Kosher Meat From Humanely Treated Animals

By Hannah Lee

The novelist and biologist Barbara Kingsolver wrote about her family’s decision to eat only meat from humanely raised animals in her 2007 memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.  Merion resident Rachel Loonin was inspired by reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, also published in 2007, and she wanted healthy meat for her family that’s free of hormones, from animals allowed to eat what they’re meant to eat — grass, in contrast to conventionally raised cattle which eat genetically modified corn — and free of antibiotics.  She found it through Grow and Behold Foodswhich has been delivering kosher, pasture-raised beef to the Philadelphia area since last summer.

Naftali and Anna Hanau and a pet chicken

Its founder, Naftali Hanau, is a shochet (ritual slaughterer), m’naker (ritual butcher), farmer, and horticulturist.  While spending a summer at Adamah, a Jewish environmental leadership training center in northwest Connecticut, and learning about the ethical and environmental issues surrounding modern meat production, Hanau realized that for kosher Jews, there was no source for meat that abided by such values.  So, he set out to study shechitah, the practice of kosher slaughter, in Crown Heights, New York, and Scranton, Pennsylvania, and he has studied at butcher shops and slaughterhouses across the country.  His company provides OU-certified Glatt Kosher meat from  animals raised on small family farms.  It works with farmers who adhere to high standards of animal welfare, worker treatment, and sustainable agriculture.

The difference from conventional meat production is varied and nuanced: Grow and Behold sources its animals from farms near its processing facilities to minimize the time that the animals spend on a truck, being transported from the farm for processing.  At its slaughterhouses, the pace is slow enough to ensure that workers treat animals with respect, using the animal-handling guidelines developed by Dr. Temple Grandin to ensure that the animals are calm and stress-free from the moment they arrive at its facility throughout the shechitah process.  Its workers neither use electric cattle prods nor the shackle-and-hoist slaughter method, a cruel practice standard in South America where nearly all the other grass-fed kosher meat is produced for the U.S. market.  It regularly inspects the farms and reserves the right to inspect without notice at any time of the year.

As for business ethics, Grow and Behold pays its farmers prices that are generally above the national averages; it operates in small-scale slaughterhouses where employee safety is a top concern; it works with processors that pay their workers fair wages; and it respects Jewish halachic guidelines in all aspects of business, including strict standards of kashrut and ethical labor practices.

Now providing beef, chicken, and turkey, Hanau has not yet found a source for lamb that abides by their principles.  All of the unprocessed meat is always kosher for Passover, even if there is no specific “Kosher for Passover” marking on the package.

Loonin likes their Sara’s Spring Chicken (named for Hanau’s grandmother because it reminded her of the fresh fowl from her youth in Poland), which she cooks for Shabbat, using the chicken bones for soup.  She orders beef bones for stock and, following the teachings of Dr. Weston Price, she boils the bones for a minimum of 4 hours to draw out the nutrients.  Loonin also buys their flanken (aka as short ribs) for her Shabbat cholent. She orders enough to fill her freezer until the next monthly delivery date.  She says its meat is more gamey than conventional meat but it’s very tasty.

The cooking times for pastured meat is not much different than for conventional meat, but lean turkey does cook faster.  The chicken is best cooked at a lower, slower temperature.  Hanau prefers his beef rare.  The chicken is schecht (slaughtered) once a month and is delivered frozen.  If you’re pressed for time, Hanau says it’s safe to defrost in cold water, in its original packaging.  A small chicken will defrost in an hour.

Beef has been available since June, and its sale has been growing faster than the sale of chicken.  Whereas pastured chicken is about twice the cost of conventional kosher meat, beef is not as expensive, it’s comparable to high-end conventional kosher meat.  Hanau says people seem more willing to spend more on beef, maybe because “they didn’t understand the difference in how chicken is raised.”   The demand for turkey is not as high as for chicken, but for large holiday gatherings, Hanau says cooking one turkey is easier than cooking three or four chickens.

Grow and Behold Foods meats are not certified as organic because “the cost of certification is often too high” for the small farmers to bear and because Hanau feels the organic standards are not truly in line with what he feels are the best practices for raising animals.  For example, “USDA organic standards allow a chicken to be raised in near total confinement and fed nothing but organic corn and still be called ‘free-range organic.’  Those practices are unacceptable to us: we want the animals to be outside and enjoy life in their natural setting.   All of our poultry is raised on pasture when weather permits.  Our cows spend the majority of their lives on pasture as well.  We strive to always use the best possible practices, including encouraging our producers to use GMO- and chemical-free feeds whenever possible.”  These animals never receive growth hormones or routine doses of prophylactic antibiotics, which are necessary in the large feedlots where cattle are overcrowded and prone to stress-induced illnesses.   They’re fed a vegetarian diet– no animal by-products– consisting of a balance of hay, grass, and grain.

