Meat Me for Dinner

Google a sample Shabbat dinner menu and you’ll see that meat is often featured prominently.  Judaism has a lot to say about eating meat: what kind of animals we can eat, how meat can be prepared, how animals must be treated, how farmland must be treated, and how workers must be treated.  In today’s food system, it can be very difficult to make educated decisions – the labels and terms are constantly changing and many are intended to confuse the consumer. If you choose to eat meat, here are some tips for making Jewishly informed decisions about your meat products.  

1. The law of tzaar baalei hayyim prohibits cruelty to animals.  

Exodus 23:5 “If you see your enemy’s donkey collapsed under its burden would you refrain from helping him? You shall surely help along with him.

If you see an animal suffering, even if it is not your animal but rather your enemy’s animal, you must help.  This passage shows that animals are innocent, no matter whose they are, and we have a responsibility to alleviate suffering when we see it.  But when do we see it? We know industrialized farming is cruel to animals and hides it from our sight, so how can we alleviate it? My response- don’t support it.  Educate yourself about the labels and farms that you feel comfortable supporting. Here’s a label guide from Farm Forward for buying poultry:

2. Know your farmer, meet your butcher, or go to a farmers market or store where you can talk to someone who knows the industry well.  Eliminating the number of barriers between you and the person who raised the animal is a big step towards “seeing” what’s happening. If you’re in the D.C. area, The Organic Butcher of McLean is a new nourishment option on the OneTable platform. Their knowledgeable staff is available to help you figure out the best cut for your dish.  If you or your guests are concerned about Kosher hechshers, check out some amazing Kosher companies dedicated to higher-welfare sourcing such as KOL foods and Grow and Behold.

3. The Jewish value of Bal Tashchit commands us not to waste:

Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 6:10 – “Not only one who cuts down a fruit tree, but anyone who destroys household goods, tears clothing, demolishes a building, stops up a spring, or ruins food deliberately, violates the prohibition of Bal Tashchit,‘do not destroy.”

Particularly when an animal’s life has been taken for our sustenance, it’s a time to be very sensitive about not wasting. Bones can be saved to make soups and stocks (not to mention added flavor and nutritional value…. anyone heard of bone broth?), and you can discover new cuts of meat you’ve never heard of that might otherwise be wasted.  Buying higher quality meat with higher nutrient content means you won’t need as much to feel full; the same amount may last for several meals rather than just one – or you could invite a few more people to your table!

Thank you to the wonderful educators at JIFA (Jewish Initiative for Animals) for inspiring me to write this post and giving me so many amazing materials.  Check out their website here for more!

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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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