The question appears to be extremely amorphous and requires definition and clarification in order that one can address it substantively. What constitutes “food wastage”? And what is the interplay between Shabbat meal preparation and “food wastage”?
Looking at “food wastage” in its most literal sense, i.e., destroying it for the sake of being destructive, a central concept in Jewish tradition is referred to as “Bal Tashchit” (do not destroy). It is based upon Deuteronomy 20:19-20 where the Tora states that fruit trees should not be destroyed if one’s need for wood can be satisfied by obtaining wood from less productive sources, such as non-fruit producing trees. By extension (RaMBaM, Mishneh Tora, Hilchot Melachim 6:10) other categories of waste and destruction are prohibited based upon logical extrapolation from the source in Deuteronomy, including “one who destroys food for the sake of engaging in vandalism/destruction”. A subcategory of “Bal Tashchit” that applies specifically to food is known as “Bizui Ochlim” (the disparagement of food) that raises concerns with respect to how food is generally handled, aside from its consumption (Aruch HaShulcha, Orech Chayim 171:1). Consequently, to discard extra food instead of finding productive ways to use it, e.g., leftovers for future meals, contributions to food banks, looking for needy individuals who could benefit from it, share it with friends and neighbors, etc., would be duly prohibited, regardless of whether it was prepared for Shabbat or not. However, if an individual prepares food with the reasonable intention and expectation that his family and guests will consume all of it, and during the course of the meal food is handled respectfully and carefully, even if in the end some relatively insignificant amount is discarded, this would hardly constitute a violation of “Bal Tashchit.”
Approaching the issue more subtly, some might associate “food wastage” with preparing more food than those eating “need” in terms of nutrition and satiation. Furthermore, it could be maintained that food that is not healthy is “wasted” when served to people who would do better without consuming such substances both in a qualitative and quantitative sense. But it must be emphasized that with respect to Shabbat meals, Jewish tradition (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayim 250:2) calls upon the observant individual to make his Shabbat meals distinctive and therefore readily identifiable in terms of food and drink in comparison to the type and number of courses that typify how he eats during the week. Naturally there is never an excuse to conduct oneself like a drunkard and/or a glutton. Nevertheless, in order to fulfill the dimension of Shabbat called “Oneg Shabbat” (enjoyment of Shabbat), it is expected that one would acquire, prepare and consume more and better food than he does ordinarily. But “more” is a relative term, and will vary from family to family dependent upon what the community standards are as well as the financial situation of the individual in question. As in so many areas of Jewish law and life, balance, RaMBaM’s “Shevil HaZahav (golden path/mean) (Hilchot De’ot 2:2) is the true goal, and this applies as much to food consumption as other things.
The area of Jewish life that seems to me to be most problematic in terms of “Bal Tashchit” and “Bizui Ochlim” is when festive meals, including on Shabbat, are catered for large numbers of people. Inevitably extremely large amounts of food are allowed to go to waste. Perhaps, as in other contexts, people when they are in a private setting, are more careful regarding how they relate to food, i.e., how much do they take, how much of what they took is actually eaten, what happens to the extra food at the end of the event, etc. The anonymity that accompanies large groups of people appears to desensitize individuals regarding their responsibilities in all sorts of areas, including how they treat food, and this is an area that could benefit from some creative thinking in order to try to at least lessen if not eliminate the amounts of waste and disrespectful behavior that are generally involved.
Overall, I substantively agree with Rabbi Bieler.Our tradition certainly prohibits the intentional wasting of our natural resources.And as he noted, we are particularly careful with food to try to find a use for any leftovers so that as little food as possible is discarded.Yet, Shabbat and other festival meals are supposed to be celebratory and special. So larger varieties of food do get served and portion sizes tend to be larger, which I think is OK. The gray area here is what is the limit?I think your question brings up the point that we have to be mindful of that line between enhancing a meal appropriately for Shabbat and going too far.More is not always better. Thanks for asking the question.
It is absolutely appropriate to consider food wastage and socio-cultural practices in preparing Shabbat meals.What is Shabbat if not an opportunity to live at our highest and to evaluate our week’s work and or movement toward the week to come?What better way to say thank you to the Universe or Divine power or the planet than by consciously preparing sustainable, healthy meals for the day of rest.
Judaism is a diverse set of practices and beliefs and has evolved throughout the centuries.Our ability to adapt and change, based on cultural learnings, has helped Judaism thrive and helped Judaism find relevancy for its members and the larger world. Nothing Jewish started as Jewish.We have, like all religious communities, adapted the culture around us to fit our teachings and our style.
Soup with dumplings is European, bagels…Polish, the standard melody for Shema (our central creed, if we had a creed) comes from High German church organ music, and the whole style of public prayer in western modern Synagogues is modeled after European Protestant Christianity.
And then there is kashrut (keeping kosher).Eco-Kosher, developed through Reconstructionist Jewish teachers, has been around as a concept only for several decades, but its origins are biblical.Using the whole animal in the meal before leaving Egypt is part of our Passover story. Offering healthy fruits and animals for meal sacrifices is part of Levitical culture. And, raising herds without blemish (clean and healthy) is a mandate for offering them as sacrifices.
Maybe, if we were more conscious about our food choices for Shabbat and other holidays, and didn’t rely on cultural norms for food, that really only date back several hundred years or less, more people would be attracted to our Shabbat tables.With locally sourced, organic, healthy, and sustainable portions, everyone could eat at our table and we could teach about the gift of the bounty of the earth and the blessing of farmers and of those who cook the food we eat. We could teach about feeding the hungry and balance.We could remind people that Torah teaches real lessons for today as a living life text.And our food ethics would ultimately reinforce our beliefs.Imagine that Shabbat table!
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