A freshly prepared batch of kosher, sustainable sushi rolls.
Kosher. Sustainable. Sushi?
Not three words you see together often.
But Rabbi Alex Shandrovsky, creator of L’Chaim Sushi, a San Francisco-based catering company, wants to change that.
Today, L’Chaim Sushi bills itself as the only kosher, sustainable sushi producer in the world. Seems like a niche market, but Shandrovsky says business is booming.
When he moved to San Francisco from Israel in 2013, Shandrovsky noticed a critical lack of kosher, affordable, quality options in the Bay Area, and a lack of variety among the options that did exist. As a sushi lover and a kosher-keeping Jew, Shandrovsky had an idea: A kosher sushi company could deliver much-needed kosher food to Bay Area residents while also provide a more diverse range of kosher options.
In early 2014, L’Chaim Sushi came to life, sharing space in the warehouse of its fish supplier, Royal Hawaiian Seafood.
Sushi works well as a kosher food, especially for a catering company. “From a kosher standpoint, it’s really easy,” Shandrovsky said. Certifying fish kosher is simpler and less expensive than certifying meat, because the level of supervision required is lower. Also, no heating is involved, which means that kosher ovens aren’t necessary. This makes the whole process less energy, time and cost intensive.
Initially, L’Chaim Sushi’s appeal was its kosher status. Sustainability came later, when eco-friendly Bay Area clients began requesting sustainably sourced fish.
With the help of Casson Trennor, founder of the world’s first sustainable sushi restaurant, Tataki, L’Chaim Sushi made a commitment through Monterey Bay Seafood Watch to source responsibly harvested fish.
The Seafood Watch standard requires that all fish be responsibly harvested and all fishermen work in safe conditions.
Responsible harvesting requires taking a close look at how fishing impacts marine life. For example, hook-and-line fishing is preferable to using nets, which often snag the wrong fish and disrupt marine ecosystems. Avoiding endangered species, like bluefin tuna, is another important element of responsible harvesting.
Sustainable fishing is a response, in part, to the overfishing of many fisheries around the world, which threatens the survival of fish species, the livelihoods of fishermen and the protein intake of untold millions, or even billions, of people.
Shandrovsky uses sushi to educate clients about the overlap between kosher values and environmental values. He reminds them that eating kosher — like eating sustainably — is all about mindfulness.
Finding creative food substitutes is a shared aspect of kosher and sustainable diets. In both cases, we choose not to eat certain foods because of our beliefs, and in turn, we seek out alternatives.
L’Chaim Sushi’s menu reflects this creativity, with unconventional rolls like Hawaiian Kamachi, Ahi del Sol Tuna Nigiri and Creative King Salmon Nigiri.
Shandrovsky emphasized the importance of having food be an extension of our values.
“One of the most important things is to be clear on the values we hold important. Be self aware,” he said. “Think about, how much of my life is orchestrated by these values? What does my morning look like? My relationships? My food?”
The theoretical is inspiring. But now, the challenge for L’Chaim Sushi faces a very practical obstacle: how to make ends meet. Added certification costs, among other expenses, makes running a kosher, sustainable sushi operation more expensive than the standard sushi business.
As he expands his business, Shandrovksy also is juggling his desire to produce large quantities of affordable sushi with his commitment to serving sustainable fish.
Affordability is a key aspect of L’Chaim Sushi’s secret sauce. Kosher food is, unfortunately, already expensive, he explained, and kosher-keeping Jewish families are struggling to access it.
“I have to think about these questions,” he said. “As a business owner, how can I create a sustainable business model that is able to embody the values that I believe in and my community believes in?”
Shandrovsky continues to tinker with his catering business model. With the recent launch of L’Chaim @ Home, he now delivers freshly cooked meals to people’s homes, and he’s moved far beyond sushi into experiments with other ethnic cuisines.
“The Jewish world is exposed to a wide range of foods, but the kosher world is still catching up,” he said.
In the meantime, I’d like to order one sustainable, kosher, spicy tuna roll, please.
Ali Golden is a climate activist, an intern at Hazon and a former trail worker in Yellowstone National Park.