When Loonin first started buying organic chicken, her husband was in medical school, and she economized by serving it only when they were alone on Shabbat.  Now, she’s learned to serve smaller portions to everyone, even when they have guests.  She has chosen quality meat over quantity.  Loonin serves her family vegetarian meals during the week but they try to eat ethically all week long.

In addition to individual customers, Grow and Behold also sells meat wholesale to local restaurants such as Zahav (although it is not a kosher establishment).

The company ships nationwide by FedEx, going as far as Missouri, Texas, and Florida.  Packed in dry ice and insulated coolers, meat that is shipped from their East New York warehouse (close to the JFK airport) at 4 or 5 pm can be delivered the next day by 9 or 10 am.  FedEx by air is more expensive, so Hanau recommends a buying club for customers in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Seattle, and St. Louis.  In Philadelphia, the delivery charge is $5 per order.  Local pick-up stops are: Adath Israel in Merion, Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, Germantown Jewish Center in Mount Airy, Mechor Habracha in Center City, and Kellman Brown Academy in Voorhees, New Jersey.  The next local delivery date is Thursday, February 23; orders due by 10pm on Tuesday, February 21.  Questions can be addressed to the company at: info@growandbehold.com.

 

 

http://blog.pjvoice.com/diary/1870/kosher-meat-from-humanely-treated-animals

 

The Locavore Movement and the Religious Jew

My favorite non-fiction book in 2007 was Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, written with her biologist husband, Steven Hopp, and their two children about their experiment in growing all of their food on their own land in rural southwest Virginia.  It also powered the growth of the locavore movement.  I found the memoir fascinating in its intelligence, its honesty (mistakes were made!) and the family’s sense of humor. My favorite anecdote was when Kingsolver quipped to her friends that when you’re ranked as “number 74 (on a Doomsday author’s book about the dangers of 100 people who were destroying America), you try harder,” as she endeavored to eviscerate a turkey.

In Wednesday’s New York Times (its Dining section being the highlight of the week for me), readers learned what the family has been doing since their milestone year.  They wanted to expand the lessons learned to their blue-collar, Appalachian community.  First, they contemplated creating a year-round farmers’ market but the growing season is short.  So, Hopp decided that a restaurant would be more viable, one in which the produce, meat and cheese would be sourced locally.  As reported by Jane Black, “Coffee and tea would be allowed because they are dried, but they should be organic, fair trade or both.”

How has the Harvest Table, as Hopp’s restaurant is named, fared since it was launched in October 2007?   It’s been difficult, and they have yet to make a profit.  This isn’t a “progressive, urban enclave” such as exists in Brooklyn or Berkeley, so most of their neighbors have not even bothered to step in, thinking the meal would be too expensive.  As for attempts to reaching beyond the choir (of like-minded folks), you first have to get them in the door.  And the labels, “farm fresh,” “organic” and “local” do not muster the excitement they do in urban communities where entrepreneurs (food impresarios, I call them) charge up to $200 for a dinner served in the fields (as I heard reported on NPR last week).  So, they keep the prices low (comparable to Applebee’s though the reporter noted that the portions are larger in the chain restaurants) and the profile humble, the opposite of the marketer’s urge to scale up in sophistication.  Black gives an example: “What might be called “fennel pasta with pecans” in Brooklyn and served with a detailed description of the vegetable provenance, is “pasta primavera” here.

But Hopp’s quote that hit me personally was this: “We are always trying to figure out how to educate people more, but with the recognition that most people don’t want a lecture.”  I’ve just returned from a visit with my daughter in Chicago, where I stayed in the lovely home of a young couple found through the Airbnb lodging-rentals website.  My host was a New Zealander (with an American wife) and he’d never  met a religious Jew before.  He was curious about some tenets of the Jewish faith.  So, do we give the short, flippant answer or do we attempt the more thoughtful and accurate explanation but risk losing our audience?  My daughter has been through the cauldron of fire before when we transferred her from a religious high school to our local acclaimed public high school (the beloved alma mater of basketball star Koby Bryant) and it was during the social studies freshman unit on the Middle East and she was called upon to explain all of Jewish past, present, and future.  Trying to educate and defend Israeli politics is a challenge far beyond most 14-year-olds.  But, she did engage her peers and she’s matured into a thinking, articulate adult.

So, we found ourselves having a more engaged conversation about faith and ritual with our host than is encountered at the usual Shabbat table.  What struck me anew is that every Jew must conduct herself as a diplomat, a model representative of her people (forgive my use of the distaff (feminine) possessive pronoun).   The people you encounter may not have ever met another earnest, committed Jew before.  You may have this one opportunity to give them not only a positive impression of Yiddishkeit (Jewishness), but you may also have the privilege and challenge to un-do and clarify erroneous impressions conveyed by others, who were less careful, less knowledgeable, less sophisticated.  Would you pass your test?  This may have been our test for The Three Weeks of introspection as we Jews head towards Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, which falls on August 8th this year.