A Multi-Faith ‘Holy Cow’

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A few weeks ago, I blogged about Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) and the increasing number of Jews making environmental advocacy an ethical priority, or for many, a religious imperative. What I didn’t muse about was how CSAs, organic farming, and food equity programs are appealing to other religious groups and, in many ways, uniting them.

An article in yesterday’s New York Times by Joan Nathan discusses the growing appeal of a faith-based agricultural movement among Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. I used to think that “going organic” was dominated by a hippified tree-hugger atheist crowd, but as Nathan describes in her article, the number of those who are religiously engaged in agriculture and food policy is more significant than one might think: Scott Lively, a devout Christian, raises cattle in South Dakota for a Kosher food company. Dr. Adnan Aldayel, a Saudi Arabian financial consultant from North Dakota, runs what he believes is the nation’s only organic halal producer, Dakota Halal. Roy Brubaker, a Mennonite, uses Biblical grounds for upholding labor rights; he pays a standard living wage to his workers on a 20-acre strawberry, blueberry, and vegetable farm. New York’s Sisters of Charity run the Sisters Hill Farm, a seven-acre organic farm in Standfordville, NY. And recently, eco-organic farming has been taken up by at least 50 additional orders of nuns in the United States and Canada. So too are Jewish religious leaders raising the bar by promoting the concept of Hechsher Tzedek, certification for food production that meets a certain standard of social justice for workers and animals.

None of this is so surprising considering that, in recent years, the environmental movement has been bolstered by a religious sensibility spawned by a variety of Biblical tracts and religious precepts; that sensibility being stewardship of the Earth. Hence, for many who farm according to religious principles, the treatment of animals is of great concern.

What I hadn’t considered until now, however, is the potential for a faith-based agricultural movement to serve as something of an inter-faith peace and/or reconciliation process. Since food is so central to most religious and ethnic communities, why couldn’t we mandate faith-based farming to solve religious conflict? When reading Joan Nathan’s article, I was reminded of a line in Ronit Avni’s film Encounter Point. A Palestinian man says to his Israeli friend: “We came up with a solution to the conflict. Every Israeli or Palestinian who wants to smoke needs to buy cigarettes from the other side. There’d be peace in a day.” If each Jewish, Christian, and Muslim community member were forced to join inter-faith farming cooperatives, or buy cage-free Kosher/Halal chickens from the “other,” maybe all problems would be solved. We’d really be on to something... and it would be quite a bit healthier than a cigarette swap; instead of sharing lung cancer, we could all share pesticide-free ratatouille.

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