When I first set the goal of eating only humanely-raised and slaughtered animals, I naively thought that “kosher” would be my Semitic safety net. After all, the word itself has come to mean acceptable, legitimate, and authentic. A kosher seal assures that a set of ethical standards had been followed.
When I went to confirm my reasonable-seeming theory online, the first thing I saw was Jonathan Safran Foer’s If This Is Kosher. I had a feeling the rest of the news wouldn’t be good. I soon learned that kosher meat comes from the same CAFOs and slaughterhouses as all other factory-farmed meat, and that when it comes to animals, all kosher means is that the animal was killed by a pious Jew called a shochet using a rabbi-inspected blade.
The laws of kashrut (kosherness) come from a time before industrialized agriculture and the beef lobby. There were no government subsidies for cheap animal feed back then. There wasn’t even capitalism.
The tentacles of modern agribusiness reach deep. Despite the compassionate intention and humane spirit of the Jewish laws, no standards exist to ensure that kosher slaughter is any less cruel than conventional slaughter. Once any enterprise becomes a large industry, as the kosher food business has, original intentions are more likely to become compromised.