"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)


Gefilte Shmefilte: One of Those Frequently Occurring Kosher Food Scandals

As Failed Messiah and The Jew & The Carrot noted first, the Winnipeg Free Press has reported another kosher food industry scandal. The Freshwater Fish Marketing Corp. (FFMC) is accused of, among other things, problems associated with poor kashrut supervision:
The FFMC is the largest North American supplier of fish minced to produce kosher fish called "gefilte fish." Its plant is certified by the Orthodox Union (OU) .... [A]ccording to information obtained from employees at FFMC, the [supervising] rabbi was often derelict in his duties and management knew it. While he was required to observe the production line at all times, he spent a great deal of time in an office on a computer, or was simply absent.
In the words of The Jew & The Carrot's Leah Koenig, "Honestly, as I read about this latest transgression - I felt anything but shocked." I agree. Oftentimes, the people charged with inspecting slaughter facilities for various reasons are simply not where they’re supposed to be.

Such problems are not unprecedented in the kosher food industry. In the wake of the 2004 AgriProcessors scandal, a subsequent U.S. Department of Agriculture report found that an inspector at the world’s largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse “spends a lot of time in the government office playing computer games on the government computer.”

Nor are such problems unique to kosher facilities. U.S. government inspectors who should hypothetically be enforcing the Humane Slaughter Act are also typically MIA or impotent to actually change what they see. In the words of Arthur Hughes (president of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals), “We are the people who are charged by Congress with enforcing [the Humane Slaughter Act], but most of our inspectors have little to no access to those areas of the plants where animals are being handled and slaughtered.” Felicia Nastor (food-safety director for the Government Accountability Project) adds, “Federal inspectors check paperwork, not food, and are prohibited from removing feces and other contaminants before products are stamped with the purple USDA seal of approval.” Click here to read more about the scope of the problem.

All these scandals make a pretty strong argument for vegetarianism. And going vegetarian definitely means cutting fish out of your diet too. Visit FishingHurts.com for more information about the cruelty involved in raising and catching fish for food as well as scientific evidence that fish feel pain. (One Arizona woman wants people to visit FishingHurts.com so much that she just changed her name to FishingHurts!)


Miscellaneous Blurbs About PETA and Jewish/Israeli Issues

I've noticed quite a few items from PETA lately that pertain to Jewish and Israeli topics. I can't imagine devoting an entire post to some, but I wanted to compile all of them:
  • I love the title of a letter to the editor in the Forward this week: "PETA Believes Ripping Cows’ Throats Is Cruel." Ya think? (The letter was in response to an article I linked to in a post earlier this month.)
  • peta2 has an anti-fur contest/promotion with Israeli-born tattoo artist Ami James (and his dog, Bella).
  • PETA is encouraging people to write to members of Knesset to oppose plans to establish horseracing in Israel. (Click here to read my September 2005 post about Israel's horseracing controversy.)
  • PETA also recently had an action alert regarding awful abuses of animals used in experiments at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science, which I linked to in a post earlier this month.
  • Around Hanukkah last month, PETA's Veg Cooking Blog featured three posts about vegan versions of Jewish foods.


A Tale of Two Tu B'Shvats

Today, I attended a Tu B'Shvat seder at my shul. The crowd didn't seem to know too much about the holiday, and in what the rabbi called an easy yet ironic move, turkey sandwiches were served. The PB&J alternative and all the fruits, nuts, and seeds were great. However, it seemed like my favorite holiday was a much bigger deal to me, my friend David (who took the day off from work), and my friend Anna (who was happy to be there with her daughter for "Miss Baby's" first Tu B'Shvat) than to most people in the room. For all the "order" and convention (not that the turkey was conventional for this holiday) of the shul seder, I was happy I got to do things on my own terms last night.

Last night, I (with a lot of help from my wonderful girlfriend, Eva) hosted 10 people for the Tu B'Shvat Disorder! '08. This wasn't quite a seder. We didn't explain the significance of each part of the meal. And we probably could've been a lot more religiously observant without sacrificing our punk rock* DIY ethic. But by golly, the meal was all vegan and with lots of variety, just the way a Tu B'Shvat celebration should be.

The festivities began with the traditional Opening of the Coconut. This tradition began two years ago with the first Tu B'Shvat dinner I organized, when we had trouble opening the coconut. Last year, we were all looking forward to giving it a go again, and one friend's struggle to open the coconut was quite memorable. This year, David succeeded with an easy-open coconut rather quickly. The two coconut halves were scooped out by two brothers, who donned kippot for the ritual.

With my "Horacore" mix (featuring Yidcore, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Zydepunks, Golem, Vulgar Bulgars, Rootwater, and a techno version of "Hava Nagila") playing in the background, we gathered at the table to feast. This year's beautiful array of food included coconut, horned melon, persimmons, pineapple, uglifruit, honeydew, cantaloupe, bananas, grapes, apples, peaches, tangerines, olives, starfruit, figs, dates, cherries, blueberries, kiwis, pistachios, almonds, pine nuts, cashews, walnuts, filberts, and Brazil nuts. We also had two different types of Baron Herzog wine, per The Jew & The Carrot's Kosher Organic Wine List.

Last night, as my body screamed out "This isn't a meal! You shouldn't eat this much fruit," I started to question whether I still appreciated Tu B'Shvat. It wasn't until I saw the turkey slices at my shul that I began appreciating the environmental (and vegetarian) values that are supposed to be at the center of Tu B'Shvat. Through a combination of seder and disorder, I came to adore my favorite holiday once again.

*Eva contends that my gathering wasn't all that punk.


