Hadar Chooses Higher Welfare

by Jenny Koshner, Program Coordinator, Hadar Institute

Hadar empowers Jews to create and sustain vibrant, practicing, egalitarian communities of TorahAvodah, and Hesed. They are a Hazon Seal of Sustainability site based in New York, NY.

Image result for shabbat mealThis past year at Hadar has been a transformative year for us. As an educational institution in New York City that empowers Jews of all ages to build and sustain vibrant, practicing, egalitarian communities of Torah, tefillah (prayer), and chesed (service), we have always cared deeply about integrating our lives of study and ritual practice with living according to our tradition’s principles. Since our founding a little over ten years ago, we have integrated our dedication to sustainability, part of our practice of chesed, into our programming and operations. Whether we are purchasing primarily compostable meal-time materials for our immersive programming, or spending an extra thirty minutes when formatting a sourcesheet to reduce the paper we’ll use, or researching biodegradable alternatives to the standard office supplies we purchase, we’ve always striven to incorporate our commitment to sustainability into our programs.  

This past year, inspired by the commitments of many in our alumni community to fair treatment of animals and responsible-sourcing of food, we’ve made some exciting changes to the daily routine of our week-long immersive programs and full-time immersive yeshiva learning programs at Hadar. Along with composting regularly (which we partner with West End Synagogue, where we are located, to do officially through the NY Department of Sanitation!), and sourcing our dairy and vegetarian meals responsibly (we now offer cage-free eggs and locally-sourced seasonal produce at all meals provided by our wonderful caterer, Chef Shayna Finman), we have begun to provide higher welfare meat at the local Shabbatons of our yeshiva programs.

It all started last year, when a team member of JIFA (Jewish Initiative for Animals) reached out to inquire about having Hadar review our animal product buying practices as a part of our work with the Hazon Seal of Sustainability. Through conversations about Hadar’s food policy, we realized that we had room to grow in responsible sourcing of meat products and reached out to JIFA to find out more about the sourcing of kosher higher welfare meat. Through multiple conversations and a lot of research, we learned that there are many factors to consider when searching for higher welfare meat-not only the way an animal is raised and slaughtered, for example, but its breeding and genetics.

The genetics piece is especially important with regard to chickens. We found that today’s modern Cornish cross hybrid chickens—which constitutes 99% of the chicken in grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers markets—grow to slaughter weight in only 6 weeks, or the equivalent of packing several hundred pounds onto a human baby. By comparison, standard-bred, or heritage chickens, which are the type of chicken that comprised the country’s supply until 50 years ago, take 16 weeks and twice the feed to grow to the same size. Hybrid chickens’ unnaturally fast growth causes severe welfare and health problems, such as skeletal problems, difficulty walking, compromised immune systems, organ failure, and trouble dealing with temperature extremes. But, the modern hybrids are cheap; low cost products made possible by hybridization paired with widespread use of mass systems and antibiotics have allowed chicken consumption to skyrocket and replace standard breeds. JIFA, in partnership with the Good Shepherd Poultry Institute, has been working to make the birds available to Jewish communities, and, in 2016, consumers bought kosher heritage birds for the first time in decades.

When it comes to beef there are fewer concerns around genetics than with chickens, but there are still many aspects of welfare to consider around raising and slaughter. For instance, a common method of restraint in South America during slaughter called shackle and hoist is extremely cruel, often inflicting broken bones and extreme pain and stress prior to and during slaughter. By comparison, most beef cattle raised in the United States spend the last 6 months of their lives on unnatural, cramped feedlots where they are fattened with grain instead of their natural diet, grass. In order to avoid supporting both these systems which supply large volumes of kosher beef, we decided to search for domestically raised and slaughtered 100% grass-fed kosher beef.

While the availability of higher-welfare meat has been increasing, there were fewer options for certified higher-welfare products given our need to purchase kosher-certified meat. We decided to purchase our first order of meat from KOL Foods, the only current purveyor of 100% grass fed domestic kosher beef and kosher heritage chicken.

Our order arrived during the early weeks of the fall. With our first Shabbaton coming up in September, it was time to start planning the menu and preparing the meal, which our faculty, staff, and students would share on Shabbes evening. We purchased herbs and vegetables from local farmers and selected two heritage chickens to serve as the heart of the meal that would inaugurate our transition to higher-welfare meat. On the day of the meal, our caterer baked fresh challahs, roasted locally-sourced seasonal root vegetables, prepared a vegan cashew cheese lasagna, and stewed the two heritage chickens for 10 hours along with locally-sourced potatoes, sage, rosemary, and thyme. The entire apartment, where the food was cooking, was filled with wonderful aromas that signaled the impending arrival of Shabbes and the gathering of our new students for the first Shabbaton of the year.

That evening we gathered together to welcome Shabbes through song and prayer, and have our festive meal. Each dish was accompanied by a sign on which was a description of the various components and where they’d been grown or raised. Before the meal began, those gathered had a chance to hear from our caterer about the main dish of the evening: our heritage chicken stews! As we began the meal, there was a special feeling in the air, it was the first Hadar meal served with higher-welfare meat, the first Shabbes meal this new community was sharing together, and the beginning of what has proven to be a rich and meaningful year of learning and growth. We’d like to think that the foundation of this year in the yeshiva began with food that not only nourished our bodies that Shabbes evening, but that has nourished our souls throughout. And hopefully the same will be same for generations of students to come, where their time at Hadar will be nourished not only by the Torah that they study in community, but by the higher-welfare and responsibly-sourced meat that they will enjoy on Shabbatonim together.

To learn more about the Hazon Seal of Sustainability, visit hazon.org/seal