"You are what you eat" was a term that became popular in the late 1960s among cultural revolutionaries who turned away from the more popular meat-eating culture to a vegetarian diet based on the idea that what we consume not only contributes to who we are physically, but morally and spiritually as well.
In many ways, the traditional Jewish approach to eating, called "Kashrut" or more commonly referred to as Kosher, is based on a similar idea that is explored in The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic, edited by Mary L. Zamore, associate Rabbi of in Morristown.
Published spring 2011, The Sacred Table features essays written by more than three dozen progressive thinkers on a wide range of topics that explore food choices, and the ethics and morality of food production.
According to Zamore, the term "Kosher" was very much misunderstood for hundreds of years by those outside of the Jewish culture.
“Being Kosher or practicing Kashrut is really about mindfulness. It’s about being aware of what we are eating and how it’s produced, which involves not only how the workers were treated in the process but also how the animals were treated,” Zamore said.
She said that in the 19th century, some scholars believed that Kosher practices came about largely as health and hygiene practices.
"This belief was a misinterpretation superimposed by the non-Jewish world," Zamore said. "Kosher or Kashrut is a spiritual practice and it is about one’s connection to community, the Torah and God."
Zamore’s book invites readers to consider what can be learned from Kosher principles.
"My goal in editing the book was to explore–from a liberal Jewish voice–the lessons that could be drawn from this broad heading of Kashrut,” said Zamore, who describes herself as a “meat minimalist” or one who consumes meat on a very limited basis.
She said that she and her husband make sure that they are eating from Kosher sources, which means that animals should be grassfed and eggs should come from “free range” chickens.
While the industrialization of food production made it possible to feed many more people, what has been lost in the process is a consciousness about where our food comes from, Zamore said.
“The commercialization of farming made it possible for a greater number of people to be fed, more than at any other time in history. But we’re also seeing nutrition take a nose dive,” she said.
The Sacred Table opens the door to a journey of self-reflection about what food means to us and what we are willing to condone in order to have access to certain foods that may or may not even be critical to our survival.
Contributor Rachel S. Mikva discusses in her essay the sad reality of how some farm workers are treated. “Florida farm workers are paid 1.2 cents per pound for picking tomatoes," she said. "To earn $25 a day, one worker must pick 2,000 pounds of tomatoes.”
She said some growers have been cited for promoting slave conditions using armed guards to force workers to keep going for 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week.
Mikva discusses later in her essay the concept of "tzaar haalei chayim," which refers to understanding the pain of all living creatures.
To shed light on why it is not Kosher to slaughter an animal and its young on the same day, she cites a passage from the Bible:
“For in these cases animals feel very great pain, there being no difference regarding this pain between man and the other animals. For the love and tenderness of a mother for her child is not consequent upon reason, but upon the activity of the imaginative faculty, which is found in most animals just as it is found in man.”
The Sacred Table invites readers to consider how the food we eat and the way it is procured defines our relationship–or lack of relationship–to all of life in its many forms.
“Eating is a visceral experience. It not only sustains our bodies, but also leaves an imprint on our psyches,” writes Peter Knobel, also a contributor to The Sacred Table.