March 2010/Adar 5770
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This year, our Sigi Ziering
column focuses on the
ethics of kashrut. Each
month, an esteemed guest
columnist will wrestle with
what Jewish texts and our
tradition teach us about
the food we eat: the
preparation of food, the
people who prepare our
food, the food and
restaurants that are
deemed kosher. This
column is sponsored by
Bruce Whizin and Marilyn
Ziering in honor of Marilyn’s
husband, Sigi Ziering, of
blessed memory. Visit
shma.com to view the
series and responses.
Ethics Sigi Ziering
Devora Kimelman-Block is the
founder and CEO of KOL
Foods, the nation’s only retailer
of nonindustrial, grass-raised
kosher beef, lamb, and poultry.
A native of Chicago, she is a
founding member of Eastern
Village Cohousing in Silver
Spring, Md., where she lives
with her husband, Jason, and
their three children, Esther,
Natan, and Simone.
Ayear ago, I found myself in inner-city Baltimore, shoveling manure into a garbage bag in a gas station parking lot.
The gas station attendants were none too
pleased when my farmer’s trailer, with live cattle in the back, pulled in and, accidentally, deposited a pile of dung that had slid out under
the door. Not okay to put it in their garbage
cans, they said. We had to take it with us.
Welcome to my world. I never thought this
would be part of my Jewish journey. How, you
may ask, did I find myself shoveling manure in
a gas station parking lot? I am the founder of
KOL Foods, which makes available and promotes sustainable food systems. Specifically, I
provide kosher beef, lamb, and now poultry.
Less than ten USDA certified slaughterhouses
remain in the United States that kill their animals according to the laws of kashrut. I work
with one of those slaughterhouses in downtown Baltimore, which has been family owned
and operated since the 1800s.
Sustainable agriculture is a way of producing food in which animals are treated humanely
and the environment, farm, and factory are
healthy for workers and consumers. Before industrialization, animals were raised in organic
pastures, and the meat, which was expensive,
was considered a treat.
Today, the focus at industrial animal farms
is on gaining short-term profit — with minimal
concern for the environment, workers, animals, or the consumer’s health. Such farm production raises several environmental issues,
including the pollution of U.S. waterways. Public
health issues, listed below, are staggering:
Waste matter causes food-borne illness
(like E. coli), and, in the United States
alone, sickens 76 million people and kills
5,000 people every year.
Cattle and lamb are ruminants; their native
diet is grass. When they eat grain, it makes
their internal organs acidic, which makes
their E.coli much more toxic for humans.
A 1998 Consumer Reports study revealed
that 71 percent of store-bought chicken
was contaminated with salmonella. The
recent outbreak of salmonella in peanuts
has been traced to factory meat farms
whose manure was spread on fields and
then seeped into waterways.
While studies have warned that eating
conventional red meat lowers one’s life
expectancy, many doctors recommend eat-
ing grass-fed meat (without antibiotics or
growth hormones) that is rich in heart-
healthy Omega- 3 fatty acids and cancer-
In addition to the health issues are animal and
worker welfare concerns. For example, animals are crammed together in confined areas
without access to sunlight and fresh air; their
feet don’t even touch the ground. Workers experience dangerous conditions, including exposure to dust and gases, as well as workplace
Factory farms produce lots of really cheap
meat. While the low cost can be advantageous
to consumers, it does not reveal the actual
costs to our society, our environment, or our
Jewish values. continued on page 17