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Food Watch – What’s Wrong with Food?

The World Jewish Digest recently published an article called, "What's Wrong with Hebrew School?" which outlines the myriad of practical and philosophical problems that plague everyone's favorite punishment for Jewish kids. The question sits heavily on the shoulders of Jewish … Read More

By / October 18, 2007

The World Jewish Digest recently published an article called, "What's Wrong with Hebrew School?" which outlines the myriad of practical and philosophical problems that plague everyone's favorite punishment for Jewish kids. The question sits heavily on the shoulders of Jewish communal leaders, and deeply in the troubled guts of anyone who ever attended Hebrew School (AFTER a full day of secular school, no less).

Yes, it's a good question – but it actually got me thinking about a different question: What's wrong with the food we eat? I don't approach this query as some liberal foodie snob (though I might be that as well). I approach it as someone who is startled by the fact that the food we eat in this country, actually makes us sick. The National Institute of Health reported that obesity threatens to lower Americans' life expectancy by up to 5 years over the next few decades. Obesity. Not war, or AIDS, or global warming. This is largely due to the fact that America's food industry is run on cheap, government subsidized corn, which is mostly turned into unhealthy, antibiotic-filled cows or corn syrup, starch, or solids. (Try this futile experiment, the next time you walk down the aisle in your grocery store, try to find a three packaged food products that do not contain corn.) Corn – not the stuff eaten on the cob in summer, the stuff the government pays industrial farmers to overproduce, is making us fat. And that, in turn, is giving us diabetes and threatening to kill us.

I'm certainly not the first person to point out the connection between the corn and obesity. Michael Pollan tells the story in breathtaking detail in The Omnivore's Dilemma and the newly released movie King Corn follows adeptly in Pollan's wake.

But I think the parallel between crumbling Hebrew schools and crumbling health in America is worth making. In either case, something that started with good intentions(teaching children about their Jewish heritage on the one hand, and feeding ourselves inexpensively on the other) has gone totally haywire. And in either case, the impacted beings (bar mitzvah kids on; our own bodies) are now completely divorced from any real meaning or nourishment.

The WJD article ends by saying, "Changing Hebrew school education requires looking at the overall system…and undergoing a paradigm shift." In other words, no small tweak will do. If Hebrew schools are going to inspire the next generation of engaged, Jewish adults, they need a complete, bottom-to-top overhaul. And without doubt, this same type of creative, alternative thinking (away from false subsidies for big agriculture, towards more independent, self-sufficient farming) will help us save ourselves from our food.

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