By Leah Jalfon, MHWOW Program Coordinator
Fun fact: I never wanted to be a Jewish professional. Ever since I was little, I’ve wanted to, for lack of a better phrase, “save the world.”
I have a B.S. in Sustainable Development, so I spent four years of college learning about climate change and singing kumbaya. After college, I moved here to Charlotte, North Carolina to work for a solar power company where I tried to convince zoning boards that, no, a solar farm would not blind passing drivers, burn up birds, or leach toxic chemicals into the groundwater. I got to go home every day knowing that I was making a difference.
Last year, I decided it was time for a change. One of the reasons I chose to work for MHWOW was so that I could help support the Tikkun Olam programs you’re creating, like Juliana Spector’s volunteering on an urban farm, tree planting on Tu B’Shvat, and Talia Chain’s work at Sadeh, a Jewish farming community in the UK.
With the new year’s resolutions that come with Rosh Hashanah and the appreciation of the natural world I feel on Sukkot, I’m recommitting to reducing my carbon footprint, and I hope you will too. One way you can make your MHWOW programs better for the environment is through your meals.
More than others, some ingredients have a higher negative impact on the planet or its people. For example, some foods travel a long way to get to us, burning lots of fossil fuel in the process, which exacerbates climate change. Other foods, such as those grown locally by workers with humane conditions, have a lower negative impact. Here’s a list of seven of these higher impact foods with lower impact alternatives you can use when you’re planning your MHWOW menus, with tons of recipes from all different Jewish traditions.
Scroll to the bottom for the full list of the recipes!
High Impact: Almonds and Cashews
Lower Impact: Walnuts, Hazelnuts, Pine Nuts, Pistachios, Brazil Nuts, Pecans…pretty much all the other nuts
More than 80 percent of the world’s almonds come from California, a state whose drought causes water shortages and wildfires. Did you know that one almond takes 1.1 gallons of water to grow? Yikes. The majority of cashews come from India and Vietnam, where underpaid workers suffer permanent damage from shucking the toxic shells. Time magazine uncovered that cashews are often the product of workers in forced labor camps addicted to drugs. Try these nuts instead!
Pomegranates are part of the Sephardic Rosh Hashanah Seder. The blessing before eating pomegranate: “May we be as full of mitzvot as the pomegranate is full of seeds.”
High Impact: Mass-Produced Honey
Lower Impact: Local Honey
On Rosh Hashanah, we eat apples and honey for a sweet new year! But where to buy your honey? You may have heard that the world’s bee population is dwindling fast, and the best thing you can do to help is to buy honey from local farmers in your area. Supporting local bee habitats creates biodiversity which makes the bee population stronger. Plus, it tastes so much better! My personal favorite is sourwood honey.
Alright, how cute are these?!
74 people gave this recipe 5 stars, so I’m sure it will be a hit!
High Impact: Quinoa
Lower Impact: Rice, Lentils, Buckwheat, and Farro
Contrary to popular belief, quinoa farmers in Peru and Bolivia have financially benefited from the increase in quinoa consumption in Western countries. However, they are using more land to farm quinoa instead of letting it rest as fallow and maintaining llama herds. This wakens the soil because the it isn’t getting the necessary time to regenerate, and the absence of manure means less fertilizer for the soil. Weak soil = way harder to grow food in the future.
Middle Eastern comfort food at it’s best. Mujaderra is a lentil and rice pilaf topped with piles of fried onions that has been a staple for Middle Eastern Jews for centuries.
Freekah is wheat that’s harvested while young and green, and it’s also been part of Middle Eastern Jewish diets. One serving of freekah has more protein and twice as much fiber as quinoa!
Farro is an ancient variety of wheat with a unique nuttiness and a great texture. And some people who are intolerant to wheat can eat farro!
High Impact: Asparagus
Lower Impact: Local Asparagus
Surprisingly, asparagus is 6th on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s top 10 most climate-damaging foods due to the air miles required to import it from Latin America. Luckily there’s an easily solution: buy local!
This deliciousness only takes 8 minutes to bake!
High Impact: Plastic plates, cups, and utensils
Lower Impact: Compostable plates, cups, and utensils
Okay, yes, these aren’t food, but they’re used for MHWOW programs a lot! You probably know that plastic items can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in landfills, but the good news is that compostable products are easy to find in most grocery stores.
Their paper products are made from wheat straw, which is discarded from grain crops, and their plastic cups and utensils are made from plants. I’ve used them, so I can tell you they work! Thanks to the Federation for Jewish Men’s Clubs, you can get 15% off all orders from World Centric by entering the promo code “FJMC” at checkout!
High Impact: Avocados
Lower Impact: Peas, Broccoli, Tomatoes, other stuff
Ya’ll are gonna hate me for this one…in North America, avocados are primarily produced in Mexico, and much of it is controlled by a drug cartel that make farmers give up a percentage of their income. Farmers who refuse have even been murdered. And, avocado production is extremely water intensive – it takes 74 gallons of water to grow a pound of avocados!
Instead of avocado toast, how about falafel waffles?!
Yum. Enough said.
Check out Sonya Sanford’s intro to this recipe about her family’s personal connection to this dish.
High Impact: Lamb, Beef, Fish
Lower Impact: Local, Grass fed Beef, Sustainably-Sourced Fish
Lowest Impact: No Meat
Because of the huge amounts of land, grain, and water it takes to raise livestock, livestock farming contributes 14.5% of human produced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. This is more than all emissions from ships, planes, trucks, cars and all other transport combined. Because lamb produces less edible meat than beef, it’s the worst meat for the environment. Beef takes a close second. It takes about 1,800 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef!
What about kosher beef?
That’s better, right?! Hate to break it to you, but no. The rules for producing kosher meat don’t specify how to raise the animals or what to feed them. So unless the label says otherwise, you’re not likely getting organic or grass fed meat. If there’s no way you’re cutting brisket out of your HHD meals this year, you could look for a local farmer from whom to buy your meat. You’ll be saving the carbon emissions it takes to deliver from large farms!
Dying to know if this is true. If you try it, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how it is!
This dish substitutes meat for green plantains, garlic, and Mojo sauce. Being half-Cuban and having just been there in April, I think this sounds delicious.
There are FIVE different veggie schnitzel recipes here. What’s your favorite?
Okay, how about fish?
Salmon and whitefish are HHD staples, but unfortunately their production also isn’t the best for the planet. The ocean can’t keep up with our seafood consumption, so we’ve turned to aquaculture, whose impact varies widely depending on the species being farmed, the methods used, and where the farm is located. I love Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app – it gives me seafood recommendations based on environmental impact and identifies local restaurants that serve sustainable seafood right from my phone!
There’s no way around it – meat production just isn’t good for the environment. Even just reducing your meat consumption a little bit can make a difference. And if you want to take the leap to the veg life, there are tons of resources to support you – you can get a free vegan starter kit, and there’s even Jewish vegetarian cookbooks! Trivia question…what do all the recipes I’ve mentioned in this article have in common? They’re all vegetarian! Here’s the full list.
Try this cookbook to inspire your holiday meals!
The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen: A Fresh Take on Tradition by Amelia Saltsman
This cookbook is inspired by the farm-to-table movement. It’s divided into six seasons guided by the Jewish holiday calendar, starting with September for Rosh Hashanah. The recipes reflect what is available seasonally. It’s not a kosher cookbook, but it follows the basic precepts of not mixing dairy and meat, and pork and shellfish are not used in any of the recipes.
By Leah Jalfon, MHWOW Program Coordinator