Shopping at Whole Foods Market with Jewish Values

Hi! For those I haven’t met (I’m seated in the DMV as the OneTable DMV Hazon JOFEE fellow this year), my name is Amanda. I recently got to run my first OneTable Nosh:pitality event in the area!

A few weeks ago, I took 25 OneTable community members on a tour of the Whole Foods Market on H St NE.  We make many decisions every time we go grocery shopping, and when we shop for our Shabbat dinner table, we can make decisions that align with our Jewish values and bring a higher level of intentionality to our Shabbat celebrations.  OneTable provides nourishment to Shabbat hosts, and we want to support hosts in using that nourishment well, to nourish their guests, their lives, and their Jewish identity as they build vibrant communities.

We started in the produce section, intentionally, where most grocery shoppers arrive first after entering the door.  Rainbow carrots are my favorite vegetable to highlight here- the bright yellow, purple, and orange colors are the natural colors of carrots.  At some point a marketer decided selecting for one color would sell better to consumers, and we lost the carrot variety. Today, we can find rainbow carrots in stores again, and as a rainbow lover myself (I had a rainbow themed wedding!) these carrots make me want to say a prayer for beautiful things in nature!

Rainbow Carrots

If you feel so inclined:
We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, that such as these are in Your world.
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam, shekacha lo beolamo.

Looking at the apples, there are so many decisions to make! Often times we go right for ones we know and love, such as Granny Smith, or Red Delicious.  But there are so many apple varieties! Here in DC, I found a local apple called Kiku that is so sweet with a hint of vanilla, and it really upped my charoset game this year!

In the bagged salad section I pointed out that the shaved brussel sprouts for our shaved brussel caesar salad are actually exactly the same unit price (for the same quantity!) as whole brussels.  It’s always a good idea to check the unit price comparison when it comes to different packaging.

Moving on from produce, we went to the meat department, skipping over many inner aisles, again, purposefully.  According to Michael Pollan’s Food Rules we ought to stay in the periphery of the grocery store to stick to the healthiest choices.  If something is sitting unrefrigerated in an aisle, it’s likely heavily processed and full of preservatives and chemicals to keep it shelf-stable.  

In the meat department, Whole Foods Market utilizes a simple, numbered rating system.  Even the lowest rating, number 1 on their system, means no cages, crates or crowding for the animals.

Every meat item at Whole Foods Market uses the rating system, and you can decide for yourself what the Jewish laws of Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim (cruelty to animals) mean in your life.  It was understood in biblical times that many animals would be used to help with labor, dairy production, and for their meat. But laws were developed to regulate how we treat animals – if we are going to use animals and take their lives for ourselves, it is our obligation as Jews to treat them with respect and reduce suffering as much as possible. 

Certified Humane Llabel

In the egg section, we applied the same laws, and clarified the difference between cage-free, outdoor access, and pasture-raised (highest quality) eggs.  I also showed how you can see on some cartons how many square feet of space each chicken has to live, and how sometimes it isn’t necessary to buy the most expensive eggs with the most labels if the same farm has a cheaper product with the same square footage.  In some cases you may be paying for extra certifications on the more expensive box.

When it comes to taking care of the environment, I often choose eggs in a cardboard box even if there are higher quality eggs in styrofoam or plastic. For me, it’s not worth the extra waste in a landfill over something easily compostable.  Over organic, non-GMO or anything else, I look for “certified humane” labeling which is done by an independent agency that doesn’t charge the farmers for their label.

We ended at the bulk foods section. When it comes to package waste, this is the best option! In the bulk foods section, you can buy a glass jar for $1 and keep returning with your jar when you run out of grains or nuts or rice.  The store will simply take off the weight of the jar in calculations. You can get exactly how much you need, and never deal with extra trash and packaging. In order to be conscientious guardians or steward of this earth we are entrusted with, we can all do our part to keep excess waste from sitting in landfills.

“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it (2:21).” Pirkei Avot

TLDR: here’s a few quick tips to being an educated consumer and voting for food justice for all with your wallet.

  1. Stick to the periphery of the grocery store, or go to a farmers market!
  2. Look out for labels on animal products, can you find pasture raised or certified humane?
  3. Which product has less packaging?  How can I reduce my environmental footprint with my purchases?

Amanda was the JOFEE fellow for OneTable, bringing food justice, sustainability, and Jewish food values to the Shabbat dinner table. Amanda has a Master’s in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts from GW. This position was made possible by a grant from The Morningstar Foundation and the United Jewish Endowment Fund of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, through Hazon’s JOFEE fellowship program.

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