Food for Thought ~ Hazon Food Conference

Well. the Hazon Food Conference is almost over. Tomorrow is the final day, and then at around 1 we’ll head back up or down the coast, or across the country, hopefully bringing some of what we’ve learned back to wherever we call home.

A few highlights from the last few days:

Learning from the owners of Lotus Foods about SRI, the “system of rice intensification,” an entirely different way of growing rice that is better for the rice farmers and the planet. Lotus Foods makes the black and red rices I use in the “I am DIY”/Cafe Gratitude-style rice bowl you all know and love, so it was amazing to learn more about how this rice is grown. I will be writing more on this in the future, I promise!

Catalyzing inspiration from a participant at one of the many Food Justice sessions: “How do we integrate the food movement with the hunger movement? How do we fight for a sustainable food system that also ensures no one goes hungry? People at this conference are not necessarily thinking about hunger; they’re here to think about food, which implies having food.” Time for foodies and food security (aka anti-hunger) activists to unite, and I want to be part of it!

Get some friends together to support each other and pick a week to try the Food Stamp Challenge Diet (eating for a week on $21, or $1/meal). Wouldn’t that make an interesting blog event?

The word sustainability is thrown around like crazy these days. I even found myself using it much more than usual. “What brings you here?,” people would ask me. “I’m very interested in sustainable food systems,” I would reply. It sounded great and felt like something I definitely was interested in, but I realized I had no idea what I was actually saying when I said it. Michael Domick, the dynamo president of Roots of Change and former chairman of Slow Food USA, listed these components when I asked him (I am paraphrasing here, so these are my words, not his). According to Roots of Change, a sustainable food system aims to:
Eliminate toxicity from the system (defined as the type of toxins the earth can’t process and deal with naturally)
Not overtap aquifers
Treat farm workers with respect and provide opportunities for them in terms of career advancement
Stop creating unhealthy foods
Bring in a diversity of scale, emphasizing regional, rather than national/central, food systems
Eliminate CAFOs and make animal processing local rather than centralized (with an eye to more humane animal raising and processing)

One of the tracks/themes of the conference was about fasting, and I realized that, at least in the reform/renewal Judaism I grew up with, we’ve kept all the feast days from the ancient Jewish calendar but eliminated all but one of the fast days. Very thought-provoking.

For more voices from the Hazon Food Conference, check out:

The Jew and the Carrot
The Boulder Jewish News
Pretty Girls Use Knives
Jewschool
The food conference Twitter feed

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Who Will Eat the Goat? ~ Hazon Food Conference, Day 3

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Photo of Adamah goats is from the Hevria site: http://hevria.com/chaya/jews-should-be-farmers/

Nigel Savage, founder of Hazon, asked us two questions during his keynote speech last night at the Hazon Food Conference. It felt like the beginning of one of those Jewish parables, the ones where the wise rabbi asks or tells us something that means more than it seems on the surface, where you ponder on the teaching and the world opens up in a new way.

“Stand up if you eat meat, but you wouldn’t if you had to kill it yourself,” Nigel called out. A number of people in the packed hall rose from their seats. I applauded them for their self-awareness and honesty, while of course maintaining a certain degree of vegetarian smugness.

Then he asked us another question. “Stand up if you are vegetarian, but would eat meat if you killed it yourself.” This time fewer people stood up, but it was still a significant number.

Then Nigel told us the story of the goat.

Two years ago, while putting together the second annual Hazon Food Conference, the planners decided that one of the activities offered would be the opportunity to see a goat killed in a kosher manner. A shochet, or ritual slaughterer, and a rabbi explained the whole process as they performed it. The death by slitting of the throat was almost instantaneous, as kosher law requires. Then there were several more hours of cutting off the goat’s head, hanging its body to drain the blood, opening it up to inspect its organs.

That night the same goat was served for dinner, on a separate table from the rest of the meal, which was vegetarian, and everyone was invited to partake. Nigel asked those same two questions afterwards, but this time he asked who among the diners who normally ate meat had abstained. More than 40 people out of a few hundred stood up. Then he asked if any people who were normally vegetarians had eaten the goat. Around 20 people had, for their own numerous and varied reasons, made this choice.

When word got out before the conference that the ritual slaughter of a goat was to be part of the programming, this provoked some intense reactions. A Jewish vegetarian organization disavowed Hazon and called on others to do the same. For a more detailed look at the sentiments behind the reactions, check out this post and its comments section to read a dialogue which took place this year regarding Hazon’s intention to ritually slaughter chickens and serve them for Shabbat dinner.

