(Cross-posted on the Jew and the Carrot.)Although Israel has grown into a modern post-industrial economy, the country still has strong agrarian roots, most famously, the agricultural socialist community of the kibbutz.So it’s no surprise that the relatively minor Jewish festival of Tu B’shvat, which starts tonight, has been growing in importance. In recent years Tu B’shvat, the New Year of the Trees, has taken on a more ecological significance and represents an opportunity to reflect on one of today’s key environmental questions – the impact of what we eat on our environment.
In a special essay, Professor Richard Schwartz, author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, reflects on how this festival encourages a more sustainable outlook to our food. ”While other Jewish holidays honor or commemorate events and people, Tu B’Shvat honors trees, fruits, and other aspects of nature,” he explains. “While people generally take the environment for granted, on Tu B’Shvat there is an emphasis on the proper stewardship of the environment.”
One of the special things about the fruit and vegetables in Israel is that they are almost entirely locally-grown. In such a tiny country, it’s rare for anything to travel more than 100 miles from farm to fork (apart from a few foreign commodities like coffee). That’s fantastic compared to my native UK where most food is imported and the proportion of home-grown food is falling each year.
Whilst Israel’s self-sufficiency is an example to other countries – slashing pollution from transport and food storage – ‘food miles’ are not the end of the story. What about how the food is grown and the effects of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, or the health and welfare of farm animals and workers?
”While there has been increasing interest in Tu B’Shvat recently, this holiday that is so rich in symbolism and important messages for today is still not considered to any great extent by most Jews,” says Schwartz. “Let us hope that this will soon change and that an increased emphasis on Tu B’Shvat and its important lessons will help revitalize Judaism and help shift our precious, but imperilled, planet to a sustainable path.”
Green Prophet recommends:
:: Planting a tree for Tu B’shvat:: Resources for planning a healthy, sustainable Tu B’Shvat seder from our friends at Hazon.:: Thoughts on Tu B’shvat, by Richard H. Shwartz.::Judaism and Vegetarianism