Hosting a Shabbat meal is a wonderful way to spend quality time with family and friends without the distractions of the everyday (email, ringing cell phones, distracting text messages…) It also offers an amazing template over which to create new rituals and traditions that add new meaning and sustainable flair to the experience. Hazon’s blog The Jew & The Carrot (www.jcarrot.org) offers the following resources to help you Green Your Shabbat Table and discover, “What makes this Shabbat meal different from other Shabbat meals?”
Greening Your Shabbat Table
Set a kavannah (intention) to “go local.” Whether you decide to make all your dishes from scratch, or purchase some things ready-made, make a pledge to feature ingredients and dishes that are locally grown. Remember that the definition of “local” is loosely defined - so decide in advance where you want to draw the boundary. Even if you don’t manage to eat all local, all the time in your day-to-day life (and really, who does?), Shabbat is the perfect time to strive for that ideal. See just how local you can go!
*Teaching moment: Think about your guest list and what interests your invitees share. If several your guests are vegetarians, or committed meat eaters, consider brining this topic into the meal as well. If there are people who are involved in social justice causes, or grow their own herbs, consider what kind of menu and discussion questions would draw them in most.
Involve your friends. Don’t take on the local kavannah alone - get your friends involved! Invite them into the conversation about where ingredients for your shared meal will come from. If no farmer’s market is readily available at which you/your guests can buy local produce, what other criteria can you use for buying locally or sustainably? Perhaps everyone will pledge to use no plastic bags in their shopping (including those little bags for vegetables and fruit!) or to walk or bike to their supermarkets or farmers markets.
Utilize peoples’ skills. Maybe someone is a great baker—ask him to make challah. Someone else might have a knack for roasting her own peppers or making fruit preserves—find a way to use that as well!
*Teaching moment: If you do decide to ask your friends to bring dishes to the meal, consider giving them questions to think about while they are shopping or preparing their food. For example, if someone is bringing fruit, try giving them the task of asking the fruit vendor about the origins of the produce, or what makes organic food different from pesticide-free food. Ask them to share what they learned at the meal.
Drink locally. If you are comfortable drinking non-kosher wine, try to find a bottle (or box!) of wine grown and produced close to home. If you prefer kosher, check out a wine on The Jew & The Carrot’s kosher organic wine list.
Check in with the season. If you are hosting in the winter, think about making a winter vegetable theme, e.g. winter squash, or using lots of peaches, nectarines, and cherries if you are hosting a summer meal. And realize that as the seasons change, the ingredients will as well so that allows you to have original menus numerous times a year!
Bless your meal. Other than the traditional brachot (blessings) birkat hamazon (grace after meals), invite your guests to discuss whom they want to thank before, during, and following this unique meal and encourage them to create their own blessings or songs if they so choose.
Eat together. With intention. In silence. (Try spending the first 10 minutes of your meal just enjoying the food and company without speaking. It might feel a little strange at first, but see if you can relax into the idea. And of course you can share your experiences afterwards!)
Learn together. Rabbi Shimon said: If three have eaten together at one table and have not spoken over it words of Torah, it is as though they had eaten of the sacrifices of the dead (Isaiah 28:8)…but if three have eaten at one table and have spoken over it words of Torah, it is as if they had eaten from the table of God (Ezekiel 41:22).
In other words, learning together over food is a good thing! Identify a learning coordinator for your meal who will come up with questions to lead the discussion around the table, and identify short texts that can be learned together. Discussion questions can include: “What does sustainable mean to you?” “How is your relationship to this meal different from other meals knowing how it was prepared and where the ingredients were purchased?” “What is the connection between Shabbat and having a sustainable meal?”
Texts are another great way to create an order and guide your meal. Try to focus on Jewish texts (Hazon’s book “Food for Thought” curriculum book is an incredible resource for relevant texts), but feel free to bring in non-Jewish texts as well that might speak to your dinner’s theme, i.e. highlights from Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
Clean up green. After your sustainable meal, clean up with green cleaning supplies like Seventh Generation or Ecover. Invite your friends to help you wash dishes and put leftover food away. Whether or not you made all the food yourself, or invited friends to help, clean up should be a communal effort (which is more sustainable for you)!
Be Creative. Don’t feel limited by these ideas! This is just a starting point for making sustainable Shabbat “seders” a tradition that any community, group, or city can take part in and make their own!
Thanks to Nadya Strizhevskaya for pulling together this resource page.