I’m a vegetarian, so this doesn’t have much to do with me, right? I can pick a side based on my own principles, but those goats and chickens aren’t being killed and served up in my name.

Except for one thing.

That goat was my goat.

No, I don’t mean he was my own pet goat. I mean that goat was my responsibility. I brought him into this world. His fate was directly linked to me.

That year the Hazon conference was held at the Isabella Freeman Jewish Retreat Center, and the goat in question was from their farm, Adamah, part of Adamah’s “boy’s town.” “Boy’s town” is the separate pasture for all the male goats who are born to the herd of dairy goats Adamah raises to produce milk and cheese. In order to make milk, goats need to be lactating, and to lactate they must be pregnant and then give birth. According to the wonderful Abbe Turner of the Lucky Penny Farm, who answered my questions (during today’s panel of Jewish Female Farmers) with deep compassion and groundedness, around 56% of the kids born in her herd are male. None of these little guys will be producing milk any time soon. So what happens to them?

I imagine this answer is different for different goats. And then there also the even more numerous males born to dairy cows, and all the males born to laying hens. Some end up as featured delicacies in local gourmet retaurants, like Abbe Turner’s. Others are killed quickly and cleanly by a shochet and eaten by those who raised them, like the goats at Adamah. Most others will likely go to central processing plants to become stew meat or pet food or veal calves or are even ground into livestock feed, like male laying chickens.

When I eat eggs and dairy, even from the most humane, sustainable, small-farmer-owned, organic, local farms, I am not only drinking this milk and noshing on this cheese. I am calling forth this male goat, this living animal who is brought into a world that has very few options for him. Farmers could keep these male animals and raise them – and Abbe Turner does send some off to live lengthy lives as 4H projects or grass shearers. But to keep all of these animals would be to make pets of them, and the strain this doubling of the herd would put on the resources of land and water and farmer would be enormous beyond justification.

In saying that, I’m not saying that the strain on resources of keeping these “extraneous” male animals alive is not justified by the saving of their lives; I’m saying that it’s not justified by the resources (i.e., money) that I’m willing to contribute to get myself a delicious chevre or some tasty yogurt. I’m not paying so much for my cheese that there’s money in there to fund a goat sanctuary as well. So, the goat goes off to the knife. Someone kills him, someone cooks him, someone eats him. It’s not me, though.

No, I’m a vegetarian.

This post is cross-posted to Hazon’s food blog, The Jew and the Carrot. It is not intended to endorse any particular diet or agenda, e.g. to say that being vegan (abstaining from all animal products) is the only way to live, or that vegetarians are hypocrites. It merely hopes to be an exploration of one of the least considered aspects of our food chain.

Nibbles & Snacks ~ Hazon Food Conference, Day 2

Tasty stuff:

I am experiencing the unparalleled pleasure of having total foodie-obsessive conversations with everyone I meet. Conversations cover everything from animal welfare as it pertains to the dairy industry to whether or not gluten intolerance can be ameliorated through sourdough fermentation or by using non-rancid flour to an animated joint recounting of every vegan and vegetarian dish ever cooked on Top Chef. (By the way, if you haven’t watched the episode of Top Chef Masters where they have to cook a vegan meal for Zooey Deschanel and her friends, and all these professional chefs are totally confused and intimidated and crying about how it’s “like cooking with one hand tied behind your back,” you really need to check it out. I guess I’m a Master Chef since I somehow manage to cook creative, tasty vegan food every single day.)

I am very clearly not going to starve as I had feared. In addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we have three snack breaks a day, and today’s snack schedule was additionally supplemented by an evening wine and cheese tasting for Shabbat. I feel like a hobbit – “breakfast, then second breakfast, then elevenses, then lunch, followed by afternoon tea, then dinner, then supper…” – and the fact that Mary’s Crackers sponsored our after-lunch snack break only adds to joy. The Joy of Noshing, this conference could be called!

Santa even makes Christmas morning deliveries to Jewish Food Conferences, for those who believe in him. I’ll say no more on that one. (Thanks, Mama Santa!)

I am like a walking tourist bureau for San Francisco’s dining establishments. A bunch of conference attendees are taking a few more days of vacation in the City and are looking for recommendations. This being a food conference, I have found receptive ears for my detailed descriptions of my favorite places to eat. I created a vegan visitor’s tour tonight for one of my tablemates, debated Millenium vs. Greens with another, and Burma Super Star can thank me for the huge bump in business they can expect after the conference (not that they need any help!).

