Food in the News‎ > ‎

Tuv Ha'Shavuah Article -- July 8, 2010

One Step Beyond Fair Trade

There’s been a lot written about fair trade and Judaism recently.  As we awaken, as a community, to the justice issues which surround the food we eat and the way we consume, it’s more or less a natural segue to begin also to ask questions about the justice of its production.

In England, where I come from, the voices of various denominations of the Jewish community came together in a document produced by Poppy Berelowitz - A Jewish Guide to Fair Trade ( ) which is packed with information about the subject.

A year or so ago, I asked myself the question of whether there is a halakhic duty to purchase fairly traded produce.  The answer turned out to be rather more complicated than I originally anticipated, but it turns out that yes, if the fairly traded produce is no more expensive than the alternative we have a duty under Jewish law to purchase it.  (The teshuvah is at ).

So on various counts, we should be keeping our eyes open for fairly traded produce.

But I want to suggest a new piece of terminology.  To my regret, I can’t remember where I first heard this.  It may have been from the excellent A. Karno of Groundworks Coffee in Los Angeles  (whose company is a shining example of the genre). The term is, ‘relationship trading.’

Relationship trading means that we personally know who is responsible for our food.  The idea is that not only do we shorten the chain between us and those who produce what we eat, but we are able to name them, see their faces. 

A wonderful example of this is a project by Hazzan Mike Stein of Temple Aliyah in Los Angeles.  Based on his personal relationship with now-Rabbi Gershom Sizomu of the Abuyadaya people in Uganda, and his brother J J Keki, who grows vanilla, Mike arranged for the literally tons of vanilla beans produced by a co-operative of Jewish, Muslim and Christian farmers to be shipped to New Jersey to be used in the production of kosher food.  The money goes straight back to J J and his co-operative, to support educational and construction projects in the immediate community.  And on the way, Mike learned a good deal about organic certification, kosher certification, fair trade certification and other such.

But it doesn’t have to be so complicated.  Setting up a CSA, meeting our farmers, talking to them about the ebbs and flows they encounter in producing what we eat, getting together with them to celebrate - all of that is an accessible example of relationship trading. 

As well as saying a brakhah as we bite into whatever good thing our CSA has brought us this week, may I just suggest that we take a moment to envision the people who brought us what we are holding, and acknowledge the way we are connected to them?  Because if we do, we add a further sacred dimension to our eating.

Rabbi Deborah Silver
Adat Ari El, Valley Village, CA