After a recent Torah-study class where we learned Parashat Bo (Exodus: 12), I stepped into an inviting grocery store suffused with the mixed aromas of coffee, fruit, cheeses, exotic spices and more. Everything looked beautiful. But then I noticed a man in an employee’s uniform take ten large pears, put them in a plastic bag, walk to a trash bin and start to throw them away. What a horrible job, I thought, to throw away food.
So, I asked the man why he was throwing away the fruit. Gently he thrust one pear before my eyes and said “no good.” With his other hand, he pointed to a few brown spots. Then he asked, “Do you want?” I said “yes” and told him, if possible, I would like to take the whole bag. He agreed, I thanked him, took the pears, and left the store.
All that waste
As I walked away, I thought about all the waste and damage this little scene represented – the waste of the land on which the pear trees grew; the waste of the water used to nourish the pears; the waste of the labor of the workers who picked and packed the pears where they had been growing; the waste of time to unpack, display and then throw away the pears; the damage of the carbon footprint left from shipping the pears and bringing them to stores; and probably much more.
I also realized, of course, that my observations are not new and that many organizations have been created to stop the waste. For example, twenty years have passed since Joseph Gitler created Leket, Israel’s leading food rescue organization, serving 175,000+ needy people weekly. But what was new for me was the connection to the last few lines of Parashat Bo, which I had just studied.
There God instructs the Israelites to take an unblemished lamb and sprinkle its blood over the doorposts of their houses so that God will know it is an Israelite home. Not any lamb, but an unblemished lamb. I was already disturbed by the fact that for a Jew to be a Cohen who could perform a sacrifice, he could not have a blemish [Lev. 22]. The idea of labeling some people as blemished led me straight to thinking about the Holocaust and Nazism’s concept of the perfect Aryan.
We all know that many grocery stores discard perfectly good, nutritious, delicious, and healthy fruits and vegetables because most customers won’t eat anything with even a micro-blemish. This idea is as old as the Torah, if not older, and permeates contemporary societies as well millennia later. We want perfection in our bodies, our skin and hair, the condition of our teeth, our nails, our partners, our children, the appearance of our cars, our homes and more. That wish is a major driving force of national economies.
Orange on the seder plate
As a Jew, I would like to suggest something else that might help; not a new organization or a new law. Instead, I suggest something similar to the feminist practice initiated by Susannah Heschel of putting an orange on the seder plate as a reminder of discrimination against lesbians and gays. Those original oranges were highly visible, provoking people to ask a new question at Pesach: “What is an orange doing on the seder plate?” In that vein, I propose that we add a piece of blemished food to our Shabbat and holiday tables.
Remember all the blemished people and animals
Then children and guests can ask “Why do we have a blemished tomato [or piece of cheese or fruit, etc.] on the table next to the candles, wine and challah?”
And we can answer: “This piece of food is here to remind us to stop throwing away slightly blemished food and to remember all the `blemished people and animals,’ in the Torah and in our world today.” And let us say, “Amen.”
cover illustration by Françoise Nick
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