A little sour:

One bummer was that they served barley at lunch, with no signage to warn people or info about whether or not another grain was available for those of us who can’t eat gluten. After asking us on our applications whether or not we were gluten-free, this kind of oversight was surprising and disappointing. One woman at my table even asked one of the Asilomar chefs if it contained gluten and was told no, so she just figured it must be very large-grained brown rice and chowed down. A few bites in she realized her mistake. I hope she doesn’t get too sick! C’mon, Hazon, that’s an important one to get right…

The accessibility issues still seem pretty severe. I’m plum tuckered from hiking back and forth from my room to the social hall, dining room, and various session locations. The sessions are really spread out (though they could be even further apart – Asilomar is huge!), and I am curious about the logic behind the room assignments for each session.

The worst part, though, from both a low-energy/movement-compromised perspective and a cognitive disability perspective (as, sadly, I am qualified to assess from both) is how confusing everything is geographically. Our conference program has a map in the back, laid out of one of those grids with numbers along one side and letters along the other, but there’s no map index! So there’s no place to look up the session locations by name and then be led to them on the map.

I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time so far squinting at this map, scanning each quadrant and trying to find the place I’m looking for. And then, once I’ve found it on the map, that’s still no guarantee I’ll be able to find it in real life. All the paths here are circuitous, and none of the buildings are well-marked. Today I walked down a road, followed a little path, and then circled a building almost entirely before coming across the tiny sign that announced its name.

I had passed SIX separate entrances to the building, but none of them were marked with the building’s name. After circling the entire building I finally found the small, discreet sign (dark yellow lettering on brown) that told me I was in the wrong place. I was so tired by then that I just wanted to go back to my room and never leave. My room, however, was uphill, and the place I was trying to get to was downhill, so I continued onward, following the path of least resistance.

First Impressions ~ Hazon Food Conference

Vintage Postcards from Cardcow.com

I’m in hour 7 of the Hazon Food Conference and I’m exhausted! I thought I would be watching a movie about Jewish chicken ranchers in Petaluma right now, but I decided to stay in and rest in my room with my stream-of-consciousness-emitting, jet-lagged roommate who was adorably entertaining before she passed out cold from still partially occupying a timezone 19 hours ahead.

Highlights so far:

  • My ride down the coast with four strangers who needed lifts to the conference, all fellow “young adults,” sharing stories and conversation and getting a general preview of things to come.
  • The pickling and fermenting workshop where the handout included the instructions, “skim the mold off the top.” Finally! Do you know how many batches of sauerkraut Duck and I threw away due to scummy foam (and fermentation-related paranoia)? And all this time we were just supposed to skim it off the top… Expect to see some pickling and fermenting appearing soon out of my box – I have a whole Savoy cabbage waiting for me at home and I finally feel ready to do this thing.
  • Sitting in the dining hall with all the other Young Adult Fellowshippers, particularly the conversation we had brainstorming things to ask/talk about other than, “So, what do you do?” Our favorite one: “What do you like to eat?,” which yielded up rice cakes with hummus, sauerkraut and butter pickles. Wow! That sure beats, “I’m in accounting” for a conversation-starter.
  • Chinese food for dinner, since we’re Jews and it’s Christmas Eve. Cute. (My family is always totally bemused at these “Jewish traditions” that we’ve never followed.)

Bummer:

  • Pretty poor registration process. The capper was that when I showed up, hurrying to get to the pickling workshop that started momentarily, no one had any idea where I should park. It was as though the idea of parking had never before been discussed or addressed. I felt like I was met with the kind of anti-car sentiment I’m used to encountering from bike/transit folks but, excuse me, we’re in the middle of nowhere (transit-wise) and I had just used my car to transport five conference participants who had no other way to get down here. The whole conference is volunteer-powered, though, which makes me feel much more forgiving of disorganization (but not of attitude!).
  • I’m afraid I’ll starve before this food conference is over. The portions at dinner were tiny and they ran out of food before everyone was fed (they did cook some other stuff, so no one actually starved tonight). Plus I can’t eat the bread, cookies, scones, and such that are probably meant to fill us up. Maybe I’ll live off the idea of food, like Judge Ooka’s famous Case of the Stolen Smell, since there is sure to be plenty of that in the air this weekend.

A more serious concern:

  • It never fails to astound me how much I took for granted when I was hale and hearty and able-bodied. Asilomar is a maze, a warren of pathways and stairwells and steep pebbled pathways. There are handrails, which is good for folks who need those, but if someone needed to avoid stairs entirely they would need Theseus’ string to find their way to and fro and probably his biceps as well to haul themselves up these steep paths.

