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Food

"Meat-Anot L’Evyonim"-How Meat Makes a Mitzvah

I love eating meat. While I am aware of how harmful conventional industrial meat production is to the environment and to our health, to say nothing of the issues of cruelty to animals and fair treatment of workers, I cannot imagine going without meat entirely. I even tried being vegetarian a couple of times, but always fell off the wagon rather quickly. By now, in the wake of the scandals at Agriprocessors, most of us know that kosher meat is not necessarily ethically superior to its non-kosher counterparts.

Some have suggested eating meat only on special occasions like Shabbat and holidays. While this practice puts healthy limits on one’s consumption of meat, and makes the consumption a meat part of the celebration and sanctification of religious occasions rather than a simple hedonistic indulgence, in some ways it seems backwards: if I think that the meat I’m eating is so morally problematic, is it really appropriate to reserve its consumption for holy occasions like the Sabbath or other holidays? If I’m going to eat meat whose production involve mistreatment of animals and workers, and degradation of the environment, it might be better to save that meat-eating for ordinary weekdays, and make more ethical (and therefore more holy), food choices on Shabbat and holidays

Fortunately, today there are sustainable, ethical alternatives to factory-farmed meat available for the Kosher consumer. Brooklyn-based Grow and Behold is one company striving to provide healthy, sustainable kosher meat by sourcing ethically-raised animals from small family-run farms, many of them Amish. By serving their meat on Shabbat and holidays, as a conscientious meat-eater, I can satisfy my desirefor meat and add to the joy of the day without compromising the sanctity of my festive table.

I asked Naf, if he had any tips for cooks about what to make for the upcoming holiday of Purim. “I think if the weather is nice, it’s a great time to get out the grill or slow cook something. If you have a slow-cooker or a smoker that you can leave something in while you’re out delivering shalach manos, then you can come back in the evening for a nice slow-cooked stew or smoked ribs. I think it would be a great day for a barbecue or smoked meat or something like that.” My mouth is watering just typing those words. Of course, Purim isn’t just about having a big meal, although there is a special mitzvah to have a festive meal on Purim. On Purim, it’s also a mitzvah to send gifts of food (shalach manoth) and to give gifts to the poor (matanoth le`evyonim).

With these mitzvoth in mind, Grow and Behold is donating 5% of all their retail sales this week directly to Masbia, a hunger organization here in New York city which operates four soup kitchens, providing hot meals five days a week as well as raw ingredients for clients to take home for the weekend. This is the third year that Grow and Behold has partnered with Masbia to donate a percentage of sales in the weeks leading up to Purim. In addition, they also make donations of meat around Pesach and Rosh Hashanah to be distributed in gift baskets for families that can’t afford to make a celebratory holiday meal. This year, Naf Hanau, Grow and Behold’s founder and CEO, hopes to add an option to the Grow and Behold website to allow customers to purchase certain cuts of meat at a discount to be donated directly to Masbia.

At this point it seems like the only mitzvah of Purim that Grow and Behold isn’t helping people fulfill is reading Megilath Ester (the Book of Esther). Maybe next year, they can initiate a project in which the hides from their cows will be used to make the parchment on which the Megilah is written.

Garth Silberstein is a first year rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and a rabbinic intern with Hazon. He is an alum of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and the Adamah Fellowship, and is currently studying to become a kosher slaughterer.

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