Connecting our Seder to the Jewish Food Movement

It is the month of Nissan and spring is in the air.  If I was living on a farm here in Colorado, I would be plowing the fields, spreading manure, and getting ready to plant our first spring vegetables.  Sadly I do not live in such close proximity with the land.  Instead, I live in a house in Metro Denver and would not be able to fit a tractor through the door that leads to my back yard.

No, this time of year is a time when many of us living urban lives do not even stop and appreciate the effort that farmers throughout the country and throughout the northern hemisphere are making to ensure that we in America have delicious food to eat.  (In a future post, I will write about the farmer with whom we are contracting to bring fresh local food to camp.  She did spend last week preparing her fields.  But more on that in a week or two. . . .)

Nissan, or course, is not just about planting, it is also a time to stop and celebrate our redemption.  In less than two weeks, Jews all over the world will stop and commemorate the Exodus from Egypt.  This story, and the Seder format, has been used by Jews throughout the past decades as an opportunity to draw attention to modern day issues that are enslaving us.  In the past 50 years, Jewish communities have celebrated women’s seders (to celebrate the role of women in society), freedom seders (to commemorate struggles of the civil rights movement) and gay and lesbian seders (to illuminate the struggles facing these groups as they live open lives in our modern society).

So it was especially exciting when a few weeks ago, a colleague in Denver, Rabbi Brian Field, told me that he was organizing a Food Seder through his organization called Judaism Your Way, a Denver based Jewish outreach not-for-profit..  The purpose of this seder is to draw attention to our relationship with the food we eat and the way that we interact with food in 21st century America.  Rabbi Field and I sat last week to brain storm themes for this seder.  While he is doing most of the work to create a full Haggadah based on celebrating healthy connections to food the earth and the Jewish tradition, he asked me to take a stab at creating the “10 plagues” of modern day eating in America.  Together (although most of the work was done by Rabbi Field), we also came up with a Dayenu celebrating the advances we have made in reconnecting our lives to the food we eat.

While these will be used at the Judaism Your Way seder in just a few weeks, I hope that at Ramah Outdoor Adventure we will be able to adapt elements of this new seder as an educational program while at the ranch.  Clearly, connecting our community to its food is one of the key aspects of Ramah Outdoor Adventure, and the use of a seder as a paradigm for an educational experience works not only on Pesach, but throughout the year as well.  Stay tuned for an update this summer about how we have integrated these texts into our camp program.

What follows is a list that speaks to me personally.  At your seder this year, perhaps you can try to list your own ten plagues or Dayenus based on your own relationship to the land and food.

And now: Ten Plagues Facing Our Modern Way of Eating and Relating to Food (Please note:  I do not mean the following in a condescending way.  I wish that I actually avoided all ten of these.  I am as guilty as most in being affected by these plagues)

  1. Electing  politicians who support the status quo of American farm policies that subsidize the growth of corn at the expense of wholesome vegetables
  2. Eating a diet that contains too much genetically modified foods
  3. Planting and supporting monoculture growing environments that require spraying pesticides that contaminate ground water and harm our bodies
  4. Ingesting antibiotics and growth hormones that are routinely given to cows who live in feedlots
  5. Eating a diet containing too much processed foods and refined sugars
  6. Ignoring the environmental impact of the meat we are eating
  7. Eating foods that are shipped from far off places because local foods are not in season
  8. Using white flour when whole wheat flour would do
  9. Taking the abundance of food in our lives for granted when so many in the world do not have access to the foods we eat
  10. Ignoring the labor conditions of workers in the food industry

Dayeinu : It would have been enough

Would it have been enough?

If the Jewish people created kashrut, one of the world’s first systems of conscious value-based eating.    Dayenu.

If revolutions in farming technology (green revolution) greatly increased food production around the world and meat became readily available to most residents of first world countries.  Dayenu.

If Rabbis Zalman Schachter Shalomi and Arthur Waskow coined the term “eco-kosher” to integrate the Jewish practice of kashrut with other core Jewish values including sustainability, worker justice, health and humane treatment of animals.   Dayenu.

If the US government required that food products are labeled with nutrition information and country of origin.   Dayenu.

If farmers markets spread across the country, giving more and more people opportunities to buy fresh and local food, and increasing the numbers of people plant vegetable gardens.   Dayenu.

If community-supported agriculture (CSA) gave people an opportunity to invest and share the risk in the local farms whose produce-shares they consume.  Dayenu.

If major food manufacturers avoided using partially hydrogenated oils in their products. Dayenu.

If books like Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and movies like Food, Inc, raised food consciousness among Americans.  Dayenu.

If organic foods are now available at lower cost at mainstream supermarkets and big-box retailers. Dayenu

If Conservative Judaism created Hechsher Tzedek, an initiative to improve the working conditions of employees, the environmental standards, and the business practices in kosher food-producing businesses.   Dayenu.

If curricula about food were becoming a routine part of Jewish education at schools and summer camps, Dayenu.

If, this very year, several Jewish Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiatives emerged in the Front Range.   Dayenu.

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