    The young adults self-assembled outside the dining hall after dinner to introduce ourselves, but when the introductions where done the conversation continued on and on, keeping us all standing upright out in the cold without offering some kind of opening for those who needed to sit or leave to go on their way. Again, stuff I just never thought about when my body did pretty much everything I asked of it. But it seems just mind-blowing to me now.

    This whole conference and space feels very geared towards able-bodied folks. It’s a kind of consciousness that I barely have myself, with my own body screaming feedback at me, so it’s not surprising that it might be hard for the organizers to keep in mind (for example, there was no specific place to discuss accessibility needs on the application).

Jews and Food ~ Week of December 24th

Duck and I put our CSA on hold again for a few weeks while we catch up on the backlog, but something even better came in my box this week: a full scholarship to the Hazon Food Conference, home of the New Jewish Food Movement.

I still can barely believe I get to go. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation, who sponsored several complete scholarships (conference tuition, room, and board) for young adults “who have not yet been involved in a leadership capacity in the New Jewish Food Movement.” First of all, when do I ever get to be a “young adult” anymore? The cut-off is usually 30, max, and it’s been a couple of years since I qualified for that. Second of all, who has ever heard of a scholarship where they want people who haven’t done a lot of work in the field already, where you don’t have to prove yourself worthy while being totally anxious that you’re underqualified?

This is an amazing gift. The conference sounds incredible, but there’s no way I would have been able to go without subsidization. The goal of the scholarship is to “bring a large contingent of young adults to the Hazon Food Conference and to catalyze the energy and learning from the conference to bring substantive work around food and Judaism, as well as other meaningful points of connection to Jewish life, back to your communities and your everyday lives.” So I’m bringing my sparkle and my listenin’ ears, all ready to learn and catalyze and connect!

What’s in my box this week: (the conference is organized around 8 themes)
Do-it-yourself food
Food justice
Jewish tradition and food: History and culture
Health and nutrition
Food systems and sustainability
Israel: Food and agriculture
Jewish food education
Fasting

I am most excited about the DIY and Food Justice tracks. It’s entertaining to see how my interests evolve – a few years ago, when I was preparing for Naturopathy school, I would have only had eyes for Health and Nutrition, and at another point in my life Fasting would have been a main attraction. Jewish Tradition and Food is always interesting, of course, but from reading the program descriptions that track seems mostly historical and informational, whereas I am betting DIY and FJ are going to be the most hands-on, action-oriented workshops.

I have a complicated relationship with Israel – so many of the activist communities I am part of are pro-Palestine and anti-Israel, which is overwhelming (particularly the internalized anti-Semitism I see in Jewish activists), and so much of the situation in the Middle East is wrapped up with US policies that make me very uncomfortable, so I tend to kind of hide my head in the sand when it comes to having opinions or feelings about Israel. Consequently the food and agriculture of Israel are about as interesting to me as, say, the food and agriculture of Turkey or Vietnam. It wouldn’t feel particularly like learning about the food systems of my ancient homeland, I don’t think. On the other hand, I identify strongly with the food traditions of Western Russia and Moldavia, where my family was before coming to the US, so I may just have a more recent definition of “home.”

Some of the things I hope to do while I’m at the Hazon Food Conference:

  • Talk to the owner of the Lucky Penny goat dairy farm to get the real skinny on whether humane goat dairy is even a possibility (by my definition of humane, of course)
  • Learn to make pickles and/or mozarella
  • Attend seminars on Food Justice Tools, Keeping the Justice in Charity, Slow Money (investing in the slow food movement), Jewish Female Farmers, Urban Agriculture, and Environmental vs. Animal Rights
  • Meet and mingle with the other young adult participants at a special dinner and meeting set up just for us to network and kibbitz
  • Learn more about the Hazon CSA, which has branches all over the country
  • Talk to the owner of Lotus Foods, which is the company that imports all the special rice we buy (like the black and red rices in the I Am DIY Rice Bowl), and learn more about their sustainable rice practices

There’s also a game night (I’m bringing a mere 5 out of our collection of nearly 50!), a “chai house” (yum!), a “cosmic walk,” that movie about Jewish chicken farmers in Petaluma I’ve been meaning to see for years (according to family lore that’s where one branch ended up), and of course community Shabbat, organic, local, and seasonal vegetarian and vegan food, and lots of lots of people who are as obsessed with food as I am!