Activist Steven Sprinkle of The Food and The Cook restaurant in Ojai pointed to Leviticus 19:19: Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woolen come upon thee. "It's right there in Leviticus -- GE [genetically engineered] food is not kosher!" he said, in frustration.
Sprinkle, who will speak at the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) Conference March 14-17 at Camp Ramah in Ojai, has dedicated his life to spreading the word about GE food, one of the hot topics of the new millennium.
Atlantic char, Sprinkle said, is used genetically to aid strawberry growth. He said the gene allowing char to exist in subfreezing water is implanted into strawberries to make them immune to frost.
Although this might not seem so egregious, Sprinkle said, the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency or the Food and Drug Administration have never tested GE food on livestock or humans can make someone nervous.
Sprinkle will be on a panel titled, "The Future of Food: Creating Alternatives to Industrial Agriculture in North America," scheduled March 14 at 9 a.m. With him will be Paul Herzog and Jim Churchill, two Jewish farmers from Ojai. Herzog organically farms with Sprinkle and will speak about community-supported agriculture. Churchill will discuss the program he started with Pat McCart Maloy to furnish locally grown produce to area schools.
The event is expected to draw Jews, religious leaders and environmentalists from around the country and overseas. The program will explore the connections between Judaism and the environment, teach about cutting-edge technologies and develop skills for organizing and implementing programs.
A silent Shabbat hike is planned for those seeking spiritual solace, an event spokesman said. In addition, there will be Jewish dancing, drumming and kosher wine tasting.
"The thing I like best about these retreats is the sense of shared purpose and fellowship," said David Rosenstein, director of COEJL of Southern California (COEJLSC). "These environmental issues are so large and so pressing ... that there is a real sense of renewal to spend time with people who share the same purpose and vision."
The COEJLSC-sponsored workshop, "Regional Challenges, Global Implications," will cover key environmental issues put forth by California environmentalists. One such issue is a state Assembly bill proposing that California sign the Kyoto Protocol, reducing CO2 emissions. Another measure, proposed by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), pushes for zero-emission automobiles.
Rosenstein said the impact of Jewish and other faith-based environmental groups cannot be underestimated. He cited the fact that Carl Pope, national director of the Sierra Club, will be giving the event's keynote speech.
"What's interesting is he's a person in demand all over the country," Rosenstein said, "but he's taking the time to come to 200 Jews in Ojai, because mainstream environmental organizations have seen the power and importance of faith communities in forwarding the environmental agenda.
"The fact is that the environmental crisis is really a spiritual crisis," Rosenstein continued. "It's really about our relationship to the planet and other living things. It's about our patterns of consumption, and it's about how satisfied we are, as human beings, with material things or nonmaterial things."
For more information about COEJL's Mark and Sharon Bloome Jewish Environmental Leadership Institute, visit: www.coejl.org .