Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
I woke up feeling refreshed, throwing off blankets that did a poor job of protecting me from the late-night dew. I looked up at the tree branches above me, perfectly still and obscuring the cloudless sky. I put on a bathing suit, threw a towel over my shoulders, and walked through the field, past the storage sheds, through the grove of trees, and onto the dock that led to a perfectly still, spring-fed lake. I kicked off my shoes and jumped, the cool water surrounding me as I made my way to the surface.
I was on an idyllic farm in rural Mississippi, 40 miles from Oxford and 170 miles from Jackson, spending the weekend camping with friends. It’s an annual tradition that I was excited to participate in this year, though I came in having utterly no idea what I would experience – and why it would resonate so much with my Jewish identity and Southern residency.
Here’s the story.
It was pitch dark outside by the time we arrived at Home Place Pastures. Turning onto the gravel road, I had no idea what to expect. Suddenly, the lights of tiki torches illuminated the landscape and the sounds of live music filled the air. There were people all around us—some headed toward the music, others pitching tents and setting up campsites. I felt transported to Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday, but with significantly fewer magical fireworks. We pitched our tents under a tree and headed toward the bands playing music on a stage made from half of a school bus. Incredible.
A good night’s sleep, a sunrise swim, a follow-up swim, and some life-changing breakfast tacos later, we piled onto hay bales in the back of a pick-up truck to tour the farm. Home Place Pastures is located on fifth-generation farm land, and is committed to ethically treated, sustainably-raised pork, lamb, beef, and goat. Their mission is simply “committed to the ethical treatment of our animals, the stewardship of our land, and to the environmental, physical, and economic health of our community.”
Hearing Marshall, Home Place’s CEO, talk about the process of raising and humanely slaughtering these animals was inspiring. His commitment to the land, the animals, and his community almost inspired this fifteen-year-veteran-vegetarian to pick up a breakfast sausage and finally learn what a pork loin is (I didn’t, but it crossed my mind).
The centerpiece of the weekend was the Hill Country Boucherie, an event that saw chefs from 22 restaurants from New Orleans to Nashville descend on this family farm to cook dishes using normally under-used parts of the animal: lamb’s feet, pork brains, beef hearts… I didn’t partake, though I did love seeing the creativity and joy these chefs brought to the table. And I definitely enjoyed their cocktail pairings.
It was a meaningful weekend for so many reasons—going to sleep under the stars after jumping into an ice-cold spring-fed gravel pool is a spiritual experience. But the feeling I keep returning to is one of gratitude for the meat lovers who make Home Place what it is. We are so often deeply disconnected from our food. It’s so far removed from us when we pick it up in plastic packaging in the grocery store. We don’t take the time to appreciate it—to consider where it comes from and how we can use it in inventive ways.
This deeply southern experience was, in its way, deeply Jewish. Food is such an integral part of my personal Jewish experience, and celebrating food is a way in which both sides of my family connect to their very different heritages. Being a part of this celebration of meat—of the land where it is raised, of the animals who provide it, and of the people who passionately produce it—reminded me that food is to be celebrated, cherished, taken seriously, and prepared playfully.
Celebrating food is quintessentially Southern and quintessentially Jewish – and even if depending on which dietary traditions we keep, we may not wind up with all of the same things on the plate, it’s still a lovely thing to share.