Shabbat meals are central to the weekly holiday’s 25 hours of celebration and rest and are filled with wine, delectable dishes and socializing with friends and family. But you can also make these extravagant meals an opportunity to incorporate Jewish values about protecting Creation, respect for workers and humane treatment of animals into your practice.
1. Skip meat.
Although meat is generally the main dish at most Shabbat dinners, opt to go meatless. A shocking 77 billion animals (including 3.7 billion in the US) are killed for human consumption annually. Unless animals are pasture raised on a small farm, there’s a good chance that they suffered before they made it to your table, violating the Jewish ethic of tsa’ar ba’alei chaim (prohibition on causing animals any suffering or pain). Find delicious vegetarian Shabbat recipes here.
2. Save the bees.
Not only are beeswax candles beautiful and wonderful smelling, using them is a great way to help honeybees. Bees pollinate every third bite of food that we eat, making them an integral part of our food chain. Unfortunately, they’re experiencing a global phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, where large swaths of them are dying off worldwide. By purchasing beeswax candles (instead of paraffin, which is derived from oil), you’re choose safe, non-polluting candles that will illuminate your home on Shabbat and help honeybees.
3. Reuse (because plastic is forever).
We are drowning in plastic, and it’s here to stay. From water bottles to take-out containers and utensils, plastic takes thousands—sometimes millions—of years to fully degrade. Hawaiian beaches are filled with colorful pebbles of plastic now, and there’s an enormous swirling vortex of plastic—possibly the size of Texas—in the Pacific Ocean. Skip bottled water (much of which is unregulated tap water), and opt for cloth napkins and reusable plates and utensils. If you’re hosting a huge crowd and don’t have enough dishes, ask people to bring their own (and help with washing up afterwards!).
4. Go local.
Purchasing food from a local farmer is one of the best ways to keep them in business, save nearby farmland, preserve local waterways and ensure that you’re eating super fresh, just-picked fruits and vegetables. Find a farmers market or CSA near you, and meet your farmers.
5. Support happy hens.
The labeling of egg cartons can dumbfound even the most informed shopper. The Humane Society of the US has an excellent guide to help consumers understand egg labels. Ensure that you don’t violate Jewish ethic of tsa’ar ba’alei chaim by finding local farmers and talking to them about how they raise their chickens. The happiest hens are raised on pastures where they get to eat bugs and insects while enjoying their days in the sunshine. Theirs are guaranteed to be the best-tasting eggs.
We live in a fast-paced society in which take-out can mean breakfast, lunch and dinner, and meals are consumed while driving, at our desks or walking down the street. Many people have lost the connection to the value of home-cooked food. Not only does it taste better, but it’s also usually healthier, as you get to control the ingredients and create what you want to eat. I find chopping vegetables a relaxing, meditative experience. Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of dishes at Shabbat meals: start cooking earlier in the week, and ask guests to bring their own homemade contributions as well.
7. Savor fair trade kosher chocolate.
The majority of the world’s cacao is grown and harvested in West Africa, often by children who frequently don’t attend school and instead work in brutal conditions. Fair Trade Judaica offers delicious kosher, organic chocolate grown, harvested and processed solely by adults under good working conditions. It makes the chocolate taste even sweeter!
8. Opt for organic.
Millions of pounds of pesticides and herbicides are applied to crops every year, polluting waterways and exposing farm workers to these toxins. By choosing organic, you’re protecting workers and the environment. If you can’t go 100 percent organic, focus on the “Dirty Dozen” on Environmental Working Group’s list, which tend to have the most pesticides. Hazon offers a list of kosher organic wines from California and Israel, too.