Jewish Food

The Debate: Eating Meat (or not) at the Hazon Food Conference

The Jew and The Carrot is Hazon’s blog about Jews, food and contemporary life.  According to their mission: “The blog has a diverse and inclusive community, where we welcome readers and volunteer writers from across the Jewish denominational spectrum, and … Read More

By / November 23, 2009

The Jew and The Carrot is Hazon’s blog about Jews, food and contemporary life.  According to their mission: “The blog has a diverse and inclusive community, where we welcome readers and volunteer writers from across the Jewish denominational spectrum, and from all walks of culinary life.  Our aim is to ensure that The Jew and The Carrot community is a platform for vibrant discussion for anyone interested in food issues.”

Late on Friday they received the following letter from Pete Cohon, founder and moderator of VeggieJews, an international, real-world and online, Jewish, vegetarian organization.  He has been a vegan and animal rights activist for 22 years and a vegetarian for 27 years.  A former San Francisco trial lawyer, Pete now lives in Tel Aviv.

An open letter to Nigel Savage, Executive Director of Hazon, and the group’s members:

The Hazon group claims that it works to create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community, fight climate change and promote a more sustainable world for all.  I understand that the group even hosts vegetarian meals at which it promotes its programs.

That sounds great.  But I’m concerned that Hazon is not living up to the promise.

Three years ago, during your group’s 2007 Jewish Food Conference, Hazon publicly slaughtered three goats despite numerous appeals that the cruel demonstration of shechita be canceled.  I am disappointed that Hazon remains unapologetic for its cruel and unnecessary slaughter.  But I am truly offended that you are planning a similar demonstration again at this year’s Jewish Food Conference which will begin on December 24 near Monterey, California.

According to Hazon’s Web site, this year’s conference will include:

Chicken Shechita at Green Oaks Creek Farm:

We will meet on the farm early in the morning on Wednesday, December 23 to observe the shechita (ritual slaughter) and to help pluck, clean, soak, and salt pasture-raised chickens.  If you are old enough to be a bar or bat mitzvah, you are old enough to volunteer.  No experience is necessary.  Wear warm work clothes and be prepared to get your hands dirty.

In other words, Hazon is again promoting unnecessary animal cruelty in the name of Jewish environmentalism.

It looks like, contrary to its claims, Hazon is not really a Jewish environmental group at all.

While claiming to fight climate change and support a more sustainable environment, Hazon completely ignores the 2006 report of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization that found animal agriculture responsible for almost 1/5 of all global warming.

Hazon also continues to ignore the 2009 report of the NGO World Watch, which found that the UN’s figures were incorrectly tabulated and that the actual contribution of animal agriculture to global warming is 51%.

But, apparently, Hazon doesn’t care about the facts.  Your group continues to pretend to be a Jewish environmental organization  and even hosts misleading vegetarian events to promote itself while also continuing to promote cruel and environmentally unsustainable lifestyles.  If Hazon believes that a few chickens running around freely on small, sustainable farms can feed the demand of billions and billions of people living mostly in urban areas on this planet, then Hazon is truly living in a dream world.  As long as people eat animals, mass production of animal foods will require massive operations that cannot  possibly be environmentally sustainable.

Please be advised that your planned slaughter of chickens at this year’s Jewish Food Conference is unacceptable.  The conference will only encourage the continuation of a meat-based diet despite the negative health, environmental and ethical consequences.  I urge you to stop the bloodletting and start healing the planet by promoting to the Jewish community a diet based solely on plant-based foods.  It’s time for Hazon to include compassion for animals in its mission as well as real-world environmental sanity.

Dear Pete,

Thank you for your thoughtful response to our work.  Nigel is out of town this weekend, but he wanted to make sure we responded to you.

Before I go into Hazon’s pedagogy, I want to comment on your climate change comments.  As you note, animal husbandry is a significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.  We know that data and have used it to guide aspects of our Jewish Climate Change Campaign.  In this campaign, we ask Jews to reduce their meat intake by 50% within the next shmita cycle – September 2015.

But we go past the concerns of climate change.  Hazon engages on the issues that arise from the industrialization of our food – period.  We examine how we eat all foods and what we’re eating.  Through the Hazon CSA (community supported agriculture) program, hundreds of Jewish families across the US are sourcing their weekly vegetables from local organic farmers.  Countless people have been inspired by Hazon to shop at their local farmer’s market.

Now, to address the issue of shechting animals at the Food Conference.  I am not going to address whether shechita is cruel – that is a conversation on Jewish tradition that I will not address here.  But I will address how participating in the shechita process impacts the community that has become the Food Conference participants.  Hazon does not tell people how to be Jews, let alone how to be environmentalists.  We do provide the richness of education and experience that enables and empowers personal decision.  For too many people, animal consumption is disguised by neat packaging and the neutral term “meat.” By shechting animals at the Food Conference, we provide the space for people to engage with the intimate reality of eating animal flesh. And that experience has proven, time and time again, to do more to influence long-term changes in personal consumption behavior.

Again, thank you for taking the time to engage us on this important issue.

All the best,

Liore Assistant to the Executive Director Hazon

This post originally appeared on The Jew & The Carrot and is reprinted with permission.

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