This open letter focuses on Chabad food operations worldwide, with a proposal to adopt a meat reduction approach, and to incorporate more plant-based foods into the meals they serve worldwide to Jews and non-Jewish guests.
Good to know: This open letter does not suggest that the Chabad movement adopt vegetarianism or veganism.
First, I want to thank all the Chabad houses and emissaries who have welcomed me since I left the US in 2005. Thank you specifically to the Chabad houses with whom I have had personal contact: India, Democratic Republic of Congo, Switzerland, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal, and Puerto Rico (read about their relief efforts here).
The four most vital things Chabad has shared with me are:
- A space to pray
- A priceless sense of belonging to a global Jewish community
- Kosher food
- Access to their libraries
If you are reading this letter and do not know about Chabad’s impact, here are some astounding stats (all from Chabad.org)
- Chabad-Lubavitch is the largest and fastest growing Jewish organization.
- Today, 4,000 Chabad-Lubavitch emissary families, or shluchim, operate 3,500 institutions, in 100 countries, with activities in many more.
- Chabad on Campus provides services to students and faculty at 400 campuses, with 200 permanent campus centers.
- Chabad on Campus is active on dozens of campuses outside of the United States. Some countries include Canada, Israel, UK, Austria, Germany, France, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Russia, Argentina, China, and Australia.
Our 12-year (and still going strong) relationship really started in 2005 while I was volunteering in Chennai, India with the American Jewish World Service. I called Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg (may they RIP) at the Chabad house in Mumbai. They spoke with me and warmly invited me to Mumbai for the High Holidays. The experience of knowing I had a “Jewish home” wherever I was in the world made an impact on me.
When I moved to work in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from 2006-2008, my husband and I rented an apartment across the street from the Chabad house by coincidence (if there is such a thing) and our relationship got much more serious. We spent almost every Shabbat and holiday with the DRC Jewish community. My happiest memories of my time in DR Congo are of being at Shabbat dinners hosted by Rabbi Shlomo and Rebbetzin Miriam Bentolila.
Today, even though we live five hours away from the Chabad synagogue in Phnom Penh,Cambodia, we attend holiday services. Rabbi Bentzion and Rebbetzin Mashie Butman communicate with us regularly and send us Jewish props and books for holidays by taxi (I am serious, they really do this for us!).
During all these years, I read the following books (all of which I highly recommend):
I donate money to Chabad every year and I can honestly say that even though I am not transitioning to orthodox Jewish life, I appreciate and value Chabad’s mission and work. If I was writing on social media, I would write I 💗 Chabad. (FYI that is the “growing heart” Emoji).
I also have an appreciation for the thousands, maybe tens of thousands of kosher meals Chabad serves to guests, every week and all over the world. Chabad’s food service operation is an extraordinary logistical feat. It includes procurement and transport of kosher food worldwide, cooking huge quantities of food in their kosher kitchens, and feeding our global Jewish community in their dining rooms and restaurants.
Hence, Chabad’s food operation has a big impact on our health and environment because of the sheer volume of food and the number of people served. The food that Chabad’s choose to serve has an immediate and lasting impact on kosher animal husbandry and slaughter, our environment, and on our physical and spiritual well-being.
What Chabad might consider doing to use its incredible influence to support best practices:
- Serve more fresh vegetables and fruits.
- Serve more tubers, whole grains, and legumes.
- Serve less meat, dairy, eggs, highly processed foods, and less vegetable oil (including margarine and mayonnaise).
When serving meat or other animal proteins:
- Serve ethical kosher meat.
- Serve animal protein in only one course at each community meal. In today’s world, there is no need to have an animal protein appetizer and an animal product based soup and then an animal protein main course.
- Serve smaller portions of meat: If we focus on meat, fish, and dairy as condiments, not the focal point of the meal, we can serve smaller portions of animal products. As a guideline, no more than 4 oz (113 g) or less per meal.
- Consider preparing and hosting 1 vegan/vegetarian Shabbat dinner per month or quarter.
Why am I proposing these positive dietary shifts? Here are some benefits to eating plant-based food:
Benefit #1: Mood and Energy Levels
Ever notice how a few hours after you eat that cookie, your energy plummets and your mood worsens? Eating plant-based food can stabilize your mood and energy levels throughout the day.
Benefit #2: Environmental
Food consumption and agricultural practices impact the health of our environment, too. In particular, factory farming and other large-scale meat and dairy production contribute to climate change.
Benefit #3: Disease Prevention
Here’s a sample of the common health problems that can be prevented or improved when you eat a plant-based diet: diabetes, heart disease, obesity, acne, intestinal diseases, depression, fatigue, liver disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, and more.
The changes proposed may increase the joy of Chabad community meals while positively impacting tens of thousands of Jewish people and the environment, now and in the future.
Jewish Food Hero Founder
Your turn: In the comments, share other constructive ideas to improve our health and the environment.