When planning for a recent Jewish community bonfire and barbecue, the organizers had a dilemma: We wanted to serve meat at the barbecue, and wanted it to be kosher so it was accessible to members of our community who keep kosher. But we also wanted it to be sustainable meat: local, pasture-raised, small-farm-sourced, never sent to a (grain-intensive) feedlot. While I’m not religious, I see a lot of value in making sure sustainability is accessible—culturally, financially, etc. This isn’t always easy. But how hard could it be to find kosher, sustainable meat from Washington, or at least from the West Coast?
It turns out it’s impossible. For now, at least.
There are four sources of small-farm, pasture-raised kosher meat in the U.S. and they’re all on the East Coast. Producing kosher meat is difficult, involving, among other things, employing a shochet, a religious slaughterer who has gone through extensive training and is a devout Jew. There is also more demand for kosher food on the East Coast. Due to low availability of kosher products, on the West Coast we’re a little more used to settling for what kosher products we can get.
Why grass-fed/pasture-raised meat? Cows and chickens raised on pasture and not sent to a feedlot are just more environmentally-friendly, but also yield delicious meat higher in good-quality fats and important fat-soluble vitamins it’s hard to get elsewhere. It’s also a great way to support small farmers, and not just large producers.
We used some meat from one of the East Coast sources for the event so people could taste it, but obviously it’s not sustainable to fly meat in from the East Coast every time we want it, or even more than once or twice. Other options abound for Jews who keep kosher, of course. Some people follow vegetarian diets and eat plenty of eggs and milk from local farm animals raised on pasture. Scaly fish is kosher and we live in a great region for fish. We’re also lucky to live in an area where a wide range of vegetables and fruit can be grown. But people choose to eat meat for many reasons, and there’s no reason people should have to choose between keeping kosher, eating sustainably, and eating meat.
What can we do?
Some people and organizations, like the UW’s Hillel/JConnect program are trying to make kosher sustainable meat happen in the Northwest, or to connect with others trying to make this happen. They may even bring a shechter in to produce and freeze a supply of kosher sustainable meat, working with local, small farms which raise animals on pasture.
But they need support and help to make this happen. This means other people and organizations to figure out how to do this, what the logistics will be, and how to make it happen. They also need to know that there’s interest.
Specifically, they need help:
– Getting the word out to people who keep kosher
– Helping with logistics (finding a shechter, figuring out meat storage, etc)
– Connecting with farms
– Showing interest in purchasing sustainable kosher meat if it becomes available
For interest or more information, contact Josh Furman at JoshF (at) hilleluw (dot) org or 206.527.1887 x221