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JIFA Billboard Campaign Asks: Is This Kosher?

The goal of the campaign, launched by the Jewish Initiative For Animals (JIFA), is to raise awareness and spark conversations about the food we eat. 
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April 26, 2023
Photo by Jonathan Bernhard

On April 17, ten billboards went up around Los Angeles, asking the question: “Is This Kosher?”

The goal of the campaign, launched by the Jewish Initiative For Animals (JIFA), is to raise awareness and spark conversations about the food we eat. 

JIFA’s mission is to help align people’s food choices with their stated Jewish values, so they partner with synagogues, day schools, federations, JCCs and other organizations to educate, inform and help change how they can serve their communities. 

“We’re not saying that it all has to be all plant-based,” Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard, executive director, Jewish Initiative For Animals, told the Journal. “We want the Jewish community to ask itself, ‘Is the food that we’re serving, is the way these animals are treated, is this really kosher?”

There are three versions of the billboards. One has a chicken looking at a bowl of chicken matzo ball soup and says, “Chicken soup? More like discomfort food.” Another, with a cow on one side and a sesame bagel with cream cheese on the other, says “That schmear? It’s udderly suspect.” The third, with fish opposite a plate of lox,says “Noshing on Lox? Something’s fishy about that.”

“We want people to realize that there are ways forward, and in fact, their actions matter.” 

– Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard

“We’re not interested in making people feel bad,” he said. “We want people to realize that there are ways forward, and in fact, their actions matter.”

The billboards direct people to IsThisKosher.org, where there’s information on the animal welfare issues surrounding factory farms and climate and personal health impacts, as well as positive steps people can take to align their food choices with their Jewish values.

“We are focusing on Los Angeles as a pilot program for a variety of reasons,” Bernhard said. “Among them [are] the role of food in the city’s culture, the rise of plant-based food here and the nature of the Jewish community itself, which has often shown itself as [being] open and willing to explore.”  

Bernhard said they want to raise awareness about what occurs behind the scenes. Their contention is that the word “kosher” is being used to mislead consumers about how the animals they eat are treated.  

“Ninety-nine percent of all the beef, dairy and eggs that we get in the supermarket comes from factory farms,” he said. “They’re treated in these factory farms just the way every other animal is treated. They’re sent off to be slaughtered in the kosher slaughterhouse, and then they get the label ‘kosher’ on it.”

Bernhard said when people hear the word ”kosher,” more than half of them think that it automatically means the animal has been treated humanely. And it’s not true.

This is not just a discussion about the food on the plate, Bernhard said. “This is also a matter of how we approach ourselves, how we approach our community, how we live and walk our Judaism in a way that brings holiness into the world,” he said.

JIFA is not a vegan organization. “We do not promote veganism as the only way forward,” Bernhard said. “When we start working with community institutions, if they invite us in, and assuming that we are good partners, our goal is to change their food policy or to help them change their food policy.”

Photo by Jonathan Bernhard

The organization was launched as the centerpiece of Farm Forward’s religious outreach. In 2016, it revived nonfactory farmed kosher heritage chickens, and began training educators and designing the animal welfare audit section of a LEED-style certification. As their work has unfolded, JIFA has focused on educating the Jewish community, enlisting hundreds of rabbis in the fight against kosher humane-washing and consulting with Jewish organizations throughout the country on their food policies.

“Our goal is to either have Jewish institutions reduce the amount of animal products they use or even go what we call, ‘default veg,’” Bernhard said. 

What is “default veg?”

When you order a latte at Starbucks, they put in cow’s milk; that’s the default. If you ask for oat milk, they will charge you 85 cents for it. 

Bernard asks, what if they were reversed?

“We have done enough research to know that if you put all the plant-based stuff first and have that primary, and you put the meat stuff at the end as an option, more people [will choose veg], especially in the day and age that we’re in,” he said.

This has to do with climate impact, as well as living your values. 

“We can show every meal how much water you’re saving by going plant-based,” Bernhard said. “Our feeling is that people will groove to that. So if you give them more plant-based options, they’ll eat more plants.”

To learn more, go to IsThisKosher.org.

Garden Tempeh Salad

With the bold flavors of kosher dill pickles and stone-ground mustard often found in a tuna salad, this soul satisfying protein-rich dish is made with tempeh, a soy protein from Indonesia. For best results, chill for 30 minutes or longer before serving. Serve buffet style garnished with minced fresh parsley, stuffed in tomatoes or bell peppers, or as a spread in sandwiches and wraps.

Yield: 9.5 cups
Serves: 10-12
Preparation time: 60 minutes

Ingredients
2 pounds soy tempeh, quartered
1 ½ cups kosher dill pickles, cut into small
dice
1 ½ cups celery, cut into small dice
1 cup red onion, cut into small dice
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
2 ½ cups vegan mayonnaise (Vegenaise
original recommended)
¼ cup soy sauce, or to taste
2 Tbsp stone-ground mustard
4 tsp apple cider vinegar, raw
1 tsp garlic, minced
½ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp sea salt, or to taste

  1. Place tempeh in a steamer basket in a 3-quart pot and steam for 10 minutes.
  2. Chop tempeh into 1/8-inch square pieces. Combine with remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix well.

Variations
– Replace the tempeh with cooked and mashed chickpeas.
– For a tuna-free melt, top with vegan cheese and bake at 350°F until cheese melts.

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