Most Jewish holidays have food as a central component of the celebration-from latkes on Hanukkah to misloach manot on Purim and blintzes on Shavuot. Yet, Passover, through the Seder and the full-scale flip from “chametz” to “matza” (from eating leavened foods to eating foods devoid of all leaven), makes food and eating an essential focus of preparation and observance. For at least this week, what we eat and with whom we eat defines us as Jews.
RAVSAK’s Moot Beit Din, an annual competition for high school students in Jewish day schools, made food the focus of our 2014/5774 program. We challenged students from across North America to consider whether a Jewish summer camp that prides itself on being environmentally conscious has an obligation to consider tzaar baalei hayim (mistreatment of animals) and thus serve locally raised kosher meat even if it raises the tuition costs at camp significantly enough to make it less affordable to many families. The case touched on such current issues as industrial farming, the morality of eating meat and the role of economics in halakhic decision making. Students were asked to calculate a cost/benefit analysis of switching to an organic diet at Jewish institutions — an ostensibly desirable undertaking — in light of the real financial issues that might exacerbate the modern plague of the high cost of Jewish living. Like the Seder, Moot Beit Din used powerful questions, ancient texts, wise voices and great debate to elevate mundane conversations about food to a heightened and holy level.
Galkoff’s kosher butcher in Liverpool that once supplied the Titanic with meat hasn’t sold a Shabbos brisket — or anything for that matter — since it closed its doors 35 years. But, the building’s historic façade, won’t be going anywhere anytime soon thanks to a donation from philanthropist Isaac Wolfson.
English Heritage recently ruled the building to be of national importance. It sold kosher meat to the Merseyside’s Jewish community from 1912 until it closed in 1979 and, importantly, to the famous Titanic ship.
Discussions are still underway between the Tropical Medicine Institution, which recently purchased the building, and English Heritage on how to best preserve the iconic and historic site.
But, hold up a minute… there was kosher meat aboard the Titanic?
Despite the ship’s famous yet tragic voyage, most have probably never even heard about its Jewish passengers, let alone the ship’s kosher meals service — complete with separate utensils and rabbinical inspection. But reportedly among the 2,225 people aboard, there were enough Jewish passengers to warrant a “Hebrew cook,” Charles Kennell, according to an article in the Dayton Jewish Observer.
Kosher food option on ships wasn’t uncommon in 1912 — midway through the great wave of Eastern European Jewish immigration, when major passenger lines crossing the Atlantic began offering kosher services to their Jewish passengers.
Before then, the faithful, most often riding in third-class steerage, would pack their own kosher food, sometimes making for dangerous or even deadly voyages.
Little is known about the Jewish passengers aborad the Titan. But the day after the ship went down, an article published in The New York Times reported that “A score of the Titanic’s steerage were taken to the Hebrew Sheltering Home and Immigrant Aid Society, 229 East Broadway for the night.”
Five years ago, my father had an emergency quadruple bypass and my physician did a full cardiac blood workup on me. I was 38, never overweight and an avid CrossFitter. The results showed that I had high inflammation and high cholesterol and my physician recommended baby aspirin and a statin – for the rest of my life. My desire not to be on a drug that could damage my liver led me to learn about how food could help.
Turns out that our U.S. beef supply is pretty bad for our health. Industrial farming ensures fewer people go hungry, which is good, but also has fundamentally changed the nutritional composition of foods – and this is bad. In current New York Times Bestseller, Grain Brain, Dr. David Perlmutter, aggregates extensive, peer reviewed research about how grains and gluten lead to inflammation that is correlated to heart disease, Alzheimer’s, MS, cancer, ADHD, ADD and more. He treats neurological illness and disorder with food. The winning combination is veggies, dietary fats (nuts, avocados, lean meats) and protein – and no grains. In the CrossFit community, it’s called Paleo.
“Why is a nice Jewish girl like me making a film about pigs and bacon?” Suzanne Wasserman the writer and director of the new documentary “Meat Hooked!” in the beginning of her movie.
