Moving Forward with the Kosher Humane Organic Meat Movement in Toronto

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A Toronto resident chicken that lives at Bathurst and Eglinton
The word koshermeans “fit” — and so, when applied to food, it means “fit for eating.”  We would all love to believe that kashrut comprises the highest set of standards for our food, and that it is a system which addresses the health of our bodies, a concern for how our food is grown and raised, and the ethical aspect of bringing food to our tables.  Perhaps that was the case before the days of factory farming, and hopefully it will be the case again one day soon, but in the meantime, what is a Jew to do upon discovering that the only kosher meat available in Toronto comes from animals that were raised in crowded, filthy, quarters without enough room to move, fed genetically-modified corn, and were likely unhealthy at the time of slaughter?  There are currently three options:
  1. Stop eating meat: This option requires enduring the Jewish guilt that comes from refusing your grandmother’s brisket, and on a more serious note, may not be the most health-supportive choice for everyone.
  2. Eat high-quality non-kosher meat: When faced with the choice between pasture-raised non-kosher meat and conventionally-raised kosher meat, many Jews who would otherwise keep kosher homes are choosing the pasture-raised option.  For some it is a health choice, for others it is a way to uphold their values in day-to-day life, and for many it is a combination of the two.
  3. Dissociate: Forming a disconnect between the meat on one’s plate and the animal(s) it came from may make eating kosher meat more palatable, but dissociation presents its own set of moral quandaries.
Quite frankly, that embarrasses me.  How can my tradition, which prides itself on its elevated moral standards and foodways, cling to a system in which the only way to eat meat is to defile our bodies, disregard concern for the physical environment, and contribute to a system that dishonours animal life?  I believe that it is possible to create a fourth solution.  Eating meat can — and should — be a holy act, an act that brings us to an awareness of the Spirit that connects all living things.  We can bring meat to this city that is kosher, organic, and humanely-treated, and if we take our role as active Jews seriously, then we must. 
It will take a lot of work to turn this vision into reality, and I believe this is a responsiblity that we must saddle as a community.  The first step, which I would like to undertake in the coming months*, is to compile a research report which comprehensively explores the feasibility of different models given Ontario provincial regulations, the structure of the kashrut industry, the practicality of various business models, and the existence and practices of existing growers and purveyors.  The full report will comprise four case studies as follows:
  1. Outsourcing some or all of the production to an existing organic meat company such as Berretta Farms or Tiferet Organic Products
  2. Running an educational shechita at a small farm in our southern Ontario region
  3. Sourcing meat directly from a small farm in our southern Ontario, slaughering it, and selling it: individually-owned corporation and cooperative business models
  4. Raising, slaughtering and selling meat from a small, educational farm in southern Ontario that privately owned but managed by a non-profit organization 

This project is large.  It will require community collaboration in various capacities in addition to a lot of thinking outside the box.  But the time has come to realize this dream, and if we pool our resources we can provide the Toronto Jewish community with meat that satisfies all of our standards: religious, nutritional, ethical, and environmental.
*The scope of this project is large, and I am not currently in a position to give all of my time to its realization. If you are interested in getting involved or supporting the project, please contact me at or at home at 416-651-6059.

Yael Greenberg lives in downtown Toronto and loves exploring the intersection between the hearth, the food system and supportive community. She currently works as the manager and baker at Kavanah Caterer, which brings sustainable food to the Toronto Jewish community.

© 2018 Shoresh.