Judaism in particular has turned the consumption of food into an act of prayer. Everything that can be consumed has a specific blessing before eating. Sharing meals as a family and as a community is a more intense form of prayer with blessings before and after the meal. The relationship between food and the human body dates back to the Book of Leviticus where the choice of food determined whether the priest was ritually pure or impure. This is the origin of kashrut.
Food is no longer merely a matter of personal choices and of prayer. The foods we choose to eat directly impact our carbon footprint. How we prepare, serve, and clean up from meals also impacts our carbon footprint. In the world of an escalating climate pandemic, our food choices must be carefully considered.
Potable water is disappearing around the globe. Toxic algae blooms are already afflicting freshwater lakes and ponds across North America, Europe and Asia, ruining local sources. Droughts have become so severe in Syria, Chad, Somalia, and Nigeria that whole populations are migrating, and wars are erupting. The reservoirs in Chennai, India, a city of eight million, went dry in the summer of 2019. How we use water will become an ever-escalating issue.
Beef production and consumption is the most carbon intensive industries in the food sector. Cattle require more acreage than most other agricultural food production combined. When grazing acreage is combined with the amounts of acreage necessary to livestock feed, the carbon footprint of beef production far exceeds all other food stuffs grown in the United States. Beef consumption in the United States needs to plummet 80 percent by 2030 to meet the most modest carbon reduction levels.
Synagogues must choose what will be served in the building. They must also choose what will be taught in classroom beyond kashrut. The following points need to examined by congregations and their memberships.
- Beef is the worst carbon-emitting food industry.
- Poultry, goats, and sheep have small footprints.
- Plants for food have the smallest footprint.
- Vegetables are the best choices for a carbon-neutral diet.
- Cooking v. raw is not an issue. In fact, the human body evolved long ago to take advantage of cooked foods.
- The more processed the food products are at point of purchase (frozen, canned, cooked), the worse the carbon footprint.
- Transportation of foodstuffs across long distances is a significant carbon-producing activity; local is better; community garden is best.
- Single-use plastic serving utensils and dinnerware are fossil fuel-derived products with an unusually high carbon footprint and are also landfill killers.
- Dishwashers are particularly efficient in both water usage and electricity.
- Commercial refrigerators are designed to be opened 100 to 150 times a day while maintaining a constant temperature. Their electric cost is one of the highest in any given building.