The question is a good one but not one that’s easily answered. Wasserman, who comes from a meat loving family, set out to explore the “rise and fall and rise again of butchers and butchering.” In her absorbing and graphic documentary (which will air on July 7 on PBS) she introduces us to butchers and meatpackers, chefs and farmers who are part of the current meat craze of artisan butchers and meat CSA’s.
Watching “Meat Hooked!” employs all of your senses, for better or worse. Though I had to look away at certain parts of the film (a pig slaughter was hard to stomach), Wasserman skillfully weaves historical and personal narratives throughout to grant her viewers frequent reprieves. The history of butcher shops in New York City is fascinating, and the film takes it back almost 200 years. As Wasserman explains, it was only in the mid-19th century that the New York City Council legalized meat sales and butcher shops, partly as a response to an expanding middle-class that demanded a more accessible and regular supply of meat. That expanding middle-class came in part from the influx of immigrants – Irish and Germans, Jews and Italians – who were arriving in waves over the course of the mid-to-late 1800’s, many of them planting themselves in the heart of the Lower East Side. These butcher shops sold beef, chicken and of course pork.
My late grandparents lived in a small city on the Canadian prairie when I was little. With no butcher anywhere close by, my grandfather took it upon himself to purchase kosher meat for the entire community. He would have the meat the meat flown in from Montreal, which was thousands of miles away. And, when the order finally arrived, he would divide up the meat and personally deliver it to the various households.
Things are different today. My grandfather would be startled by news of a kosher meat delivery service called The Kosher Express, which delivers kosher meat ordered online to your doorstep anywhere in North America.
The Aurora, Colorado-based company, which sells kosher certified beef, lamb, veal, chicken, turkey and even bison by mail order, was launched in 2010 by Robert Bernton, who was only 23 years old at the time. All of the products are certified glatt kosher by the Orthodox Union and are frozen fresh for shipping — first to The Kosher Express warehouse in Missouri, and then from there to customers’ homes and businesses (many deliveries go to hotels and vacation destinations, including one that went to Disneyland).
When a new kosher restaurant opens on the Upper West Side, word spreads like wildfire. Upon hearing that a new kosher burger place opened in my neighborhood, I was beyond thrilled. Not only was is right around the corner, but they deliver too! I ventured to Amsterdam Burger Company during its second week since opening. I didn’t quite know what to expect but I went in there being open to what they had to offer. I took one look at their paper menus – as they were still getting settled into their new digs – and although not much was offered initially, they still delivered on quality and unique flavors with lots of the thought and care. Simple yet dignified. As I quickly skimmed I noticed the very bottom of the menu read, “all our products are from grass-fed, organic kosher meat.” I was even more impressed that a kosher establishment was finally on board with the environmental movement and was able to call themselves not only kosher, but sustainable as well! Already this classy burger joint was off to an incredible start.
Jews are famous for their love of meat and potatoes (cholent, anyone?). But how many of us know how to pick the perfect cut of meat for any particular occasion?
Hoping to move beyond our butcher’s pre-packaged meat selections, we talked with Larry Reyes, head butcher of Manhattan’s newly opened Prime Butcher Baker market — with a butcher counter specializing in dry-aged steaks — about what makes for a good piece of meat, how to work with less expensive cuts, and more.
Before starting at Prime Butcher Baker, Reyes worked at nearby butcher Park East Kosher Butcher and before that, he worked at gourmet (and non-kosher) market Citarella.
It’s been a busy few months for Shimon Cohen, who heads the lobbying organization Shechita UK. It is his task to advocate for consumers of kosher meat in Great Britain and battle against what he calls “an assault” on kosher slaughter by animal welfare organizations and their allies in the British media.
It all began with McDonald’s. The fast food chain became the target of a campaign by British groups who object to the methods of slaughter that result in kosher meat for Jews and halal meat for Muslims, claiming that the techniques are crueler than conventional methods of slaughter, in which animals are rendered unconscious before they are killed.