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Archive for the ‘Buying Local’ Category

By Yannai Kranzler

First Lady, Michele Obama, Digging out the Obama's New Veggie Garden, Together with Fifth Graders from the Bancroft Elementary School

I’m pretty sure there’s still no planned war against the species of Corn. But it turns out that the Obama family actually is turning the White House Lawn, or at least a chunk of it, into an organic garden, contrary to an article I published before the weekend. Spearheaded by First Lady Michele, the garden involves replacing 1000 square feet of grass with 55 species of veggies, herbs and berries.

To quote the NY Times article that printed the story last week:

While the organic garden will provide food for the first family’s meals and formal dinners, its most important role, Mrs. Obama said, will be to educate children about healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables at a time when obesity and diabetes have become a national concern.

“My hope,” the first lady said in an interview in her East Wing office, “is that through children, they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.”

Brought in as special advisors to the project were twenty three fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington. Their school has mantained its own garden since 2001, and they will now till and tend at the White House.

If only I could be wrong like this all the time! What can I say- I guessed a giant kitchen garden at the Executive Mansion too good to be true.

Obviously, the global significance of the new garden is mostly symbolic. But symbolism is a powerful tool for change, and the Obamas’ new garden is a powerful symbol that hopefully will inspire change. Michael Pollan cites Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous Victory Garden as an example, when the first lady planted veggies on the White House Lawn during World War II, spawning a home gardening movement throughout the country that ended up supplying 40% of American-grown produce during the war.

At a time when the food industry accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than anything else we do, a White House full of homegrown, local food can prove very meaningful indeed.

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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

It may seem odd to be writing about shmitta six and a half years before the next Sabbatical year. Not at all. We need to start thinking and planning now if the Shmitta of 2014-15 is to be a time of ecological, economic and spiritual renewal for the Jewish people, rather than an unseemly political squabble.

I’m heading off next week to Hazon’s food conference in Assilomar. Hazon has even set up a website as a focus of public discussion for the next shmitta. Prompted by the stockmarket crash, imminent global recession, as well as having to prepare a couple of talks about shmitta for the trip to California, here are some thoughts that hopefully take that discussion a little further:

The causes of the economic crash are at the same time incredibly complicated and extremely simple. The simple version is that the US mortage and housing market broke free of some fundamental principles about buying houses. Once upon a time, to buy a house, you had to work hard, save a lot of money, and maybe supplement your savings with a mortgage that you arranged with a banker who knew you personally, and with whom you took responsibility for the repayment of your loan.

No longer. Over the last ten years, banks have advanced huge mortgages to people they never met, with little regard to their ability to repay. The mortgage assets were then parceled up and sold to other banks and investment houses increasingly removed from the original house buyers. All this was done out of a perfect faith in the endless upward trend of the housing markets. When house prices ceased to defy gravity, thousands of home owners defaulted on mortgage payments, mortgage-based assets became almost worthless, and large distinguished banks who held a lot of those assets collapsed, nearly bringing down the world financial system with them.

It’s an old story. Charles Mackay wrote a classic history of financial crises called “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” first published in London in 1841. “Money … has often been a cause of the delusion of multitudes. Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper. Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

Financial bubbles, like the one in the housing market  happen when people’s hopes, expectations and greed-driven delusions about the value of their assets lose all contact with the underlying economic reality. The more sophisticated our economic system, the more we can engineer assets that have less and less to do with real things and the more extreme the bubble.  Markets periodically and harshly correct these fits of wishful thinking, at the cost of great economic suffering. Often those who suffer most have done least to cause the problem.

Some of the less well known teachings of Shmitta are exactly about managing and moderating this tendency for economic activity to cut its roots in the earth from which it grows. Once every seven years we are meant to return to an intimate connection with the source of all wealth. A few examples:

1.   You can’t trade on food grown in the Shmitta year. You can eat it, give it away or leave it for the poor, but you may not turn it into a commodity. (Rambam Laws of Shmitta, 6:1 This is based on a derasha of Vayikra 25:6:  “It shall be a Sabbatical year to eat.” “To eat and not a trade on it.” (Talumd, Sukkah 40a.)

