Getting Close to Your Food Is Harder when Meat Is Involved

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On Monday, Sue Fishkoff wrote about people who only keep kosher on holidays. She is the author of Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority
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The first time I had my hands inside a still-warm turkey, I wondered just how far I was willing to take this business of getting up close and personal with my food.

I was at an organic turkey farm an hour and a half north of San Francisco with two dozen other volunteers on a wet, cold winter morning in December 2008, preparing what would become the main entrée for the Hazon Food Conference’s Shabbat dinner later that week. We stomped around in the drizzle and fog, as organizer Roger Studley explained what we were about to do.

“We’re doing this old-school and hands-on,” he stated. “We’re doing it as a community, making meat for the conference we are about to attend. This is a project bringing us closer to the source of the food we are eating, making real the fact that we are taking the lives of animals in order to sustain ourselves.”

The annual Hazon conference is the preeminent national gathering of activists in the new Jewish food movement, a growing family of mainly younger Jews who want to make food choices that are in line with Jewish values as well as their moral and political beliefs concerning workers’ rights, good health, humane treatment of animals, environmental protection, and food access for the poor. This laundry list of concerns makes it difficult to

feed a conference of 600 hungry people, something the organizers discovered earlier that summer when they debated whether to include meat at all for a gathering that typically includes so many hardcore vegetarians.

The choice was made — Shabbat isn’t Shabbat without the option of a roast bird — so there we were, watching shochet Andy Kastner grab the first turkey and slit its neck with a quick back-and-forth motion of his carefully sharpened knife.

Kastner was still in rabbinical school — he’s now the Hillel rabbi at Washington University in St. Louis. I’d met up with him a few months earlier at a kosher goat slaughter in a Connecticut field, and he’d shared his thoughts as he skinned and eviscerated his first mammal. It was, he admitted, not an easy experience.

Posted on November 3, 2010
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