The concept of kashrut refers to the manner in which an animal is slaughtered. Yet, how can we consider food kosher when it comes from animals who are treated as commodities with minimal concern for their welfare?
The basic laws of kashrut were derived from Leviticus and Deuteronomy. However, when the Torah was written, there were no factory farms or confined industrial factories. Animals were not injected with growth hormones and antibiotics or fed soybean, corn and grains. Meat and poultry were, by default, organic. It was unnecessary to worry about the composition of the animal. But now we do.
The existence of Jewish dietary laws suggests that God cares about the food we eat and what we put into our bodies. Surely this includes ethical concerns. Isn’t it time dietary laws were overhauled to encompass ethical slaughtering, ethical eating, and the ethical care and conduct of animals while alive? And, after slaughtering, the ethical serving and presentation of food on a dinner plate?
You are not only what you eat, you are what your food eats, too. That is why grass-fed meat is better for you. The diet of cows and chickens we eat has a direct bearing on the nutritional quality and healthfulness of the food from the animal itself. And this is of ultimate concern to all of us.
I believe that ethical eating is directly tied to Judaism. The word “kashrut” is derived from the Hebrew root Kaf-Shin-Resh, meaning fit, proper, or correct. It defies purpose that kosher means “fit” to eat, and yet Jewish law is not particularly concerned with food being healthy and free of carcinogens. According to Jewish law, glatt kosher is defined as meat that has passed a test that checks the slaughtered animal is not defective. What sort of criteria are we testing for? Surely nothing could be as “fit” to eat as a meal of pastured beef or chicken from a grass-fed animal, which roamed free and lived a healthy lifestyle, free from hormonal growth promoters and antibiotic-laced food, genetically modified organisms or food based on grains laced with pesticides?
Yes, it is more expensive to eat grass-fed kosher meat, but, given its health and environmental benefits, I believe it is worth the price. Still, there is a major problem when it comes to accessibility and affordability.
It took six calls to various butchers across Toronto to locate a kosher organic chicken. And while a regular kosher chicken retails at around $7.30 a kilogram, a kosher organic chicken retails at approximately $20.70 a kilogram. Meanwhile, a non-kosher organic chicken sells at approximately $9.50 a kilogram.
So, what is a kosher, ethically-minded individual to do? What are the options for health-conscious Jews, without ready access to organic kosher meat and poultry, or without the desire to mortgage their home to regularly purchase kosher organic products? How do we balance the modern and the traditional; to eat according to both our beliefs and our values?
I don’t have any ready answers. Perhaps kashrut organizations could upgrade their definitions of kosher to acknowledge that some animals are treated respectfully and ethically while others are not. Or, at the very least, there should be wider availability of organic meat and poultry, and more competition in price. Until then, eating smaller amounts of good-quality animal products might be the best compromise.
Hilary Edwards is an aspiring writer whose experience and research leading up to the writing of this article has affected her meat and poultry eating habits.