Eco-Kashrut for the Curious

The term “eco-kosher” has been around for over thirty years and has continually gained traction in every denomination of Judaism since then. While there are varying definitions of eco-kosher, I like to think of eco-kashrut as environmental compliance as well as halachic compliance.

Eco-kashrut is an important issue to me and I have done a fair amount of informal thinking about it for a variety of reasons...

  • I’m a Jew, so I like food. Like many Jews, I take almost any available opportunity to think about and talk about food.
  • I have a big appetite and I eat a lot (I won a stereo in a pizza eating contest my freshman year of college). Since I am often either hungry or eating, I have food on my mind a fair amount of the time – in particular, what I should eat and why.
  • In studying with Reb Arthur Waskow and Reb Zalman Schacter-Shalomi (who introduced and supported the concept of eco-kosher), I have been inspired by their wisdom and holy teachings.
  • I try to live a God-centered life; one of the most significant aspects of this for me is to try to live a life of blessing. There is a tradition that a Jew should say 100 blessings every day. Some nerdy folks with too much time on their hands have made calculations on how one reaches 100 blessings every day; every version of these calculations includes a large number of blessings before and after eating. One of the benefits/results of saying a blessing immediately before and after eating is that it causes me to pause and consider what I am about to put (or have just finished putting) into my body. This momentary pause before and after eating is an impetus in keeping eco-kashrut in my consciousness.

Compliance with traditional requirements of kashrut continues to become easier and easier in Austin. In the early days of eco-kashrut, the only way to get kosher meat in Austin was to be a part of the kosher meat buying co-op for the once-a-month delivery of kosher meat by truck from San Antonio. Today, there are a variety of sources for traditional kosher foods, primarily the kosher store at the Far West HEB. Sprouts is the latest entry in the kosher food market, as they now sell kosher ground turkey.

Kosher ground turkey at Sprouts in northwest Austin

Kosher ground turkey at Sprouts in northwest Austin

Although finding food that meets traditional standards of kashrut has become more accessible locally, thoughtful, deliberate eating based on eco-kashrut is more complex than ever. This is because tracing food from planting, through growing, harvesting, packaging, wholesaling (including possibly multiple levels), distribution, to final retail purchase isn't easy. There could be potential eco-kashrut “violations” anywhere in the supply chain.

Still curious? Tune in next month for a discussion of practical experiences in attempting to maintain compliance with standards of eco-kashrut.

For even more information on eco-kashrut:

Eco-Kosher: Jewish Spirituality in Action. By Rabbi Goldie Milgram
The Shalom Center – What is eco kosher? by Reb Arthur Waskow 

- Matt Levitt