A huge conflict has emerged inside the American Jewish community on the status of their kosher red meat. The first criminal indictments have emerged of the country’s largest kosher meat business, which involve the hire of undocumented immigrants who are minors. Accusations of abuses of both animals and people are widespread.

Now accusations of worker abuse are emerging at the next largest producer of kosher red meat.

With news emerging from the some of the most prestigious research bodies regarding the role of meat eating in 1/5th of the world’s global warming emissions (more than transportation emissions!), and all of the accompanying ramifications for plant, animal, and human life on earth, it raises even deeper questions about meat eating and religious values. It forces the question on the indirect relationship between eating a simple steak and the abuse of the planet and other people. If eating kosher meat is one ancient Jewish cultural value involving a series of rituals, many Jews are asking how well it balances with other Jewish ethical values involving kindness to animals, fairness to workers, and caring for the earth.

Writ large this is a fundamental choice facing tradional religious people across the planet that causes enormous conflicts. The fundamental choice is between religion whose priority is an ethical relationship with others versus religion whose priority is ‘my rituals come hell or high water’. It is a choice between religion that is fundamentally nonviolent and religion that is fundamentally violent, universal in the extension of much of its values, or deliberately ethnocentric or self-interested. Many wars around the world today are complicated by these choices.

Some religious people find a way to balance these two approaches, but increasingly, between the abuses of manufacturing and the abuses of the planet that are endemic to cow consumption, one wonders whether eating red meat will survive as something that a self-respecting citizen of the planet does.

© Marc Gopin