I made a pilgrimage yesterday to the supermarket that tries to serve the needs of local kosher consumers. The kosher meat supply is overwhelmingly…
…from Agriprocessors. So is the non-kosher beef.
Prices are high, but that is to be expected here because kosher food distribution has been controlled by a near-monopoly for many years. When I co-owned the local kosher meat market, deli and grocery store, the price I paid for wholesale Agriprocessors and Empire chicken was more than the retail price in St. Louis, Chicago, Miami, L.A. and New York – including Manhattan.
The owners of the kosher food distributorship were and are considered pillars of the Orthodox community. They give a lot of tzedaka (charity) – especially to the local haredi-controlled day school. That this tzedaka comes from price gouging doesn't seem to matter.
As I approached the meat section I ran into a friend who spends most of his time out of state. He was angered by the high prices and by the complete absence of Agriprocessors' non-glatt brand, David's.
Even though he knows about Agriprocessors' mistreatment of its workers, the more than 9000 child labor charges, the lies and the deceit, and even though he finds much of it appalling, his concern was cheap meat – not the human cost paid by the illiterate unfortunates exploited to produce it.
I can guarantee you he has not sent a check to the Postville food shelf. The thought probably never crossed his mind.
This doesn't make him a bad person; it makes him a typical consumer.
He saw some Meal Mart burgers. I told him about Alle's mistreatment of workers.
It all depends on how the competition treats its workers, he said. It's all relative – as if any number of wrongs somehow made the outcome right.
I told him International Glatt, located in the same block as Alle, pays far higher wages and gives full benefits. Alle gives no benefits. (The store doesn't carry any International Glatt products.)
He did not understand. I repeated it a second time. He seemed shocked.
After a moment or two of silence he resumed complaining about the price of beef and about the unavailability of Agriprocessors' non-glatt brand, just as if nothing happened.
We don't like to think about the true costs of our food: its large carbon footprint or the animal suffering and human exploitation that so often is part and parcel of what we eat.
There's nothing new in what I've just written, and that is the point.
Almost 10,000 counts of child labor violations, exploitation and abuse on near-slavery levels, and wanton violations of Jewish law have not changed anything.
On the ground, meat – not God – is king.
Scholars argue that Jewish laws governing food and humane treatment of workers and animals were largely meant to teach the sanctity of life and the need to treat others – including animals – fairly and with kindness.
Five and a half months after the latest Agriprocessors scandal broke, one thing should be clear: Jewish law has failed.
Does this mean God has failed?
Like it or not, the Jewish God is inseparable from professing Jews and the law they claim He designed. A black hat means God even if that black hat steals. That is what chillul Hashem, desecrating God's name, is all about.
When that black hat (or that knitted kippa) values a rib steak over the human lives or the animals abused in its production, that means God values that rib steak more than those humans or animals – and pointing out "holy" laws that are not followed or enforced doesn't change that very much.
When you buy an Agriprocessors' rib steak, you turn God into a slave owner, an exploiter of children, into a man who trades easier work for a blow job and a quick feel.
God the Exploiter: another gift from Agriprocessors to us all.