The Ban on Tereifah

Parashat Mishpatim includes a very curious law about eating meat.

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Allegations Against Agriprocessors

This hit home for the Jewish community recently, when the kosher meat industry--long thought to be a model of humane slaughter--came under fire due to allegations that Agriprocessors, the largest producer of kosher meat in the U.S., was abusing animals in its factory. In addition, animals brought into this plant and others like it come from feedlots, where the cattle are raised in overcrowded, extremely unhealthy and unsanitary conditions with severe consequences to the well-being of the animals and the surrounding environment.

The ethical treatment of the workers involved in producing our food is another area of great importance to ethical eating. Serious violations of this principle pervade the food industry, and especially the farming sector. Trade agreements between the U.S. and Mexico have made subsistence farming financially untenable for many Mexicans, leading over 3 million to come each year to work harvesting in U.S. fields. They work in poor conditions for miniscule wages, frequently working up to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, without access to basic facilities. Allowing these abuses undermines our humanity and the commitment to holiness enjoined by this commandment.

Addressing these and other injustices is challenging, given how far removed we often are from our sources of food. But there are things we can do to ensure that our consumption is consistent with the standard of holiness called for in Parashat Mishpatim. For example, meat that has been raised and slaughtered humanely is increasingly available, and several companies, including KOL Foods, provide such meat with kosher certification. We can also purchase produce that was grown and harvested in a manner consistent with ethical employment practices. Several initiatives, including Hechsher Tzedek and Tav HaYosher are working to publicly identify products and service providers that comply with high ethical standards in the treatment of their workers.

Through these and other measures, we can express the holiness imbued in each of us, and use it to infuse our humanity into the food we consume.

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Aviva Presser Aiden

Aviva Presser Aiden is a student at Harvard Medical School. She co-founded Bears Without Borders, an organization fostering economic opportunities among developing-world artisans, and is co-founder and CTO of Lebone, a social enterprise developing microbial fuel cells as an off-grid energy and lighting solution for Africa.