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Archive for January, 2009

As we begin the Jewish month of Shevat, we’d like to offer you a quick roundup of our posts from the past month (just in case you missed one or two!).  Enjoy- and as always, feel welcome to provide us your feedback, and to leave comments with your thoughts on the subjects covered.

Obama, Science, Religion and Climate Change: Rabbi Sinclair covers the inauguration speech and President Obama’s bold statement, “We will restore science to its rightful place.”

Honest Prayer: The Greenest Shul in the World: For those of us yet to build holy arks from the neighbors’ fallen trees, this Evanston synagogue offers some pretty incredible examples on how to make a house of prayer more eco-friendly.

A New, Green, Social Justice Movement in Israel: Hatnuah Hayeruka-Meimad: Learn more about how Israel’s new party plans on bringing change.

Why Kyoto has Failed: Wicked Problems and the Wrong Trousers: What went wrong in the world’s efforts to cap carbon emissions? Can religious traditions help work out the kinks?

Eating Holy Food in a Holy Way: Michael Pollan, the Omnivore’s Dilemna and the twelve tribes of Israel.

Meet the Meat: Local, Organic and Kosher Converge: Rabbi Sinclair on helping to slaughter turkeys- and eat them- at the Hazon Food Conference.

Have you visited Climate of Change‘s Interviews page? What about our Reports Page? If you’ve enjoyed Climate of Change, we invite you to subscribe (for free) to receive posts via email, or sign up to our RSS feed. Chodesh Tov!

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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

Barack Obama’s inauguration marks a reversal of US  policy on energy, environment and climate change. After eight years of climate change denial and deferral of action in the White House, Obama has announced that he’ll through the weight of the US behind the search for solutions. Phew. Not a moment too soon.

As this interesting blog by points out, a 180 degree shift in attitudes towards science between Bush and Obama is one important driver of the policy reversal on climate change.

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There is officially a new standard in sustainable synagogue building: The Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Illinois (JRC).

We’re not talking recycling bins. We’re not even talking local food for Kiddush. We’re talking an Aron Kodesh, the “Holy Ark”, built out of wind-fallen trees from the farm next door. Grounds decorated with native plants that don’t require irrigation. Low water volume showers, installed to encourage biking to shul. We are talking an entire, top to bottom, front to back to sides model of a building whose every brick, lighting and piping has been considered in the name of eco-friendliness. (They’ve got the recycling bins and local food, too).

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By Yannai Kranzler

There are a few things one notices upon visiting the website of Israel’s new Green Movement-Meimad political party:
1) Everyone’s smiling.
2) Everyone looks different from one another

And it’s hard not to think: “Hey- this party just might actually be different.”
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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

Thanks to Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute for pressing into my hands “The Wrong Trousers”, a fascinating 50 page article by British social scientists Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner that came out a year ago. I missed it at the time, so excuse me for chewing it over on the blog now.

The title, “The Wrong Trousers” is, of course, a reference to the Oscar-winning animated film of that name in which the hapless Wallace (of Wallace and Gromit) is trapped in a pair of automated Techno Trousers which he thought would make his life easier, but in fact take him places where he doesn’t wish to go.

The Kyoto protocol on climate change is a bad case of the wrong trousers according to Prins and Rayner. By now it has a huge institutional momentum and it’s not taking us where we want to go. (more…)

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In continuation of our discussion on local food, the following is a Dvar Torah Rabbi Sinclair wrote for Canfei Nesharim‘s Eitz Chaim Hee Torah Commentary Series.

Do we know who grows our food? Does it matter? This question was first raised for me five years ago when I was the Campus Rabbi at England’s Cambridge University. Invited to High Table dinner with the professors at one of the colleges, I was surprised to discover that most of the conversation among some of Britain’s leading minds revolved around the food.

“This venison’s inedible,” complained an irascible professor of physics. “Absolutely,” agreed an elderly Nobel Laureate. “We had a cook here in the seventies who would never serve an animal he didn’t know
personally.” (more…)

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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

I spent last Wednesday at Wind Dancer Rancher, an organic farm in Northern California. The day was cold, wet and blustery. Together with 25 others, I had volunteered to take part in the slaughtering, plucking, evisceration, koshering and packing of the Turkeys that were to be eaten for Shabbat dinner at the Hazon food conference the following weekend.

