A Day with Bill Clinton Brings Food Justice to the Fore
Two weeks ago, I got to hang out with President Bill Clinton and some of his staff members when he and his entourage made a campaign visit to Philadelphia. It was an incredible experience and a reminder that our political leaders are human – and as such, there’s much we can learn from them.
We’re in the midst of Passover, the point in the year when we Jews are at our most intentional about what we put into our bodies. With this in mind, one of the most eye-opening moments of the day, for me, was seeing firsthand President Clinton’s commitment to healthy eating on the campaign trail. As has been widely documented, President Clinton sticks to a vegan diet, eating wholesome meals even when he’s living in planes, cars, and hotels for weeks on end. The dedication required to maintain such high standards of tikkun midot, caring for oneself, when at home and in a routine is impressive enough, but President Clinton has taken it a step further. Lots of kavod (respect), Mr. President!
As someone who has struggled – even for a mere eight days of Passover – to adhere to the laws of kashrut, I am fascinated and inspired by President Clinton’s embrace of dietary restrictions for an indefinite amount of time. I can’t help but marvel at what a powerful statement such restrictions make about personal values, and to reflect on the way each component of our Passover diet speaks to our Jewish values – even if just for the week.
If being near President Clinton taught me anything, it’s that if you prioritize your values and are resolute in “walking the walk,” you can integrate them into your daily life – with a ripple effect that benefits a community larger than you can imagine. (That’s what I do every day in my job working for URJ Mitzvah Corps, where we strive to empower teens to weave social justice values into their lives in relevant, sustainable ways.)
It’s important to note that President Clinton’s diet of choice – as well as what we Jews work to achieve during Passover – is possible only to those of us who have the economic ability to travel longer distances and allocate more of our finances to obtain certain foods. The fight for food justice is about making these options – and in effect the ability to care for oneself in this way – accessible to people around the world. From seed planters to transporters and from local communities to the global one, my vow this Passover is to be intentional not only in what I eat but in the actions I can take to ensure that nutritious, sustainable food is available to all.
I’m not only committed to continuing this work beyond the holiday, but also to creating opportunities for others to engage in it. This summer, the first session of Mitzvah Corps Pacific Northwest will focus on urban farming. Jewish high school students will gather in Seattle to delve into food justice issues, and they’ll connect with individuals and organizations implementing innovative solutions to these challenges.
Who knows? Maybe if these teens somebody have a chance to meet President Clinton, they’ll mention how he’s inspired a generation of Reform Jewish teens to take action around food justice.