2.   Food from the Shmitta year should be treated as food, Not as a compress for a wound, or air freshener, or biofuels, or anything else that food products can be used for. This is based on the same verse from Vayikra 25: 6 “to eat.” Once in seven years we get back to an awareness of food as food, not as a commodity or raw material for some other manufacturing process.

3.  In the Shmitta year we return to a relationship with food that is seasonal.  If you gather and store fruit from the shmitta year in your house, once that fruit has disappeared from the fields and trees, you can no longer eat what is stored in your house out of season. (Laws of Shmitta, 7:1)

4.  In the Shmitta we return to a relationship with food that is local. The seasonal requirement that we just saw is based on regional divisions of the Land of Israel. If the pomegranate season is over in your area, then you can’t eat them, even if they are still growing somewhere else in the country. (Laws of Shmitta, 7:9)

And so on. These laws are all about returning to an immediate relationship with the food we eat, as food and connected to a particular time and place. Food is the most basic economic index. The Shmitta is about ceasing to distort, quantify or objectify our connection to the source of sustenance.

How do we use this value of returning to an immediate connection with economic fundamantals as a corrective to boom-bust economics? Let the discussion continue! We have six and a half years to get it right for the shmitta year, but we the world needs a way to actualize these values even sooner.

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By Yannai Kranzler

Environmental sensitivity has a trap: Actions too often become a “Fight Against.” I stop acting “in order to”, but rather, “to beware of”- whether that “Beware of” is carbon emissions, pollution, pesticides or the like.

Not that caution is a bad place from where to act- crises like climate change give us the urgency that (hopefully) makes us change. But that urgency should not only encourage us to ward off disasters, but to re-examine our experience in this world and discover what it is we are missing that brought about these crises in the first place.

Let’s take eating local foods as an example:

I can buy local in order to avoid carbon demands of importing or to avoid supporting agribusiness, mono-crops and the obliteration of Nature’s great defense mechanism, biodiversity. No doubt about it, when a family accepts the challenge of buying local, they are taking a front lines position against global climate and food crises.

But eating shouldn’t only be a fight. Eating is an opportunity to celebrate a relationship with a Natural world that sustains us. As Jews, part of our mission as a People is to uncover the Holiness that lays buried in everyday activities just like eating. Buying local is one way to engage in consumption as a more nourishing experience, both physically and spiritually:

1- Local foods usually taste better, are fresher and healthier. They haven’t sat for days in hot, stuffy trucks, and haven’t been engineered to do so.

2- Eating becomes a means for us to connect with our community and our land:

My wife and I live next to Jerusalem’s open market. We love seeing the market reflect Israel’s seasonal patterns. Right now it’s Israel’s watermelon season. Soon will come mangoes. The messiest (and my most favorite) season, pomegranate season, will come again in the wintertime. Living according to Israel’s seasonal produce cycle has given us a whole new way to manifest the bond we have with our homeland.

3- Buying local means supporting community.

Imagine bringing your children to the farm where your dinner is grown, meeting the farmer, asking him questions, learning about where your food comes from and how its raised. Imagine the excitement around the dinner table when the food you eat reflects the hard work of someone you know. (If you’re really local with your food, growing your own veggies/raising your own meat, then I envy the pride you must have, deriving such direct benefit from the work of your own hands.).

When it comes down to it, that’s the sort of environmental sensitivity we are here to develop: the ability first to notice, then to appreciate, then to connect.

When my eating reflects this kind of sensitivity, I can close my eyes in concentration as I feed my body- thankful that my land knows how to satiate me, thankful for the taste of something fresh, thankful to the farmer that grew my food, even thankful to an animal that gave its life to be my dinner.

Tradition tells us that vegetation did not grow in the Garden of Eden until Adam came along to pray. It is truly amazing how much the flourishing of this world depends on our appreciating it.

So don’t fall into the doomsday trap. Have fun finding what grows locally near you. Enjoy eating as an experience in sensitivity and relationship with the world. Enjoy appreciating land and community. Raise your glass of locally grown wine or even your locally brewed beer, and celebrate that our world knows just what to provide us and when- drink up: L’Chaim! – “To Life.”

Do you know of any great local farmers here in Israel? What about in your area? Any “buying local” tips for the rest of us? Send a comment and let us know!

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