Lisa Leonard, the farmer, cradled the first bird in her arms as Roger Studley, the organizer explained the order of the day. Someone asked Lisa her opinion about the intelligence of Turkeys.  “Well, let’s say they ain’t the sharpest tools in the shed,”  she answered. “But they do have personalities. Like this one here, he just hates cell phones. Like he’d attack anyone who he saw using one. “I know the feeling,” I murmured empathetically.

Then we gathered around Andy Kastner, the shochet. Andy is 28, a rabbinical student with curly brown hair and soulful eyes. He learned to be a kosher slaughter because he loved animals, but he also loved

Shochet, Andy Kastner

Shochet, Andy Kastner

meat. He decided that he needed to be able to take responsibility for the way animals were killed if he was to continue as a carnivore.

Lisa’s partner Jim held the Turkey. (Lisa doesn’t like to watch when the birds she has raised from chicks are killed.) Andy said the blessing, gently extended the animal’s neck and with two swift back and forth strokes severed its trachea and main arteries. Blood spurted on to Andy’s white coat and on to the wet ground.  Jim placed the dying bird upside down in a metal traffic cone. It kicked for a few seconds (reflex actions, said Jim) and was still.

Then we hung the dead Turkey by its feet from a bar in an open barn and started plucking. The downy belly feathers came away in clumps in your hands, exposing white, pimply skin. Within seconds the resplendent Heritage Breed bird was starting to look like meat.

When the carcass was thoroughly bald, Rabbi Seth Mandel, the Chief Kashrut Supervisor of the Orthodox Union opened up the body cavity. He removed the intestines, checked them for cuts or lesions, and then examined a lung for signs of disease. “Fine, healthy animal,” he pronounced of the free range, barley-fed bird. Next the turkey was soaked in cold water, salted inside and out, then rinsed, and placed in a polythene bag that was signed with Rabbi Mandel’s seal of kosher certification, and placed in an icebox.

Then we did the same thing 24 more times.

The goal was to produce meat that was not just kosher but also organic and local. Hazon wanted to ensure that the animals it served had lived Turkey-like lives and, so far as possible, met with humane deaths. These birds were pesticide and  antibiotic free. They were not treated with the brutality inherent in the mass production of meat, either in life or in death.

The mass production of meat is a major factor in global climate change. The UN recently estimated that a staggering 18% of greenhouse gases are produced by the meat industry. Pesticides and fertilizers for animal feed together with transportation together emit vast quantities of greenhouse gases. The average item of food on an American dinner plate has traveled 1500 miles to get there. The preparation these turkeys all took place within a 30 foot by 30 foot area of farm. In an industrial system they would have been trucked all over the country to undergo the same process.

Of course, there are big questions about whether this kind of meat could ever be produced on a larger scale. The farmers sold it to Hazon for $6 a pound. The same day (Christmas Eve) turkey in Safeways, San Francisco was marked at $1.50 a pound. The meat we helped make was just about as humane and sustainable as meat can be. Whether it could be more than a middle class indulgence is another question. (I hope to look at that next week.)  But if meat did cost more, we’d eat less of it and that would be a good thing for the earth.

Did I eat the turkey? Sure. Given that I sometimes do eat meat, it didn’t seem to make sense to turn down probably the most eco-friendly flesh I’d ever had. But when I took my first bite, I shuddered involuntarily. The mental mechitzas that we erect between meat and dead animals were ripped away as I alternately recalled and repressed the images of that wet Wednesday morning. And I tried not to leave any of it over.

Bensching, saying grace, on that meal was an entirely different experience. Normally I’m just saying thanks for the food on my plate. Heaven knows where it came from. This time I fervently thanked God for the farm, for Andy, Lisa and Jim, for the wet, muddy ground, for the proud, dignified birds pecking in the dirt when we arrived, for the wind and rain that had flayed my face the whole day and for all of the elements with which I was connected through that one act of eating.

Knowing the costs involved in producing even those most sustainably raised and humanely slaughtered animals will probably lead me to eat less meat in future. And that’s no bad thing.

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