The problems with the Lubavitch

Kosher meat…they should be ashamed
June 16, 2008, 8:42 pm
Filed under: Ethics | Tags:

Eating Ethically

The publication of Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America in 2000 by Professor Stephen Bloom of the University of Iowa put the town of Postville (population: 1,478) on the national radar. Eight years later, it’s again garnered national attention with the federal raid on May 12th on the Lubavitch-run AgriProcessors kosher slaughterhouse in Postville. The presence of illegal and under-age workers were the precipitating factors for the government’s intervention– 389 Mexican workers were arrested, 200 were sentenced and the rest were to be deported.

In the intervening days, there’s been a weird split in response within the Jewish community. Whereas some have been calling for a boycott of meat processed from this company’s plants—Rubashkin, Aaron’s Best, and David’s brands — as promoted by the year-old Orthodox social justice group, Uri L’Tzedek, Hebrew for “To Awaken to Justice,” others have refused to take notice. As reported in the New York Jewish Week [5/30/08], the owner of Glatt Mart in Flatbush, Brooklyn– which sells some 75,000 pounds of meat monthly– claims that not one customer has asked which meat is Rubashkin’s!

This time we’re not talking about the ethics of killing animals for food. As Fuchsia Dunlop pointed out in her new book, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, “In English, as in most European languages, the words for the living things we eat are mostly derived from the Latin anima, which means air, breath, life. ‘Creature,” from the Latin for ‘created,’ seems to connect animals with us as human beings in some divinely fashioned universe. We too are creatures, animated. In Chinese, the word for animal is dong wu, meaning ‘moving thing.’ Is it cruel to hurt something that (unless you are a fervent Buddhist) you simply see as a ‘moving thing,’ scarcely even alive?”

The chef Dan Barber has attempted to minimize the distance his meat travels by building his own artisanal slaughterhouse on the grounds of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture near Tarrytown, New York. While tours are conducted of this teaching farm, the slaughterhouse is now off-limits to the public, because Barber doubts that “his organic-friendly clientele truly understands about what goes on at a farm.” [New York Times, 6/6/08]

This week, the food writer Mark Bittman published an article on how to reduce our meat intake, “Putting Meat Back in its Place.” [New York Times, 6/11/08] If kosher meat will be in short supply because of AgriProcessors’ woes, it’s time to think outside of the meat-for-Shabbat-and-Yom-Tov box. [In the interest of full disclosure: I’ve been vegetarian since I was 16.] However, I urge people to think of the bigger issues of labor (and animal) malpractice as displayed in the AgriProcessors plant. In the words of philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Few may be guilty, but we are all responsible.”


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