A Sacred Duty Is Now Online

I've talked a lot about the new Jewish Vegetarians of North America documentary A Sacred Duty. (Click here to read my 12/2 post about the film.) The one-hour film can now be viewed online, making it accessible to many more people. Please share the YouTube link or this post with anyone who might be interested in watching the film.


L.A. Jewish Journal Starts the Year Off Right

The Los Angeles Jewish Journal has already published some great articles in 2008, and we're only a fortnight into the new year!

Last week's Jewish Vegetarians of North America newsletter included links to four different parts of the January 4 issue of the Jewish Journal. The cover story, about global warming, discusses the role of vegetarianism in the environmental debate and notes that "animal-based agriculture emits more greenhouse gasses in carbon dioxide equivalents than all the world's cars, trucks and other forms of transportation." One sidebar talked about a couple's efforts to be less energy-dependent, another talked about Tuv Ha'aretz, and a calendar promoted a screening of A Sacred Duty as well as other "Upcoming Greening events."

I've seen plenty of articles about PETA's Kentucky Fried Cruelty campaign in the last five years, but I haven't seen any quite like the one in the Bar/Bat Mitzvah section of the Jewish Journal's January 11 issue:

Rabbi's Daughter Protests KFC for Bat Mitzvah Project

Avital van Leeuwen, 12, took a stand against animal cruelty for her bat mitzvah project by protesting in front of a Van Nuys Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) on Sunday, Dec. 23.

Inspired by a video at kentuckyfriedcruelty.com, a site created by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Avital voiced concern about the cruel treatment she witnessed toward chickens by the fast-food chain's suppliers.

In the video narrated by Pamela Anderson, chickens are shown crammed together in overcrowded, feces-filled barns, overfed until some are unable to walk, and dropped into vats of scalding water, among other practices deemed unacceptable by PETA.

Enraged by the slaughtering practices displayed in the video, Avital invited many of her friends and family to participate in the protest against KFC.

"If it was a dog or cat being tortured it would be against the law. But for chickens it's not? They feel the same amount of pain as other animals," she said.

Those accompanying Avital on her bat mitzvah quest included her 10-year-old brother Yeshaia along with a member of her congregation, four of her friends and their parents. The protestors held signs that included such slogans as: "KFC is cruel, you finger lickin' fool," "The colonel tortures chickens. Don't eat here!"

Her father, Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen, said that any bat mitzvah project requires students to perform some kind of tzedakah work.

"It's not just training them to be ritually ready, but teaches them about who needs them in the world," said van Leeuwen, associate rabbi of Congregation Tikvat Jacob in Manhattan Beach, where Avital will have her bat mitzvah on Jan. 19.

The van Leeuwens, who eat a vegetarian diet, have opened their North Hills home to six chickens and one duck, which live in a backyard coop and pond.

"Those chickens will die of natural causes after a full, long life," van Leeuwen said.

Last but not least, the Jewish Journal's blog GeekHeeb has focused all three of its 2008 stories on the Weizmann Institute of Science, including two posts about the animal welfare controversies surrounding the Israeli testing facility. A January 9 post noted:
The undercover investigator from Let the Animals Live reportedly found holes drilled into the skulls of cats and rhesus monkeys, which was done to study the effects of visual stimulation on brain activity .... The Israeli group also says that professor Amiram Grinvald and his colleagues in the department of neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, have conducted a series of invasive and punishing experiments on monkeys and cats over a period of 30 years. ... For more details about investigation, click here.

The Forward also deserves kudos. The paper has led the Jewish media in exposing troubles in the kosher meat industry, and on January 9, the Forward had not one but two articles on what Jewschool recently called the "worst ongoing scandal." (Of course, in the blogosphere, Failed Messiah has taken a leading role in covering these issues.)

Just when 2007 was looking promising for animal issues, it seems 2008 might not be so bad either.


Knesset Kicking Tuchas for Animals

Last week, Israel's Knesset signed a Declaration of Animal Rights, reading:
Out of an ethical recognition of the fact that animals undergo unlimited experiences ... suffering and pleasure, fear and joy ... I think we, as human beings and as a society, are obligated to act to defend their basic rights. These rights include, among other things, the right not to suffer from violence, from hunger or from thirst.

Haaretz reports that the Knesset cafeteria marked the occasion by not serving any meat for the day. As part of a special focus on animal issues that day, two members of Knesset submitted a proposal to have animal rights groups monitor animal experiments in Israel and another proposed, in the Haaretz article's words, "making it illegal to kill animals for inappropriate purposes."

All this follows last month's unanimous approval by the Knesset of a proposal to review current laws pertaining to vivisection. Focus on the issue followed an uproar over alleged abuse of monkeys and cats at the Weizmann Institute of Science (which has now been the subject of animal rights campaigns in both Israel and the U.S.). In a YNet article, MK Israel Hasson (the chair of the Animal Rights Lobby) said, "It is worthwhile to investigate the supervision issue, to verify that current experiments do not cause suffering to animals, and use all available technology to limit suffering, but also to ensure that the experiments will be concentrated and supervised from start to finish." The article also quoted MK Eitan Cabel:
[W]hen we talk about experimenting on animals, this does not mean that we place animal life above that of human beings. He who does not care for animal life also does not care about human life.

I do not feel that the establishment is doing all that is required of it to ensure that necessary experiments are carried out responsibly, under proper supervision and with minimal harm to the animal subject. The time has come for this issue to be dealt with in an organized, coherent manner.

Kudos to the Knesset for taking a critical look at and taking action on these important issues. It's always a source of pride when Jewish values of compassion are acted upon instead of ignored!