Mitzvah Meat – Bringing Sustainable Kosher Meat to the Table

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The concept of sustainable kosher meat has been swirling around the Jewish community for a couple of years now, but tracking down the real thing is about as tough as an undercooked brisket.

I have come to partly dread the semi-regular emails I receive from hopeful people asking if I can tell them where to find kosher organic chickens in Topeka or, heck, Berkeley. Same thing for the farmers who call and say they have the chickens, or cattle, or lamb and just need to find a shochet (kosher slaughterer), and can we help them with that? In some cases, the answer is yes, but overwhelmingly I find myself apologizing that, while the demand for such a thing is growing, supply – and especially willing schochtim – just haven’t quite caught up yet.

That’s why I was excited to hear that New York City resident, Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein, is making it a little easier to eat one’s values, through a new sustainable kosher meat co-op: Mitzvah Meat.

Shetreat-Klein, a physician and mother of three, recently launched Mitzvah Meat – which she describes as a “fledgling source of kosher, ethically raised and slaughtered, grass-fed meat from local New York farms.” Their first delivery of meat will include lamb (and eggs), and will be delivered on August 19th to a few selected locations in New York City.

Mitzvah Meat joins Kol Foods in Washington DC, and a few other small co-ops as one of the beacons of light on the horizon of kosher meat eating. As Shetreat-Klein admits, the business of bringing this meat to consumers is “unbelievably complicated.” And when I compare the impact of feeding perhaps a couple dozen families “mitzvah meat” with the 500 heads of cattle and 60,000 chickens that were slaughtered at Agriprocessors every day before the raid, it is hard not to feel a bit discouraged.

Then again, those emails from consumers and farmers alike keep coming. And coming. And so while we’re definitely not there yet, I can’t help but feel like, as a community, we are on the brink of something big.

Mitzvah Meat is taking its first orders through August 11th for lamb and egg deliveries in the NYC area – more info here.

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12 Responses to “Mitzvah Meat – Bringing Sustainable Kosher Meat to the Table”

  1. Samantha Says:

    How wonderful! As someone who shares a freezer with two other (wholly uninterested) roommates, I’m still waiting for the time when you can order more than 15 lbs… but this is definitely a Good Thing.

  2. Simcha Daniel Burstyn Says:

    Wow! Can I get it in Pittsburgh? My sister in Wisconsin orders kosher beef through a butcher in Philadelphia who FedExes the meat on ice (maybe dry ice). Maybe in connection with a service like that, this could go national!

  3. Samantha Says:

    oops, i meant *less* than 15 lbs. Guess I have to be more careful when commenting on here. :)

  4. Eric Schulmiller Says:

    We’re actually discussing how our Tuv site might sign on with Mitzvah Meat at our CSA core group meeting tomorrow!

  5. Jeff Yoskowitz Says:

    I’d hope Mitzvah meat doesn’t go national because that would defeat its purposes slightly, but it would be great if other cooperatives started up around the country.

    The age-old problem keeps coming up, though, and that is that the cost of the meat and eggs is completely inaccessible to most people, including (especially) me. I just perused the website and it seems that when I return to New York I’ll be eating vegetarian again just because of cost (which may be a good thing). And while I know the true cost of sustainable meat is higher than industrial, sustainable kosher meat prices seem to somehow be a bit exorbitant. I guess it just comes down to demand.

  6. Maya Says:

    Jeff–

    I understand the concerns about cost only too well. Eating local and sustainable food is one of the biggest expenses, if not the biggest, of our household. My goal in Mitzvah Meat is to strive to make this affordable as well as sustainable — though this may take time as we develop the volume to make that possible. Unfortunately, so far it is a constant balance between making it possible and making it affordable. Anything done on a small scale that is kosher seems to wind up very costly. Kosher slaughter has fixed expenses of rabbinical supervision, shochets, mashgiach, butcher, salt, slaughterhouse expenses with an extra premium for humane, upright slaughter. Then, the costs of grass-fed and -finished meat are quite a bit more than grain-fed because they take much longer to get to market weight. The animals also grow more slowly because there isn’t chronic antibiotic or hormone administration, which normally causes growth acceleration. So, the cost even from the farmer is considerable as well, though certainly deserved. And then the high price of gas for delivery impacts the overall price as well.

