Nothing says BBQ better than summer. But in today’s society, people are increasingly examining what they eat, especially when it comes to meat, questioning where and how their food is raised, slaughtered and prepared. Jews can struggle with even more questions. Did our forebearers think about organics? Or whether animals were grass-fed? How does the ancient tradition of Kashrut fit into current food practices?
Reboot’s Kibitz podcast takes listeners through the complex questions of what we, as Jews, are inheriting and what we are going to do about it as we face new concerns about health and our responsibilities for sustainability and humane practices.
In three episodes focusing on “noshing,” Kibitz podcast host Dan Crane, whose most vivid childhood memories are of his father coming home late at night from the Denver BBQ joint that he owned and enshrouding him in thick cloud of hickory smoke as he tucked Crane back in bed, asks whether kosher meat is more humanely raised and slaughtered than non-kosher meat, how to know whether the eggs you’re buying are from humanely-raised chickens, or if Jews should even eat meat at all.
“Like any good Jew, I worry about the meat that we are all eating. And I’m certainly not the first to sound an alarm bell that the way we are raising and killing food is not only bad for the animals, it is bad for us…antibiotics, growth hormones,” host Crane says. “Should we even be able to buy an entire rotisserie chicken for $4.99? Sure they are delicious but what are we really eating. I wondered what the Jewish angle was on this.”
In Episode 9, our intrepid guide takes listeners inside Teva Foods, one of the few remaining kosher slaughterhouses in the Los Angeles area and through the kosher slaughter process, designed to minimize the trauma to the animal and overseen by a rabbi.
But Crane learns that the kosher designation means nothing about how the animal was raised.
Crane doesn’t leave listeners there. He helps guide them beyond the question of what we as Jews are inheriting to get to ask what we are going to do about it. He talks with Yadidya Greenberg, a Jewish animal welfare advocate with the Jewish Initiative for Animals, an organization that works to increase popularity and availability of higher welfare kosher meat. A former child kibbutznik in Israel with a close relationship to the farm animals there, Greenberg resolved to reconcile the issues around factory farming, the mistreatment of animals and his adult Kashrut practice.
“There is a (Jewish) law…which basically says you cannot cause undue suffering, unnecessary suffering, to animals. Then there are the laws of kosher, kosher slaughter, kosher slaughtering. Those laws are talked about in separate places,” Greenberg told Crane. “These modern day industrial slaughterhouses are not breaking kosher laws by using factory farms. They are still kosher as long as they are processing everything according to the law. Now the thing is that that doesn’t always mean that what they are doing is humane.”
His point is that the production of meat is more than just the final step and as consumers in general have started to pay more attention to animal treatment - from pasture raised to grass-fed to organic - more observant Jews are left in a quandary. Do they give up on Kashrut, eat vegetarian or put aside their concerns?
Crane finds KOL Foods, the only mail-ordered purveyor of organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed kosher beef in the United States. In 2007, founder Devora Kimelman-Block started KOL Foods because people wanted to know the farmer and be assured the animals were raised without antibiotics, she tells Crane.
Crane is not alone in his meat concerns, which he discovers in conversation with podcast regulars comedian Moshe Kasher and his brother Rabbi David Kasher in Episode 6.
“Every dietary choice is based on a decision that you’ve made about what is the moral choice, the moral right. And I don’t know if it is morally right to not eat cheeseburgers. I don’t necessarily think it is not morally right to not eat cheeseburgers. But it does seem that there is a powerful voodoo and magic in infusing your diet with identity and tradition,” said comedian Moshe Kasher, who eats a modified kosher diet (he eats out in restaurants but does not eat pork and other restricted foods).
Indeed, Jewish tradition and culture around food go beyond Kashrut. In Episode 7 (part two), Crane speaks with deli aficionado David Sax, author of, “Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen.”
He says the Jewish deli evolved in each area based on circumstances. In each community’s deli, the taste, the dishes, the layout, the atmosphere really is shaped by how that community evolved, including climate, economics, and real estate. While the origins are in the food of the Ashkenazi diaspora in Eastern Europe, each area’s specialty is a kosherized version of the local cuisine, Sax said. The deli continues to evolve to this day with a new generation, including Wise Sons in San Francisco, Mile End in New York, Langer’s in Los Angeles and Mogg in Berlin.
“The growth of slow food, the growth of pickling, all this fit into the natural strength of the Jewish deli, so all of a sudden it went from being perceived as something that was tired or outdated to being perceived as something that was in the center of the zeitgeist,” Sax said.
Crane doesn’t have all the answers, he says. But toward the end of his tour of Teva Foods, he looks down and notices a side of beef and thinks that it looks like a “fresh, beautiful looking steak” that would be “pretty tasty.”
“Does that make me a terrible person? Probably,” he says. “But I like to think that at least knowing where our meat comes from is at least a step closer to the right direction.”
Listen to all the Kibitz Podcast episodes at http://www.kibitzpod.com/.