Watching another in a long line of cable TV food shows, I suddenly realized why these shows bother me.
The host was enthusiastically describing an entree: the beef fat, the meat, the butter and the spices the meat was cooked in, the cream and the other ingredients that made up the sauce.
And then it hit me.
I couldn't remember a time when this host or when the hosts of several other food shows I watch talked about the actual cost of our food: the impact its production and consumption has on our environment and our health; the suffering and abuse of the workers who pick, slaughter and butcher our food; and the often unimaginable pain and suffering our food production methods cause to to the farm animals we eat or whose byproducts we eat.
Food show after food show extols ever-increasing portion sizes and consumption based solely on whim and desire.
It's almost like our food comes with no added costs and no inherent suffering.
Similarly, lost in the minutia of kosher food law is a basic biblical moral lesson most of us, Jewish or not, Orthodox or not, don't seem to understand: all life – the lives of illiterate migrant farm workers, even animal life – is sacred and therefore must be our concern.
Kosher law mandates that no meat product be cooked with or consumed with dairy products. We are not even allowed to benefit from such mixtures without eating them, say by using them for a skin cream or by feeding our dog a cheeseburger.
The oldest Jewish traditions say that it is because cooking a young animal in the milk of its mother, the classic biblical presentation of this law and the basis for for the strict separation of meat and dairy products that observant Jews follow, is unimaginably cruel. It shows no respect for the life taken or for the surviving animal parent. And it makes us as human beings indifferent and insensitive to suffering.
Jewish law also forbids unnecessary cruelty to animals and the unnecessary taking of animal life, because even animal life is sacred.
And so are the lives of the migrant farm workers who work for minuscule wages in grueling conditions and the lives of slaughterhouse workers who are paid somewhat better than migrant farm workers but who work in extremely dangerous conditions.
Yet when wage theft, sexual abuse of workers, exceeding dangerous working conditions, and horrific animal abuse at Agriprocessors and Alle – then the two largest kosher meat producers in the world – was exposed, many ultra-Orthodox Jews responded by buying more, not less, meat from these producers.
The evidence against these kosher meat giants was view as an attack on the kosher slaughter method. The suffering of human beings and of animals made no impact at all.
This isn't a post about vegetarianism. You don't need to be a vegan or a vegetarian to be a good, moral person.
But there is something terribly wrong in televised monster steak eating challenges and hot dog eating contests and super-sized portions that are far larger than what we need – and often far larger than we can even eat. They dull us to the sacrifices and suffering that comes hand in hand with our meals.
Obviously, keeping kosher by itself does nothing to ensure our empathy or our concern – sadly, the scandals surrounding Agriprocessors and Alle proved that.
But the responsibility for this falls on all of us.
Eat what you need. Eat it without guilt. But by all means, find some way to eat it with the proper respect.
It's what we are expected to do.