstate New York held a similar protest. Today’s NYU occupation follows those actions in form, and by making Palestinian issues part of their list of demands, TBNYU is linking its protest to the others in content as well. By calling for support for Palestinian students and the [Islamic] University of Gaza, TBNYU is sending a message to student activists on both sides of the Atlantic. It is declaring itself to be part of a new international student movement." That doesn't change my opinions, as stated above, but it does provide some context.


A Post in the Key of Random

Expectations About Kosher Foods
I've used a lot of ink and link to cover the ongoing discussion about how and whether ethics and animal welfare, labor, and health standards apply to kashrut.

My two favorite J-blogs recently offered some compelling commentary on the matter. An all-around reflective post on The Jew & The Carrot noted that "if 21st century ethical action is your goal, kosher certifying agencies are not going to help you achieve it." FailedMessiah discussed the kosher implications of the recent peanut recall and said, "This scandal should also be a lesson to the many non-Jewish consumers of kosher products who buy those products because of perceived health benefits and 'purity.' Kosher does not equal healthy. Kosher does not equal pure. Kosher means edible according to Jewish ritual law – nothing more, but sometimes less."

JTA's The Telegraph reported this week:
For anyone who has followed the Agriprocessors saga, it might seem ludicrous to believe that kosher meat adheres to higher standards of health or ethics than any other meat. But according to a study by a Chicago market research firm, cited in a post on the Daily Dish blog at the L.A. Times, the top two reasons consumers say they purchase kosher food are quality and health.

According to the firm, Mintel, 62 percent of kosher consumers -- Jews, Christians and Muslims -- cited quality as their reason for choosing kosher. More than half cited "general healthfulness," while 34 percent cited safety.
AgriProcessors as the Microcosm of a Larger Debate
Nathaniel Popper, a senior writer at the Forward who has been top of the kashrut and ethics debate for quite some time (and who interviewed me for a 2007 article), had an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal last week. Popper said that the attention given to the AgriProcessors saga, especially among Jews, "astonished even" him. Popper wrote:
[T]his one story had managed to distill some of the most essential questions and issues that are dividing and defining the Jewish community, and indeed religious communities of all stripes today.

These divisions are, at their most basic, about the proper way to interpret religious law and values: Should we read our ancient texts literally or adapt them to a changing world? . . .

[T]he Agriprocessors debate has been about more than just law -- it has been about how Jews should relate to each other and the world. . . .

It is the very vitriol and divisive nature of the Agriprocessors debates that is one of the most characteristic elements of the increasingly polarized Jewish community of today. Progressive Jews passionate about social justice and Orthodox Jews unswerving in Talmudic law have interacted less and less in recent years, and disagreed more and more. The battles over Agriprocessors have underscored the suspicions between the two camps.
What's in a Name?
The Conservative movement's Hekhsher Tzedek program has been renamed Magen Tzedek. The Jew & The Carrot explains, "Orthodox supervision organizations such as the OU [Orthodox Union] were none too happy at the thought of a rival Conservative hekhsher telling them that their meat was kosher. In the meantime, it seemed like the founder of Hekhsher Tzedek, Rabbi Morris Allen, was spending half of his time explaining that the new seal was not intended to be a rival kashrut certification but an ethical seal. Thankfully, after discussions with the OU the parties have agreed on a new name."

In Tikkun
Josephine Donovan has an article in Tikkun magazine about a feminist approach to animal protection. The article doesn't have any particular connection to Judaism, but you can read it here.