Hazon Food Guide
Hazon has been steadily working to compile best practices around food for Jewish institutions. The Hazon Food Audit and Food Guide Toolkit will help you navigate food choices in your synagogue, JCC, camp, Hillel, or other institution and offers practical suggestions for bringing our ancient tradition of keeping kosher–literally, eating food that is “fit”– to bear on the range of food choices we’re making today.
Jewish meals unite us—whether it’s a Passover seder at home, a communal lunch in a JCC senior center or a Jewish summer camp, or a Shabbat dinner in your congregation. Food, rituals around food, distinctions about what’s “kosher” whether defined according to Jewish law or to other ethical standards, is a defining feature of our religion, tradition and culture. So, when a group of Jews sits down to eat what we serve and how we serve it matters.
Hazon’s Food Guide is full of inspiration, ideas, definitions, real-life stories, and guidance. It seeks to help us to approach the daily act of feeding ourselves and our communities with the kind of sanctity, satisfaction, and gratitude our tradition celebrates.
Jewish institutions—as the gathering places of our people, the places where we convene to learn, to pray to socialize, to heal, and yes, to eat—have the opportunity to do this in meaningful and perhaps even game-changing ways. So use the Food Guide to help you take the first steps.
The Food Audit, a companion to the Food Guide, is an easy-to-use assessment tool. Download the complete Food Audit Toolkit and Food Guide below or click on the following toggles to download individual chapters.
Download the Sustainable Buying Guide [PDF], a supplemental resource to the Food Guide.
“V’Achalta, V’Savata, u’Verachata” You shall eat, you shall be satisfied, and you shall bless God.
—Birkat hamazon, the traditional Jewish blessing after the meal.
Jewish meals unite us—whether it’s a Passover seder at home, a communal lunch in a JCC, a senior center, or a Jewish summer camp, or a Shabbat dinner in your congregation. Food, rituals around food, and distinctions about what’s “kosher,” whether defined according to Jewish law or to other ethical standards, is a defining feature of our religion, tradition, and culture. So, when a group of Jews sit down to eat in a JCC, a synagogue, a hospice program, or a summer camp, what we serve and how we serve it matters.
The Hazon Food Audit Toolkit and Food Guide seek to help us to approach the daily act of feeding ourselves and our communities with the kind of sanctity, satisfaction, and gratitude our tradition celebrates. And believe me, in the age of industrial agriculture and in our increasingly “flat world,” this is not as easy as it seems. We do our best to provide nutritious meals to our children, our families, and our seniors. And yet, when we hand over a Styrofoam plate heaped with steaming industrial processed red meat, slaughtered by underpaid laborers and stewed in tomatoes imported from who-knows-where , we can’t help but be nagged by the uncomfortable question, is this really “kosher?” If we determine that who grows our food, where it comes from, what it’s fed, what’s sprayed on it, and what it’s served on matters to us, to our health, to the earth, to our neighbors, children, and grandchildren, then it’s time to begin asking ourselves a few tricky, but answerable, questions right now. Where does my agency get its food? How many “food miles” did it take to get from the farm to my mouth and how much petroleum does that represent? Who are the people growing my food and are they being paid enough to feed their families? Are there farmers nearby who are struggling to sell their crops who might supply our agency? As a Jewish communal agency, how might we supply our constituents and neighbors with healthy, locally grown food within our building and beyond?
Jewish agencies have begun to answer these questions in all kinds of exciting and innovative ways, from planting their own gardens to sponsoring local farm stands for their communities. As the gathering places of our people, the places where we convene to learn, to pray, to socialize, to heal, and yes, to eat—Jewish institutions have the opportunity to address these questions in meaningful and perhaps even game-changing ways. We represent formidable purchasing power and we can vote for a more sustainable and healthy world with our daily purchases. So use this Food Audit Toolkit and Food Guide to help you take the first steps, to ask yourselves the very real and very Jewish questions about where your agency is sourcing its food. Together we can work to sustain ourselves, our communities and our world.
