Rabbi Min Kantrowitz, one of the speakers at the recent spring colloquium sponsored by the Jewish-Christian Dialogue in Albuquerque, told participants that an expanded definition of kosher has emerged in Judaism. The traditional definition of kosher is no longer enough. One important consideration is the environmental conditions under which the food was produced . If harmful pesticides or other chemicals that damage the Earth were used in the production of food, then it is not truly kosher.
The other principle to remember is whether the rights and dignity of the workers involved in that production were respected. Rabbi Min mentioned the tomato rabbis, who have partnered with other faith-based groups and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to seek better conditions for tomato pickers in Florida. This effort is one of several efforts sponsored by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights,
Because of exemptions related to farm-workers in American labor law, farm-workers are paid by the pound, not by the hour: $0.50 for every 32 pound bucket of tomatoes they pick (We pay $75-80 in the store for the same 32-pounds of tomatoes). At these rates, most workers make well below the minimum wage, for an average annual salary of about $10,000. This holds true for workers who are here both legally and illegally. The farm-workers who pick tomatoes in Florida also face extreme pesticide exposure and unsafe working conditions. Meanwhile, cases of human trafficking and slavery are rampant. One federal prosecutor has called Florida "ground zero" for modern slavery.
Read more about the partnership among the tomato rabbis, other faith groups and the CIW.
|Rabbis, faith groups, tomato workers hold vigil at Publix Supermarket (photo: T'ruah)|
But much work remains to be done. Many grocery stores and restaurant chains are still purchasing tomatoes under the old conditions. The CIW and and the faith community believe the US Department of Agriculture should set an example by changing its purchase practices for the school lunch program and for market-stabilization efforts. "The US Department of Agriculture is a bellwether buyer, and as an agency of the federal government its purchasing practices should embody the highest standards for human rights,' reads a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The letter is available for everyone to sign