Hazon Book Club, Sukkot, the Farm Bill and the midterms

Thursday, September 20, 2018 | 11 Tishrei 5779

Dear All,

I hope you had a good and strong Yom Kippur.

Someone yesterday asked me: how do we take all this intensity and good intentions and vulnerability and desire to change and actually integrate that into our real lives?

And my immediate response – which, on reflection, I think was absolutely right – was that’s exactly what Sukkot is for.

Because here is this festival – Sukkot – which literally celebrates our new openness. Instead of just walling ourselves off from other people and other issues we open ourselves to our neighbors and the world around us. And now, instead of teshuva done in a necessarily heavy way – noting our failures, apologizing, promising to do better – now we have a sense of our best selves and so we do teshuva from a place of joy and celebration.

So – may your best intentions for yourself come to fruition. And if you fail – get back on the horse.

And that’s literally the perfect segue to two things.

First – the Hazon Book Club. I told you that for the first time ever we were inviting people to read a book together – Richard Powers’ The Overstory. It is an intense, beautiful, astonishing, remarkable novel. Excellent Sukkot / fall season reading. (Here’s the frontpage NYT review by Barbara Kingsolver which in my case I read only after I’d read the book, but which I commend if you’re interested.) I was thrilled that The Overstory has just been shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize. The prize is announced on October 16th, and we’re going to do our book club – via Zoom – from 8:30 to 10 PM EST on Wednesday, October 17th. Put this in your calendar – and do not try to read this book in 24 hours…

Here’s the other important and timely piece of teshuva – the Farm Bill and the midterms.
I asked Janna Siller, our Adamah Farm Director, to explain what’s happening.
Here’s what she wrote:

We head into Sukkot thinking about the Farm Bill – just like in 2012. Agricultural policy is tightly linked to climate change and to public health. The most recent Farm Bill, passed in 2014, was like all its predecessors a weird omnibus bill, whose impacts are vast and varied. It includes, on the one hand, huge support for agricultural systems that emit devastating amounts of greenhouse gases. It helps make many of our most accessible foods some of the least healthy ones. However, that same bill also includes federal programs that are designed to combat climate change through carbon sequestration while making fresh, organic fruits and vegetables more available to citizens of all income levels.

This giant piece of legislation that shapes our food system, with funding for everything from hunger relief to agribusiness subsidies, is currently set to expire on September 30th.

Members of Congress have had radically different takes on how a 2018 replacement Farm Bill should look, with many powerful legislators pushing to greatly reduce food stamp benefits for the economically disadvantaged, to eliminate conservation incentives for farmers and to de-fund programs that support organic growers, local food systems, and beginning farmers.

As we prepare to sit together in our sukkas and highlight the fruits of the earth, we invite you to participate in the process of legislating what kind of bounty may or may not be produced for us to share in our sukkas in coming years. If you want to stay up to date on policy shifts, we recommend the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) website.

But you don’t need to know all the ins and outs in order to call your legislators or sign on to this letter urging them to join the many in Congress working toward a brighter food system. Let them know that you’ll be paying attention to their actions around food system policy and that you hope they will support a 2018 farm bill that protects conservation programs and preserves SNAP benefits without added work requirements.

And to Janna’s comments I’d add: Voting in the midterm elections this November is crucial. In any race and at any level of government, (and with the Carolinas still underwater, and funerals of flood victims still underway) we should be voting for (a) whichever candidate seems to be most serious about environmental protection and (b) whichever candidate takes the need for sustainable food systems most seriously. Encourage all candidates to vote for farm policies that reduce the causes and mitigate the effects of climate change, incentivize farmers to prioritize the long-term health of our soils and bodies, and ensure that we all have enough healthy food to eat.

Here at Hazon, we have been taking stock and accounting for the environmental footprint of the farm products we consume. Practicing nutritional teshuva, we made groundbreaking new commitments to animal welfare with the help of the Jewish Initiative for Animals (JIFA) as featured in their latest newsletter. I write this right after the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco and the nationwide supporting events (in which Hazon took part in NYC), and right before next week’s NYC Climate Week, which I strongly commend.

Shabbat shalom, shana tova, and chag sameach,


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