Posts Tagged ‘kashrut’

A number of issues have come up here that should be addressed. One is the greening of sacred spaces: synagogues, rabbinical schools, day schools etc. While universities with flexible (dare I say disposable?) budgets may be able to convince their board members that going green is the right thing to do, smaller institutions are harder to convince. The price of plastic cups is double that of Styrofoam. Of course, phasing out disposable items is better both economically and environmentally, it raises legitimate concerns regarding kashrut. The above example is more or less the scenario that took place at the Berg Cafeteria at the beautiful American Jewish University in Los Angeles. I was nothing short of appalled to discover that Styrofoam was being used. Because of the numerous lunch & learns (which provide the learn but not the lunch) and even required classes during lunch hours, I was no less appalled and profoundly disappointed to see rabbinical students taking food out in Styrofoam on a daily basis. It was saddening for me to realize that eco-radar of American Jewry (the spiritual/intellectual elite thereof) was so weak and compromised.

For the first few months, when I didn’t bring a lunch, I would eat in the cafeteria so as not to resort to Styrofoam. Eventually I realized that I was able to get food plated and then transfer it (ever so carefully) into a reusable container of my own. (Because of the Berg’s kashrut policy, they do not serve directly into reusable containers). I went to Rabbi Dorff, who oversees the kashrut of the Berg and he approved of the solution. The issue had been raised several times before and every solution (though no one had yet suggested this one) had been shot down; seemingly there was no choice but to use Styrofoam. Within weeks of proposing my solution, however, the Berg announced that they would be switching to biodegradable starch-based containers for take-out. Previously, the board had not approved of the increased costs that would accrue from such a switch, but someone decided it would be ok if the students absorbed costs. And we have; food is now slightly more expensive.

Even this solution has been challenged; it is known that, when ditched in a landfill, the starch based containers don’t actually biodegrade, but they do break down much faster than plastic or other materials (by hundreds of years). It has also been proffered that the recycled Styrofoam is actually not as harmful as one thought. Whether or not this is true, the fact remains that any disposable option is a half-assed solution at best. A real solution is finding a way to allow students to bring in reusable containers without sacrificing the integrity of the kashrut policy. Impossible though this may seem, harder feats have been accomplished.

This incident exposed the unwillingness of a Jewish institutional board to absorb the financial cost of going green, but at the same time raised a real question: Who is going to pay? You want green…what’s it worth to you? I go to Farmer’s Markets which abound in Los Angeles, and the price of apples at any of these markets is $2.50/lb. It’s more sustainable, the apples are all grown within 60 miles of my kitchen, or I could go to any supermarket supplied by industrial food-lords, trucked in from hundreds or thousands of miles away and it’s .70/lb. Where does ecological sustainability have to yield to economic sustainability. Throw in the Talmudic perspective: who do we think we are to ask people to cough up double, triple, quadruple the amount of money to feed themselves? The Rabbis always assumed an economy of scarcity, the halakhic solution is that which the poorest can afford. So, as much as we might hate to say it, that means Ralph’s apples for now.

I’d like to know what others think about this.

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