Rachel Jacoby Rosenfeld was the founding Director of the Jewish Greening Fellowship, an innovative program of the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center that supports JCCS and Jewish camps in greening their facilities, operations, and programs. She is currently the Associate Director of Community Engagement at American Jewish World Service.
The word “kosher” means “fit” – and Jews have been evaluating what food is “fit” for them to eat for thousands of years. Jewish institutions generally have policies around kashrut observance; you’ll want to find out what the policy is at your institution if you don’t already know. These policies set the standard for what food may be served to the community at that institution.
While kosher is important, we see an opportunity to expand your consideration of what food is ‘fit’ to eat based on how and where it was grown, and the effects of its production on the people who do the work and the land where it is produced. Just as there are a range of hechshers (kosher labels) indicating different levels of kosher supervision, there are a number of different ‘eco-labels’ and terms used today to tell you about how a certain food was made.
We explain these terms and labels here, to guide you in your food choices. And we remind you that, in working with your institution to incorporate more sustainable food into its practices, you will have a lot of choices. Our food system is imperfect, and we don’t suggest that you set out hoping to serve exclusively local, sustainable, fair-trade, kosher, handmade, ethical, recycled everything on your first go. While you may always strive to bring your institution to greater heights of sustainability, be satisfied by incremental steps towards your goal.
When we eat together, we can connect on many different levels. We connect to the food, and if you have the chance to serve food from a local farm or a producer you know, then the stories of the people and the land that grew the food can be just as nourishing as the food itself. We connect to each other around a table, too; food gives us the chance to have longer conversations with folks we may regularly just see in passing. And we have the chance to learn and celebrate together, in a long chain of Jewish tradition.
Planning communal meals can be complicated by people’s busy schedules, institutional kashrut polices, space and time challenges, and so on. The tips in this section will help you navigate some of these challenges and help you create a memorable feast—whether the occasion is simply bringing your community together, giving your weekly kiddush table a sustainable-upgrade, celebrating life-cycle events, or planning for big holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Passover.
You’re going to need plates and utensils to serve all that delicious, locally-sourced food. This section will go through the best decisions you can make for your own Jewish institution and help you implement change where it matters most.
You may also wish to evaluate the pots and pans and appliances in your kitchen, in order to produce even more sustainable food at your institution. We don’t suggest, however, that you go through your kitchen and discard perfectly good items. Rather, when you’re in need of a new pan, or the old fridge breaks, consider making the investment in healthy and sustainable items.
Reducing the amount of waste we produce is a core Jewish environmental value. Even though over-consumption and waste production are relatively recent environmental issues, Judaism has been tackling these problems since Talmudic times. The Jewish concept of Bal Tashchit, which prohibits us from being wasteful or unnecessarily destructive, is based on a text from the Torah that urges us to consider our relationship to the natural world.
This section shares some innovative tips on reducing your food waste from the Teva Learning Center. And, when you’ve cut down all you can and still have leftover food, we cover the basics of composting: how it works, how to start your own pile or work with a facility in your area. Considering the entire food chain—not only what happens before the food gets to our plates, but what happens after it leaves— is a key component of shifting your institution toward sustainable food choices.
Changing the food you eat is one part of the equation; changing the way you think about it and talk about it is equally important. Food offers a wonderful starting point for diving in to Jewish tradition, and some of our ancient Jewish texts and practices offer remarkably relevant insights into the way we eat today.
It’s amazing how Jewish tradition can come to life when you have a hands-on learning experience. In this chapter we offer you a variety of different educational programming ideas, including movie nights, field trips, cooking classes, and speakers. We invite you to explore the possibilities of Jewish food education!
The increasing popularity of Jewish gardens and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects makes it even easier to bring healthy food and awareness of local food and farming issues to your synagogue, community center, or institution. Hazon’s food work began with the launch of the first ever Jewish CSA in 2004. Since then, the Hazon CSA program has expanded to include over 50 sites across the US, Canada, and Israel. We’ve seen firsthand how a CSA can bring a community together, inspire new programs and learning, and have a very real effect on supporting sustainable agriculture. Collectively, Hazon CSAs have put nearly $5 million in Jewish purchasing power behind sustainable agriculture since 2004.
