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Is food the new ethical dilemma?

We recently asked, is keeping kosher good for the environment? We tried to answer the question by running the carbon footprint numbers based on what you substituted for forbidden foods like pork and shellfish.

Now, the New York Times Magazine offers its own spin on the question. An emerging movement among kosher-keeping Jews infuses modern-day ethics into the practice, taking care that workers at processing plants and the animals themselves are well cared for. In a widely reported story, immigration authorities in May raided the country's largest independent kosher manufacturer, Agriprocessors, arresting nearly 400 workers, and last month, Iowa's attorney general slapped the company with more than 9,000 criminal misdemeanor charges, including child-labor violations. At that time, company spokesman Chaim Abrahams said the workers "lied about their age" to Agriprocessors. "We look forward to our day in court,” he said in a statement then.

The "ethical kashrut" trend incorporates organic farming practices, mainly grass-feeding animals bred for slaughter. While it's been touted by Jewish social justice groups like the hunger-awareness organization Hazon, ethical kashrut has its critics, especially among Orthodox Jews and others who hew more closely to literal reads on tradition. Linking the ancient, mysterious practice of kosher to contemporary standards, such as the growing green movement, risks undoing the tradition should those trends change, they say.

The kosher story is part of a food-themed issue of the magazine. A letter to the president-elect by Michael Pollan frets over policy problems including food shortages and the accompanying rise in prices, and argues that the United States must transition from a fossil fuel-based system of agriculture that uses "chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas), pesticides (made from petroleum), farm machinery, modern food processing and packaging and transportation" to one based on solar energy to sustain the industry and improve the health of Americans.

The rising cost of fuel and feed also plays a role in the demise of American catfish farming, Paul Greenberg writes in the magazine. As explosive growth of the Vietnamese — and now Chinese — fishing industry threatens to undercut prices of homegrown catfish, marketers are looking to re-brand the species with the all-American name Delcata.

Other articles in the magazine explore efforts to make African agriculture eco-friendly, how food sold online is promoted as a lifestyle, and a slide show of "food fighters" looking to improve consumption in urban and undeveloped areas.

"it should not be difficult to deflect the charge of elitism sometimes leveled at the sustainable-food movement," Pollan writes. "Reforming the food system is not inherently a right-or-left issue: for every Whole Foods shopper with roots in the counterculture you can find a family of evangelicals intent on taking control of its family dinner and diet back from the fast-food industry — the culinary equivalent of home schooling."

(Image from iStockphoto/Freeze Frame Studio)

 

 

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