When our team talks about helping communities align their food practices with their Jewish values, we often skirt past the second part of that mission: strengthening Jewish American communities in the process.
Food plays an integral symbolic and visceral role in strengthening our communities. When we source our meals from places and practices that are consonant with our Jewish values (however they are prioritized from community to community), the members of our communities are also cared for more deeply. And perhaps the fabric of our communal connection is strengthened in knowing that the larger living community–farmed animals, farm and food workers, rural communities, wildlife, and ecosystems–are given the opportunity to flourish. Perhaps we as Jewish eaters gain strength when we bring intention and attention to the chain of transmission that brings food to our plates and to one another.
Our ability to support and strengthen communities multiplies exponentially when we collaborate with a broader village of members. This is why we are thrilled to formally partner with the Rabbinical Assembly and the Conservative Jewish Movement on a groundbreaking cohort program to support up to 7 denomination-affiliated organizations in adopting sustainable kosher food policies. We expect each participating institution to achieve, at a minimum, a 20% reduction in the volume of animal products served.
Why is this cohort program unique?
Many Jewish communities care about the impact of the food they choose to serve and are seeking ways to improve the sustainability of their food choices. While some organizations recognize the crucial role that food sourcing and serving plays in our quest for climate health, harm reduction to people and other animals, and even broader food security, sustainable food practices are not yet the norm in our communities, nor are they widely understood as an necessary step toward achieving minimal greenhouse gas emissions, water, and land use with which Jewish institutions are increasingly concerned.
This program provides a way for institutions to achieve these goals with the practical and educational support from JIFA’s team and the leadership support of the Conservative Movement. While the pilot program will run for one year, each community will come away with a lasting and implementable sustainable food policy.
What is the potential impact of sustainable food policies?
JIFA helps communities adjust food programs where the most positive change is possible. We work creatively on changing their “choice architecture” to help incorporate more sustainable, plant-rich foods instead of foods that come from harmful industrial practices. To implement these changes we help communities design menus, events, and even dining halls to make the sustainable choice the easy choice.
Changing the meals we serve to community members has a much greater potential to decrease our collective greenhouse gas emissions than other sustainability initiatives, like upgrading our light bulbs or installing low-flow toilets. Making our meals plant-based by default drastically decreases our contribution to climate change and drought, cutting our meals’ greenhouse gas emissions by half and water footprint by up to two-thirds.
If this were scaled to the broader population, we could see unprecedented preservation of our natural resources and consequently a more livable planet: research has shown that without our current levels of meat and dairy consumption, we could reduce global farmland use by more than 75% and still feed all people–an opportunity that our Jewish values of preserving life beckon us to consider.
Why is The Rabbinical Assembly leading this charge?
The Conservative Movement has passionately addressed the ethical implications of our food choices and production practices for decades. RA clergy have advocated for values-aligned practices that extend to every level in the food production chain, including advocating for kosher practices in animal agriculture that better reflect Jewish values.
Just last year, the RA passed a resolution stating that “shifts to our institutional food practices, such as reducing factory-farmed animal product consumption, would help us to better achieve our values.” The resolution also tasked the Social Justice Commission with creating a subcommittee that would “revisit [the RA’s] work in the area of ethical food consumption.” Rav Natan Freller, head of the aforementioned Ethically Sourced Food Subcommittee, is enthusiastic about achieving these goals with JIFA’s support:
“The Rabbinical Assembly has been looking for a partner, with knowledge and resources, to help us educate our communities about the important ethical challenges posed by industrial farming and the potential for plant-forward foods to better align our food choices with our values. This unique partnership between JIFA and the RA is exactly what we needed to get started on this long-term cultural change process, raising awareness about how we make better choices regarding the food we serve and eat. I’m very excited to see this pilot project in action soon and hopeful to see all the good it will disseminate in our communities.”
We are so pleased that the RA has chosen JIFA as a primary partner for this work.
Eating together is an opportunity for connection, fellowship, and significant conversations. We are excited to support this upcoming cohort in strengthening their connection to food, to Jewish life, and to one another as we work on aligning communal food practices with Jewish values.