Editor’s Note: Passover (coming up on April 18th) is one of the most important Jewish holidays. It is an annual celebration of our freedom from slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago. During the celebration, we sit around the dinner table (for hours before actually eating) in order to tell the story of how God helped us escape bondage.
One important part of the modern Passover Seder is the ritual of the youngest child asking four questions about the meal. The Four Questions are about the customs that make this night different from all other nights: Why do we eat matzo (unleavened bread)? Why do we eat only bitter herbs? Why do we dip our food in salt water twice? Why do we recline on pillows while eating? The leader of the Seder answers by saying, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord, our God, took us out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm.”
As a logically-minded kid, I always found this answer fairly useless, prompting another whining question of why I had to learn to sing these questions in the first place, if no one was going to answer them. It was at this point each year that my parents explained that the point of the Seder was precisely to encourage questions. At Passover, Jews celebrate redemption from slavery in Egypt. A slave cannot question or think — he must follow orders or suffer the consequences. By asking our questions, regardless of whether they have easy answers, we celebrate the freedom to question our world and to search for truth.
One question is missing
Over a festive Seder meal, we question the matzo and bitter herbs, but when the golden-skinned roast turkey and the intoxicatingly aromatic brisket arrives dramatically on the holiday table, we usually just enjoy. If we do stop to question how it got there, we think of the hours the hostess has spent cooking. Rarely do we ask about what happened before the kitchen. Passover, though, reminds us to question things in our surroundings that we take for granted, prompting a reconsideration of the steps that brought that turkey and beef to the table.
As the modern food industry has consolidated over the last century, animals have been moved from pastures to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where they are fed grain until they quickly reach market weight. Feeding grain to naturally grass-eating animals changes their body chemistry in ways that are unhealthy both for the animals themselves and to people who eat their meat. Conditions at CAFOs make animals stressed and sick, and the antibiotics used to combat these infections contribute to the creation of “superbugs,” antibiotic-resistant human diseases that are hard to treat. CAFOs dump animal waste into the environment, contaminating air, soil and water.
Is this how we want to get our food?
At Passover, we are reminded that we can stop and question whether these practices are something we are comfortable with, something we want to support through our purchases. We are not slaves to the industrial system of meat production, and our questions and our choices have the power to shape new practices. By buying kosher, sustainable meat that meets higher standards of humane practices, environmental protection, and human health, we question the idea that we must accept whatever the conventional meat industry says we should eat. In doing so, we make our world a better place.
This year, my Passover table will feature a sustainable golden-skinned roast turkey and an intoxicatingly aromatic, sustainable brisket. When I think of its origins, I will recognize the time my mother spent in the kitchen, but I will also think about the efforts of Aaron, the Amish farmer who raised the turkey in a pasture, and George, the Pennsylvania farmer who ensured that the healthy cow ate grass and never came near a feedlot. I will recognize the efforts of the food company where I’m an intern, whose efforts enable this delicious meat to be available for kosher seder tables.
At Passover, I have the freedom to question and the freedom to choose, and I choose to eat meat that is the most ethically produced it can be.
Amy Radding is an intern at KOL Foods where sustainable kosher meat is acquired, and a senior at Yale University, where she is studying as much as she can about sustainable food. She hopes to work in the future towards making sustainable food the norm in American society. When she is not doing schoolwork, she cooks in a restaurant and caters events in her residential college. She prefers her kosher, grass-fed brisket braised with caramelized shallots and pomegranate molasses.