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Biblical Influences on Conservation: an Examination of the Apparent Sustainability of Kosher Seafood

Phillip S. Levin, NOAA Fisheries, Northwest Fisheries Science Center
Joel Azose, NOAA Fisheries, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Conservation Biology Division
Sean Anderson, Environmental Science and Resource Management Program, California State University Channel Islands


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As a response to widespread concern about the state of marine ecosystems and the perceived failure of existing policies, many organizations are developing market-based instruments that promote sustainability. Eco-standards such as shopping guides, eco-labels, and stewardship certifications are now commonplace. However, in many cultures dietary guidelines have existed for thousands of years, and anthropologists have argued that such dietary rules emerged to reduce environmental impacts by encouraging exploitation of productive species, increasing ecological efficiency, or decreasing harvest of apex predators. We explored some of the environmental consequences for marine and aquatic systems of one of the more familiar ancient dietary traditions, keeping kosher. We sampled nearly 4500 seafood items from 68 supermarkets and 112 restaurants. For each species, we determined whether the item was kosher or not and then estimated trophic level, food miles, energy consumption, and carbon dioxide emissions. Our results revealed that food miles, energy consumption, and CO2 emissions associated with transportation were all less for kosher than nonkosher seafood. In general, these differences could be mitigated by consuming only Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch “best” choices. On the other hand, although food miles, energy consumption, and carbon dioxide emissions associated with kosher seafood appears to be lower than nonkosher seafood, the potential trophic impact of kosher seafood appears to be greater than nonkosher selections. Our results highlight that even though the moral underpinnings of conservation and religion can be very different, careful scientific attention to the environmental costs and benefits of traditional foodways offers an important entry point for engagement with cultural practices and belief systems.

Key words

carbon footprint; conservation; eco-label; kosher; marine conservation; religion; sustainability

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087