I am what I eat.
From a first-grilled Shabbat meal of the summer on Friday night (and my first beef hamburger in maybe a year), to picking up our remarkably green CSA farm veggies (what will we do with so many radishes?), to baking a lemon-blueberry pound cake for my friend's birthday yesterday, for me this weekend was all about food. Which inevitably, in my house, means long, drawn-out discussions about food, kashrut, and ethics. Seriously. Every week we talk about it. Especially this week as we read in the Forward that the Rubashkins (of Agriprocessors-unjust-labor-practice infamy) were finally sitting down with Uri L'Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice organization, to negotiate on shaping up their treatment of both employees and animals. Why? So as to avoid being boycotted by large swaths of kosher-keeping Jews (and to, you know, comply with federal law).
A lot has been said in the blogosphere as well as Jewish and mainstream media around this issue, and I don't want to rehash all of the arguments. But, as usual, I would like to throw a women's lens on the whole debacle, and I would like to do so by paraphrasing Spice and Spirit, the Chabad Lubavich cookbook I got as a wedding gift (have I mentioned that I got like 65 cookbooks? And that because we don't subscribe to the newspaper we read cookbooks at the breakfast table?). According to Spice and Spirit, a few things are true. One is that eating Cholov Yisroel dairy products is spiritually enlivening. More importantly, according to the cookbook, among the few mitzvot that women are specifically responsible for, is the act of "taking challah," which, the authors say, translates to being in charge of the kashrut of the home. In other words, though traditionally men may have authority in all other matters of Jewish law, women are the rulers what is fit and kosher for their families to put into their bodies.
Of course not all families work that way. In mine, for example, what and how we eat is an eternal conversation and compromise. But among the main consumer communities of kosher meat, I bet that women are the ones standing at the butcher shop or in front of the refrigerator case at the grocery store, making the decisions about what food enters their homes. Which says to me that they also ought to be the ones speaking out - loudly - against the Rubashkins and their egregious practices, and the ones who are willing to stop buying Agriprocessors meat until there are some real changes in the way that their business is run. It also means that the rest of us, kosher-keepers or not, family food-controllers or not, ought to be mobilizing in such a way that the choices available at the grocery store are all ethical ones.
To find out more about Uri L'Tzedek's work with Agriprocessors, visit their website. I would also recommend checking out The Jew and the Carrot, one of my favorite food/ethics/Jewishness blogs.
Happy summer eating!
How to cite this page
Rabinoff-Goldman, Lily. "I am what I eat.." 30 June 2008. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 28, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/eating-kosher>.
You're right that Jewish women have often been the ones pressing for justice when it comes to kosher meat. In the 20th century (1902, 1907, and 1917, among other times), Jewish women led several kosher meat boycotts when prices skyrocketed. They understood that they had power as consumers and they used it to shame butchers and people who continued to buy from them at high prices (whom they -- politicized by the labor movement, no doubt -- referred to as "scabs"). The protests often turned into riots, with women flinging meat into the streets, throwing it at people, and getting arrested.
You can read more about the 1935 meat boycott (not kosher specific, but led by Jewish activist Clara Lemlich Shavelson here.