If you want to go beyond a CSA, what better place to learn about the miracles of growing food than in a garden where you can actually watch the process happen? People of all ages can learn something new in a garden, finding joy and intrigue in the unfolding drama of growing plants. A garden at your institution can connect your community to the growing cycle. It can also, if it’s big enough, grow enough food to feed you, or perhaps even supply a soup kitchen in your area. And it can become a living laboratory where you can learn about Jewish agricultural laws and food blessings with an entirely fresh perspective.
Our current industrial-based food system does not adequately give equal access to healthy, nourishing food and many do not have access to food at all. However, Jewish tradition, firmly rooted in texts from the Torah, sees a direct connection between social justice, agriculture, and religious obligations. This section will explore the issues of food justice and explain why it is important that as a Jewish community we not only work on spreading awareness, but that we do something to help create a just and sustainable food system for everyone.
Your decision to read this guide shows that you’ve already taken the first step by deciding to make a difference at your Jewish institution. This section will guide you through the conversations you will need to have and the steps you will need to take to make changes. Keep in mind that every Jewish institution is unique, with their own set of values and priorities. The more you are able to show that you understand your institution’s values, and that the changes you are proposing will benefit your community, the more successful you will be.
Hazon has developed a number of resources to engage people of all ages on issues related to eating, cooking, and making sense of the challenges of our contemporary food system. These include curriculums for students and families, an adult sourcebook, and the Jewish Food Education Network. In this section you will find Hazon resources, as well as a long list of other possibilities, including books, movies, and organizations.
Compiled in the Food Guide and its appendices are a number of resources available nationally to support your efforts to become healthier and more sustainable. Additionally, many local communities have resources uniquely available to them. In this section you will find such resources for some communities. If your community is not included, we invite contributors to create a new supplement; please email us at email@example.com if you are interested.
“Ma Tovu Ohalecha Ya’akov, Mishkenotecha Israel”How lovely are your tents, O Jacob; your dwelling places, Israel.
—Morning Blessings, from Numbers 24:5
A midrash explains that the reason the prophet, Bilam, found the Israelite’s encampment so worthy of blessing was that each family had set up their tent so that their doors did not directly face any other tent, creating respectful privacy in the community.
Similarly, taking steps to change the food we eat, and the way we serve it, at our institution recognizes that the actions we take within our own community have an effect on the world around us. And there is no one way to go about it; the doubling in this verse suggests that there are many different tents, many different peoples, and many ways to achieve our goal of a just and righteous food system. The important thing is that we take the steps that are right for our community.
Building a new food system—one that respects the health of ecosystems, animals and people, one that ensures all people are fed, one that emits no waste or greenhouse gasses and requires no toxic chemicals—will take a lot of people, and a lot of work at a lot of levels. By encouraging the Jewish community to add their voice to this project, Hazon is working towards creating healthy and sustainable communities in the Jewish world, and beyond. We thank you for partnering with us in this important work!
We’d love to hear from you. If you have questions about the Food Audit or Food Guide, or want to share your challenges, successes and stories, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This latest draft of the Hazon Food Guide is the result of many hardworking hands. Huge thanks to the following people who have brought this project to life!
Judith Belasco, Poppy Berelowitz, Alyssa Berkowitz, Ellen Botnik, Miriam Coates, Chloe Friedman, Rachel Gelman, Paul Goettlich, Justin Goldstein, Richard Grayson, Anna Hanau, Daniel Infeld, Leah Koenig, Liz Kohn, Rachel Loebl, Becky O’Brien, Shuli Passow, Robin Rifkin, Rachel Jacoby Rosenfeld, Rachel Sacks, Brooke Saias, Nigel Savage, Amanda Schanfield, Nadia Schreiber, Natalie Soleil, Edith Stevenson, Rabbi Jeffrey Summit, Lauren Wasserman, Cassie Weinstock, and Jake Wilkenfeld-Mongillo.
Special thanks to the Baltimore Food and Faith Project at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future for allowing access and use of their Faith Community Food Audit which formed the basis for the Hazon Food Audit.