By: Brett Cassette

If you’ve eaten at the KOVE, Dickinson’s new Kosher-Vegan dining option, you’ve likely noticed that the plateware is biodegradable, and you may have also noticed that you must be served on the bioplates, no questions asked, period. Already have a plate with food? Sorry. You must use the KOVE plate. 

The choice to use all bioplates represents a relatively fair, although, I would argue, ultimately damaging, ethical compromise between a Jewish food ethic and a sustainable environmental ethic. The dilemma with serving a student who already has food on their plate is that if the kosher serving utensil were to touch a non-kosher food item, the serving utensil would therefore be rendered unkosher, and thus everything served from that point on would not meet the standards set forth by kashrut. The cafeteria workers can’t very well check every item on a student’s plate to see whether or not it’s kosher; lines in the caf are already long enough during peak hours, and it seems therefore like a relatively pragmatic solution has been implemented. In fact, when I asked professors at the recent Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Conference about how they might implement a kosher program at their own colleges, the resounding answer was for bioplates.

However, the question remains, is this actually the best solution? The environmental issue remains that, while biodegradable plates create less waste with the proper infrastructure than disposables (bioplates must be composted, not recycled), the amount of resources and energy invested in the creation of an item that is only used once cannot be discounted. Of course, Dickinson takes care of the composting for us, so we don’t have to question whether or not the current system is having the intended outcome—the bioplates have been used in the Quarry for as long as I’ve been matriculated and I agree with the choice since it seems unfair to ask Quarry workers to carry stacks of used plates across the street to the caf for cleaning in the middle of February.

Yet, where it is possible for change, we should fight for it. Kashrut could still be observed if a piece of KOVE salmon were flipped onto my non-KOVE plate, so long as the utensil doesn’t touch my plate. All this change would require is proper training of the staff. Proper training as a trade-off for a significant environmental benefit seems like a no-brainer, and I ask you, why does the KOVE refuse to do it? (I have explained the situation to them already).

The answer is: it’s a top-down solution. The company that runs the KOVE will not allow them to implement this “proper training” method, in large part because there aren’t many students demanding the change. 

We have to fight these battles, especially when they’re so easy. If everyone said something to the KOVE about this, I’m certain we could make the change.

And so I put the ball in everyone’s court, especially the Jewish community. I urge you to read my other article (p. 4) on Jewish Environmental Ethics. Jewish tradition prohibits waste, so is this really kosher? Isn’t this waste unnecessary when the change is so simple? 

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