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 Foods which has been delivering kosher, pasture-raised beef to the Philadelphia area since last summer.
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: [email protected].

A New Old View of Tu B’shvat

From Johnny Appleseed, to the wise old man that Honi the circle-maker sees planting carob trees for his grandchildren in the classic midrash, those with the foresight to plant trees for the future are lauded in history and legend. Fruit trees are a special investment compared to annual crops. They require years of cultivation before their delicious rewards can be reaped.  Tu B’shvat originated to help farmers keep track of their trees’ ages, so that they would know when it was okay according to biblical law to eat the produce. Today, however, appreciating that first juicy bite of fruit after years of waiting lies beyond most of our experiences.

More after the jump.
Tu B’shvat has become a day to celebrate trees.  Jewish Arbor Day is a wonderful way of modernizing an agricultural holiday in a society mostly divorced from farming, but it does not get at that ancient and essential experience of reaping a reward after a long period of work, investment, and patience. As with most of our food, fruit is available to many of us at our convenience. But the environmental, health, and social costs of using chemical fertilizers to grow food on an industrial scale, burning fossil fuels to ship it far away, and sending the profits back to huge corporations instead of the farmers, are receiving increasing attention. So this year I plan to re-root my observance of Tu B’shvat in the beauty of delayed gratification.

In addition to pausing to appreciate the wonder of trees, I’m going to use Tu B’shvat to take more time and care to collect and prepare my food. Americans spend and average of 6.9% of their income on food compared to 12-14% in many EU countries (USDA) and 30 minutes per day cooking it (OECD). When we see cooking as a chore, it loses all of its magic. But when I put time and energy into conjuring a meal, I am astounded by how much better it tastes (not to mention how little it can cost).  So maybe we can expand the meaning of Tu B’Shvat and use this day to slow down and imagine the mixture of awe, delight, and gratitude that our ancestors might have felt when their teeth pierced the flesh of the first fig on their just mature tree, they peeled open the pod of that first carob, or they poured out oil from a new crop of olives. We can appreciate trees, and also the still mysterious processes — seed to fruit, flour to bread, raw ingredients to a beautiful meal — that are worth waiting for and give value to that patience.

I invite you to join me in my new Tu B’shvat tradition. You can come over for dinner if you live in Cambridge! Or you can use one these suggestions as a jumping off point for your own celebration of delayed gratification:

  •  Track down a local winter farmer’s market here and see what’s available that fits into your seder.  
  • Bring back an old family recipe from the brink of extinction.
  • Cook something that you’ve always wanted to try but never make because it involves starting the night before.
  • Choose a fruit you’ve never tried before, look up a recipe here, here, or (gasp) in a cookbook if you have one, and incorporate that into your seder.
  • Make something from scratch that you usually take a shortcut on.
  • Delegate parts of your meal to each member of your family, and spend the day cooking together before sitting down to what will likely be a longer, more drawn out meal as you enjoy each person’s contribution.
  • Go on a “food tour” of the table before you start eating. Let each contributor introduce their dish in whatever way is significant.
  • Brainstorm and enjoy things that get better with time — wine, cheese, slowly rising bread, sauerkraut, grandparents, old friendships — as part of your meal.
  • Plant a fruit tree! You’ll have to wait a few Tu B’shvats before you’ll be able to eat from it. But just imagine how delicious it will taste. If you have young kids, you can measure the tree’s yearly growth in comparison to your child’s and see when the tree surpasses your child’s height. Look here to see what grows well in your region.
  • This year I’m challenging myself to design a meal in which each of the fruit categories of the seder gets its own course.  We’ll see how it goes.

Erin Taylor is from Lower Merion, Pennsylvania and is a very recent graduate of Tufts University and the Adamah Fellowship (a Jewish sustainable agriculture fellowship). She currently lives, cooks, and gardens in Cambridge, Massachusetts and serves in Gloucester as a FoodCorps service member running a school garden.