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Jewish views on Food Security

Jews often talk about FOOD, and we often talk about SECURITY, but we don't often talk about FOOD SECURITY. Lately I've been reading many disturbing and important articles connecting recent riots throughout the Middle East and elswhere with increases in food prices and food shortages. The predictions are not good at all. Global food prices are at all time highs, and are not expected to go down any time soon. The riots are really just the tip of the iceberg, because rising food prices also means literally millions of people going hungry and malnurished. These issues are all connected under the general term of "Food Security" which means having access to nutritious food. Indeed, we have many reasons to be concerned for our own food security here in the United States as well. The causes of our present state of Food Insecurity are many and complex. Factors influencing the supply of food include global warming affecting weather patterns, and our current model of petro-chemical global agricultural policy as a whole. Then there are the issues related to getting the food grown to the people who want to eat it, which touches on issues poverty as well as a cabal of global political and economic forces, farm subsidies, distribution issues, and the issue of who controls the seed supply. While these issues facinate me, I think an examination of Jewish thoughts on food security might be appropriate for this week's blog.


Jews have a first hand experience of what it is like to not have Food Security. Having left Egypt taking all our possesions with us and only Matzah to eat, only three days after crossing the Red Sea they complain of a lack of food and shortly thereafter a lack of water. (Exodus 15:24, 16:3). Hashem mercifully gives the people manna to eat, but only enough for their immediate future, which tought a system of Dependency on G-d, for "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every product of G-d's mouth" (Deut 8:3). That system of dependency is being replicated in the Global Food Aid model, only this time international agencies are not doing nearly as good of a job of feeding people as the Maker of Heaven and Earth : ) However, the Israelites were not destined to eat manna forever, and neither should we perpetuate a system which keeps large numbers of people dependent on others for their sustainance.


Upon reaching the promised Land, we transition from a dependent people and are now given land in which we can grow and provide food for ourselves. "A Land flowing with Milk and Honey" We are told that all our food needs will be met and that we will enjoy good weather and abundant harvests, provided that we follow G-d's commandments and teachings. "A land in which you won't eat bread in scarcity, in which you won't lack anything" (Deut 8:9). This theme is repeated several times, including Deut 11, Lev 11:14 and Deut 28:1. In essence, we are promised Food Security in exchange for obedience to G-d's commandments. Hand in hand with this Promise of Abundance comes the Curse of Food Insecurity, "Your basket and bowl shall be cursed" (Deut 28:17), should we fail to live up to G-d's expectations of us, or become complacent with our material prosperity.


It seems like the world is quickly headed to a Food Crisis of enormous proportions. Perhaps this should be taken as a sign that our current system is headed in the wrong direction, and should therefore repent and remedy our ways. It is time we wake up to the fact that the globalized agricultural food system as we currently know it is on the brink of collapse and is failing to provide access to affordable and nutritious food to millions of people. We would do well to re-examine every aspect of our current food system, from our pantry to the political, with the goal that someday everyone on earth should have control over the food they eat and the security to "eat and be satisfied". There is much work to be done. From the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill to the Million's Against Monsanto campaign, there are many issues deserving of serious attention. Perhaps the most immediate way to make a positive change towards a more Food Secure world is by planting a seed and tending to its growth. Beyond that, our tradition teaches us that if we conduct our lives morally and with faith in G-d, we will be rewarded with Food Security. B'Ezrat Hashem, so may it be so, for all people.

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  • Joe Orlow
    February 23, 2011 (9:57 am)

    Important post. Thank you Rafael. It’s part of my motivation in starting my virtual commune, this concern about the price and availability of food. It’s true we have to sound the clarion horn of possible food shortages, and the relationship between these shortages and our behavior. The people from the Westboro Church (the ones who go around protesting against homosexuality at the funerals of U.S. soldiers) consider the woes of this country as being connected with violations of G-d’s laws to Mankind. I mention Westboro because I was at a protest once and met some of them, and these are not crazy people: they have a message, and they have a disturbing way of promoting it, but they are good at what they do. The lesson I learn is that we CAN get our message out if we work together. The whole Westboro group, including the founder’s grandchildren, is probably less than 100 people. We’re not going to alienate people like Westboro does, but we can figure out some innovative ways of our own to publicize our approach. Thanks to Jewcology.com for giving us this forum to meet online and discuss the kind of issues you are raising. Hopefully I’m planting the seed of an idea: a division of Jewcology.com that gets involved with rallies and demonstrations.

  • RAFAEL BRATMAN
    February 24, 2011 (11:53 am)

    Thanks for the comment Joe! Its a fine line between sounding the clarion horn and having people label you as crazy. Often the “crazy” label is put on people by others who don’t want to acknowledge the truthfulness of what the messenger is saying, or are fearful of the implications of the message, and therefore marginalize or ignore it. I agree that jewcology is a great place for us to start getting the word out, and hopefully we can move on from an ‘educational’ focus to more of an ‘activist’ one in some sort of collective fashion, whether through the auspices of this site or elsewhere.


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