    I’m sure you already know that the price of agribusiness meat is also falsely low — we pay or have yet to pay those costs not accounted for: Environmental costs of gasoline expenses to transport animals and grain, waste pollution, pesticides and herbicides being sprayed on feed that impact ecosystems and our own water and soil, etc. We are also paying the costs in our own health and through our taxes for medicaid and medicare with all the health issues that come along with that meat that is high in omega-6 fatty acids. This humane and sustainable meat project reflects the true cost of meat without hidden expenses or subsidies.

    That said, lamb happens to be particularly expensive both to buy from the farmer as well as to butcher (double the price of beef just to process!) But in pricing, we compared our price (calculated as an average) to those of the various separate cuts included in our order. Our prices actually were comparable to regular market prices for kosher, which are for factory-farmed lamb done on a large scale.

    I hear you on being vegetarian; I was one for many years. And I really appreciate feedback, so thank you!

  7. Dan Hochman Says:

    I am trying hard to “close the food circle” and fing it very hard while keeping kosher.
    I am looking to raise goats(maybe some chickens) in washington county new york. The problem is finding a place to bring them to be butchered. All the places I spoke to would only do it if I sold them the animals live and walked away. I want the meat for myself and othes, and I wish to avoid the stress to the animal found with shipping, and standing around a plant.
    I know the profit margin is small, but i can not believe that there is no one willing to help process these animals!

  8. Roberta Schiff Says:

    The easiest way to be kosher – go vegan!
    No meat – no dairy – no need to separate anything.

    It is better for our health – for the animals and for the planet.

    I watched the two goats being slaughtered at the Hazon Food Conference in December 2007. Certainly this was less inhumane than a slaughterhouse, but the animals still died. When we arrived at the farm the goats were frisking around, obviously happy, no knowledge that their lives woulds soon end.When the shoicet held up their heart and lungs, it was quite obvious to me that they were from young healthy animals killed in the prime of their lives. While waiting, I began to make a cell phone call and the organizerd were very upset thinking I was taking pictures. If this is an acceptable thing to do, why not allow pictures? In the dining room that night the flesh of the goats was served at a separate table, away from all the other food, why, when chicken was on the buffet? The next day in Shabbat services a young man spoke about what a moving and emotionally meaningful experience it was for him, especially as his baby daughter had been with him. This I found to be overwhelmingly sad.

    Why not raise vegetables and keep some goats and chickens for companions and allow them the joy of a complete life? As Alice Walker has said, “The animals of the World were made for their own reasons, they were not made for humans anymore than women were made for men or black people for white people.”

    SOme websites to check out.
    http://www.all-creatures.org
    http://www.upc-online.org
    http://www.goveg.com

  9. Dan Hochman Says:

    This is a very complex, and emotional, issue. You are indeed correct that the animal is dead, and that is sad. You are correct that if one is vegan one will not contribute to the use of animals. The problem is that the majority of humans are not, and likely never will be, vegan. Therefore, the issue becomes how do we obtain our food in the most ethical and humane way possible.
    I do garden and grow vegetables. But people want milk, and eggs, and meat.
    I personally want to start this goat farm because I am a veterinarian and a good (and Kosher) client of mine raises goats for milk. And as all the milk industry does, this produces a “by product”, which is of course babies. This is a good food source. I am trying to figure a way to raise these guys in a humane manner and have someone come to the farm, and then bring it to a butcher.
    Funny, I work all day to preserve life, I also feel a responsibility to decrease suffering and stress to all animals, even food animals

  10. Bill Kelly Says:

    Ever since we investigated what was happening at agriprocessors and read the Omnivore’s Dilema, my family has decided to wait for some kind of grass fed kosher beef to become available in Northern California. I hope this won’t take a generation, but how can we expand the availability of shocktem? Maybe as part of the conservative ‘ethical kashrut’ the movement will have to create the non-orthodox shocket as a response.

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