Food: Our Connection to Torah and Today

Nigel Savage on the Jewish Food Movement

Written for Moment Magazine by Lucille Marshall

In the past ten years, the Jewish community experienced an expansion of Jewish farms, Jewish CSA’s, and Jewish agricultural education around the country. Many Jews have discussed Kashrut laws in terms of environmental sustainability; implemented energy-saving techniques in their synagogues; and volunteered in ecological restoration projects with their youth groups and summer camps. Food, the environment and its connections to Jewish tradition surround us. What do we call this recent development, and what does it mean for our future?

Nigel Savage, the president and founder of Hazon, calls it the Jewish Food Movement. Hazon is a nonprofit organization that works to promote healthy, sustainable communities in the Jewish world through bike rides, environmental education, food conferences and more.

“I went into Google this afternoon, and in quote marks I typed ‘Catholic Food Movement,’ and there was one hit. I typed ‘Christian Food Movement,’ and there were two hits,” Savage said last week at the Jewish Theological Seminary, during the kickoff event for Hazon’s new Jewish Environmental Ethics Series. “I typed ‘Jewish Food Movement,’ and there were 81,300 hits.”

Savage expressed his regard for the swift success of this movement, saying, “That ultimately is the measure of the way that the Jewish Food Movement has exploded over the last ten years.”

Hazon’s motto comes from a quote by Shlomo Carlebach: “The Torah is a commentary on the world, and the world is a commentary on the Torah.” From our current perspectives on Jewish tradition, the Jewish Food Movement is an exemplar of our present-day commentary on the world. While we are inspired by our Judaism to evoke change in our greater environment, our participation in the Jewish Food Movement also offers insight into the effects of today’s reality on our relationships to Jewish tradition.

“Many of the things that we think about and talk about in the Jewish community, in our own little bubbles, actually start to be much, much more significant when you step out and point them not at Jewish life, but at the greatest questions of our time,” said Savage.

The Jewish relationship with food reveals the Jewish relationship with today’s reality. Issues about halacha, civil and animal rights, communal support, inner-Jewish divisions, environmental ethics and responsibility and social equality are intertwined in the work of the Jewish Food Movement and its results.

Savage, the Hazon organization and the millions of Jewish Food Movement supporters internalize the influential depth of this recent progression in the Jewish community. Savage attributes the movement’s unstoppable success to his belief that the Jewish Food Movement embodies today’s Jewish spirit.

“Ultimately, we believe that we are heir to a tradition that is wise and humane,” said Savage, “and in profound ways speaks to many of the greatest issues of our time.”