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Jewish Farmers July 24, 2014

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Ecozoic, Eden Village Camp, environmentalism, Jewish spirituality, meditation, Rabbi Jeff Roth, Vegetarianism/veganism.
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A recent article in the New York Times “New Gleanings from a Jewish Farm” spotlights some of my favoriate organizations in the Jewish social justice, environmentalism and spirituality movement. Pluralistic and conscious of differences of all sorts, it gives hope to me as a Jew during this difficult time. In particular I am proud to say that I’ve volunteered for three years at Eden Village Camp (mentioned in the article) DSC02384

(Teaching Science at Eden Village, July 2011, photo by Meg Stewart)

and taken my Vassar students to Kibbutz Ketura on our March 2014 study trip. Note that althought Kibbutz Ketura is up to some interesting work, we also visited Kibbutz Lotan where there is some very interesting work going on in earth building and permaculture. DSC08498

(Making bricks at Kibbutz Lotan)

I’ve also visited the Israel School of Herbal Medicine and spoken to rabbinical students on retreat at the Isabella Freedman retreat center. But i’d also like to add that the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, though not connected explicitly with Jewish agriculature and sustainability has been a thought leader in encouraging pluralism and spirituality among Jews. It’s an organization not to be missed. And I’ll also add the fact that I hope that in the future, students will come to Vassar as students to learn about Jewish environmentalism through our Jewish Studies and Earth Science programs with field work opportunities on the Vassar farm it’s CSA, the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, as well as nearby Eden Village Camp! Finally, a salute to Rabbi Jeff Roth who has been ahead of the curve on all of this. Check out his Awakened Heart Project!

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The Sexual Politics of Meat Redux November 29, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in feminism, food justice, Vegetarianism/veganism.
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“Everything should taste like Bacon.” Really? Bacon lip balm, Baconnaise, Bacon Salt, Bacon MMMvelopes, and all of it Kosher-certified? I’m really confused. I heard this supposed-to-be cute story on NPR this morning about “Baconentrepreneurs”Justin and Dave and their line of Bacon-tasting products, the NPR story focussing specifically on Bacon Shaving Cream.

But I’m not confused on this: even without the shaving cream, it had to be a guy-gimic. And not girly guys, I mean manly men. I went to their website, to the “about” section and found, no surprise, that they characterize themselves as:

… just two regular guys who love grilling and football on Sunday afternoons, eating until we can’t get off the couch and of course, the taste of great bacon. And it’s our dream to make everything taste like bacon.

I know it’s not really bacon in their products and I know it’s supposed to be weird and satirical but I was bugged. Why encourage and try to gratify the bacon-craving? Why exploit the manly man trope? I won’t go on about these fellas.

What I really want to do is call attention to QueerVeganFood.com, a blog by Sarah E. Brown that promotes a vegan diet for the sake of improved personal and planetary health. Queer Vegan Food  is a plant-source only site, posting recipes that don’t include animal products of any kind. And it posts truly queer recipes –like chocolate-covered kelp noodles, for instance–in an effort to expand the vegan culinary world beyond vegan cuisine which imitates the non-vegan food world.

NPR should cover that!

Food for Thought: Exercising the compassion muscle January 17, 2011

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in book review, food justice, Jonathan Safran Foer, Vegetarianism/veganism.
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This piece is cross-posted at Shambhala SunSpace.

Last week, amidst the one-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake and the senseless killings in Arizona, just prior to the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., I finished reading Eating Animals, the most recent book by the gifted writer Jonathan Safran Foer—who up until this point was well known for his acclaimed novels Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (both of which I relished). In Eating Animals, Foer highlights the cruel abominations associated with factory farming of cows, turkeys, chickens, pigs and fish and the suffering these cause. Part investigative report and part memoir, a personal question motivates Foer’s exploration: How will he explain to his son why we eat some animals and not others? His search for answers reveals a path that will interest Buddhist readers.

I can relate to Foer’s conundrum; I discuss food production and consumption regularly with my children. When we lived on a tiny island in the Atlantic last year, I ate fish caught by folks down the road from my house who used a hand-thrown seine net or single fishing line. In Foer’s schema, while living on the island I was a “selective omnivore.” But my children found my behavior unacceptable. My 13-year old—a self-declared vegetarian, and sometimes vegan, since the age of seven—and my 10-year old, who asserted the same identity when still in the single digits after a visit to a NY farm animal sanctuary—both deem it hypocritical to kill some animals for food but to exempt others. That’s Jonthan Safran Foer’s conclusion as well.

Foer finds fault with Michael Pollan’s critique of vegetarianism in The Omnivore’s Dilemma—one in which Pollan states that he pities vegetarians. I side with Foer and I think that his intelligently passionate investigation provides at least food for thought for Buddhist practitioners. In reading Eating Animals, one can tell how much Foer enjoys sumptuous food; like others he admits being tempted by comestibles like sushi and steak. But he reminds us that “virtually all of the time one’s choice is between cruelty and ecological destruction, and ceasing to eat animals.”

As a scientist who thinks about interconnections of the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere and biosphere, I know the truth of Foer’s assertion that the decision to avoid factory-farmed products will reduce global warming, limit deforestation and consequent soil erosion, prevent air and water pollution, and eliminate systematic abuses of human and animal rights. But as a Buddhist practitioner, I’m captivated by his question, “What kind of world would we create if three times a day we activated our compassion and reason as we sat down to eat, if we had the moral imagination and the pragmatic will to change our most fundamental act of consumption?” Buddhist practitioners know the truth of Foer’s statement: “compassion is a muscle that gets stronger with use” and I think most would agree with his coda “the regular exercise of choosing kindness over cruelty would change us.”

Foer quotes Martin Luther  King Jr. from his speech “A Proper Sense of Priorities”(February 6, 1968): “And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” Foer aptly points out that King was referring to the suffering of humans not animals but adds that it’s worth noting that Coretta Scott King was a vegan, as is her son Dexter.

I will celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr by reminding myself that with our practice, we help to heal the Earth and the beings who live here. How about you?

Jill S. Schneiderman is Professor of Earth Science at Vassar College and the editor of and contributor to For the Rock Record: Geologists on Intelligent Design (University of California Press, 2009) and The Earth Around Us: Maintaining a Livable Planet (Westview Press, 2003).

For more “Earth Dharma” from Jill S. Schneiderman, click here.

See also our Shambhala Sun Spotlight on Buddhism and Green Living.