Dairy Delights

Shavuot (Feast of Weeks/Pentacost) begins tomorrow night and I love the opportunity to celebrate a festival where dairy is the order of the day. Cheesecake, sambusak, halek (date honey left over from Pesach) with creme fraiche, scones with clotted cream, etc etc etc. (I've also been trying to make my own elderflower cordial to celebrate the flowers that bloomed on Mount Sinai and to symbolise that Torah's scent is as beautiful as flowers).
There are lots of reasons given for the custom of eating dairy, from the laws of kashrut being given and the Isralites not wanting to shlep 2 sets of dishes around (milk and meat) so out of piety choosing to follow the oral law and only eat dairy, to various gematria (numerology) explanations, my favourite of which is that chalav (milk) has the numerical value of 40, marking the 40 days and night Moses spent up Mount Sinai.
Today, however, I think there's another compelling reason to enjoy a festival that celebrates dairy products over meat eating. Producing 1kg of meat produces as much carbon dioxide as a 3 hour drive, and emissions from cattle are an enormous contributor to CO2 emissions. Although there are exceptions, G and I have tried to limit our meat consumption, saving it only for Shabbat and festivals, but as a former veggie, I'm delighted there's a festival where there's an excuse to eat dairy (and enjoy our best dairy cutlery that rarely gets an outing!) I'm also excited that reports tell me that in the next few months Titanics should be stocking organic kosher meat. The extra expense will be another reason for us to keep meat for special occasions and as a delicacy, cutting down our consumption and the environmental impact. Now we just need to get the £1.99 chicken consumers on board, and instead of meat free Monday, have everyone saving meat for shabbat - now that would make an impact!


  1. Interesting post, though I know my sister (AKA Miss Green Warrior Princess) would be very quick to point out that to eat more dairy than meat on the precept that it's more environmentally friendly doesn't entirely work since, to a large degree, it's the same industry. You'd have to go vegan to lower CO2. - That said, even just the awareness that your food choices has an environmental impact is a step in the right direction as it leads to informed choice. So it's all good!

  2. As you suggest, not all cattle are responsible for vast amounts of CO2 emissions, it depends how they are reared and what they are fed on. Simon Fairlie goes into this in his book 'Meat, a Benign Extravagance', I am told. He was being interviewed on the Food Programme (Radio 4) at the weekend and he mentioned that while living in a commune (I think it was a Kibbutz), which was trying to be self-sufficient he was rearing animals on the spot but most of the people were vegetarians importing their protein from far afield.

    So, we need to bare in mind the environmental cost of transporting nuts, seeds and soya beans from all over the world and compare that with the environmental cost of organically reared, grass-fed livestock.

    There is also the issue of killing animals in order to eat them, something I am not entirely comfortable with, but I eat red meat twice a week to ensure I don't get anaemic as when I was almost vegetarian that's what happened. If more people ate better quality meat but less often that would make a real impact, you are right. We are now being told not to eat the same old fish, which are under threat, but to try different, more plentiful types, which can be interesting.

    They say eggs and milk from grass-fed animals is healthier for us as well as the planet, so that's a good reason to make sure these are sourced from animals reared in a traditional and organic way, rather than being pumped full of grain.

    I'm not sure eating cheese instead of meat is the answer, though as most varieties are high in fat and cholesterol. I'm not sure eating for our health and the planet's health are totally compatible, although eating lots of fresh, local fruit and veg is good all round.

    What does dairy cutlery look like, best or otherwise? Is it more than individual butter knives?

    I hope you enjoy your holiday and your dairy products.

  3. Hi Karin, just a quick note before shabbat starts re: dairy cutlery. Based on the commandment not to boil a kid in it's mothers milk, the Rabbis tried to avoid anyone coming close to this by developing a system whereby we never eat dairy and meat together, and depending on the material of the utensils, some Jews today observe this by also having a separation of cutlery and crockery. So in our rather small flat we have 'best' crocker and cutlery and 'everyday' but we have each in a set for milk and a set for meat. And then there's the Pesach cutlery... all a bit mad from the outside, but for me acts as a constant reminder and spiritual exercise. Hope that explains a little! D


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