Walking the Talk at a Food Conference

Hazon’s mission is a lofty one.

It’s so big that I set out to see if all that talk was for real at the Hazon Food Conference, the eighth gathering of the New Jewish Food Movement. With 260 participants gathered at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center over Shabbat Hanukkah we set out to learn about social justice, food ethics, Jewish values and much more, I figured I would get a real sense of the authenticity of Hazon’s ambitious mission by spending four days “talking” food and learning more about Hazon’s focus on creating healthier and more sustainable communities.

Who was there?

Articulate and inspiring food, social and environmental activists, Rabbis, educators and students, chefs and home cooks, gardeners, farmers and food producers, writers and filmmakers, were all gathered. We ate meals together, prayed and learned together, and shared perspectives on all things pertaining to “building Jewish identity and community, renewing ancient Jewish ecological, agricultural and spiritual wisdom, and producing healthy organic kosher food products.”

And the synergy between us was electric, deeply inspiring and unforgettable.

As much as I hankered to learn about kosher organic seasonal fermented veggies, the process and intention of shechita (kosher slaughter) and what vegetarianism has to do with Judaism, I confess to being equally focused on the chow.

It’s not just that I’m a kosher keeping gal who is committed to eating local, organic, seasonal and fair trade. I wanted to see how many of the ingredients contributing to 2340 meals served were coming from the Adamah farm (on site) or at least from local farms. I didn’t envy the chef the task of menu planning and sourcing for such a large group of foodies who would eat nine meals, three much appreciated late afternoon snacks, and the requisite fried Chanukah treats to heighten the high spirited transition from Shabbat to the first night of celebration.

The truth is that I am in awe and deeply inspired. I have transitioned back to real life with a lighter heart and an elevated optimism about our people, our food landscape and the creative and passionate ways that a multitude of food related issues are being improved, re-shaped and transformed.

The Adamah Farm, on the site of Isabella Freedman, was the source for a large portion of the food we ate. I finally caught a few moments with Chef Adam SaNogueira after Sunday breakfast when he was just one meal away from the finish line, the close of this event. The relief and pride were written on his face as we sat together with his wife Rikki and their bouncing baby. He credits his parents and their one acre growing garden, in addition to his time spent eating in Italy, to the genesis of his understanding and appreciation for eating in rhythm with the seasons. He credits Rikki with pushing him to cook and keep kosher.

So, with all of this talk about eating local, seasonal, unadulterated, fair trade ingredients, how does it work when a chef is planning for an extended weekend retreat attended by so many enthusiastic, knowledgeable, kosher keeping foodies?

Menu planning began with Jana Berger, the field manager of Adamah Farm. She sent Chef highly detailed spreadsheets (as she does regularly) informing him of what would likely be available in the weeks leading up to the Food Conference. Menu planning for this early winter weekend centered around late fall crops, so we enjoyed lot of frost -sweetened sauteed kale and collards, braises with plenty of onions, and loads of reddish yellow kabocha, and naturally sweet butternut and delicata squash.

We were welcomed to the opening night dinner, by a vegetarian Indian themed feast, with greens and feta from the farm’s goats combining to make a spicy and nutrient packed Sag Paneer. Golden, folded samosas included locally sourced spuds and desserts throughout the weekend were simple, homestyle trays of moist honey cake , pumpkin bread and apple crisp.

While the vast majority of ingredients were locally grown (on site or at nearby organic farms), there were a few citrus fruit items served at breakfast that came from further afield. Chef SaNogueira is practical about the desires of his guests, but emphasized that he scrutinizes the fair trade evaluations of products he needs to source from non-local farms. Working conditions, fair wages, environmental stewardship and animal welfare are all considered before produce or product is considered for menus here. Top of the list of items being scrutinized are coffee, chocolate, bananas and meat.

It was both informative and inspiring to see notes placed at each item on the buffet tables. This effort was a long time in the works and specified if ingredients were from Adamah (on-site), local farms, contain wheat, dairy or eggs. Although I don’t have any food allergies and I eat meat, noticing how many ingredients were grown on-site was an inspiration.

The Adamah farm employs season-extending methods by using greenhouses and hoop-house growing. The pickling, freezing, canning and drying efforts have brought kimchi, crunchy pickles, and snappy sour-kraut to the table.

Feta and “Holy Chevre” are made on site with milk from the farm’s goats. “Goatgurt”, a nutritious and bright yogurt was served with breakfast and delighted with it’s fresh, grassy subtlety. Talk about farm to table!

Does Hazon walk the talk? You bet it does. As a model for respectful, sustainably grown and raised ingredients, the nine meals I shared with new friends were an illuminating experience after walking the farm’s fields and milking the goats on frosty mornings. Hazon provides a hopeful and inspiring model of how to source, eat and enjoy the bounty of our blessed land.

Learn more about purchasing shares so you can enjoy Adamah’s cheeses, pickled veggies and sweet jams.

Liz Rueven blogs about her culinary adventures as she navigates around a non-kosher landscape. She features accommodating, memorable and mostly farm to table restaurants, inspiring events and recipes on her blog, Kosher Like Me. Find her at www.kosherlikeme.com.

Walking the Talk at a Food Conference

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