Another compromise involved the company’s name: The “L” in KOL stands for “local,” but Kimelman-Block quickly discovered that because she works with only a handful of kosher slaughterhouses, the ideal of raising and slaughtering all the meat close to where it’s sold would have to be sacrificed if she wanted to make her meat available nationally. “So in the list of priorities, the local thing had to be secondary,” she says.
When Kimelman-Block started out, she learned the ropes from Julie Bolton, the owner of Groff’s Content, a livestock farm in Rocky Ridge, Maryland. Bolton remembers Kimelman-Block’s unrealistic first request for meat that could be ready for Passover: Kimelman-Block didn’t understand that the animals, which hadn’t yet been “finished” on spring grass weren’t ready for slaughter. Another issue, Bolton recalls, was finding a good kosher butcher. “The first guy put the meat in baggies and froze it,” she says, recalling the meager, improperly butchered beef packed in flimsy plastic bags rather than vacuum-sealed. In time, Kimelman-Block got up to speed and found reliable butchers, too.
KOL’s business continues to grow: It now ships to customer buying clubs (organized groups that place a minimum of 10 to 18 orders), which have the meat delivered to a central drop-off point in cities from Boston to San Francisco. Yet, where the overall kosher meat supply is concerned, KOL’s product represents a drop in the bucket.
“I hate to say it, but this hasn’t yet taken the normative kosher-keeping community by storm,” says Rabbi Josh Katzan, who oversees KOL’s New York City buying club and has been encouraging members of his Upper West Side congregation to sign up for the club’s Passover order. Part of the problem, he says, is that KOL’s meat is viewed as a luxury—like regular organic, grass-fed meat, it costs about 30 percent more than conventional feed-lot-raised meat. And part of it is human nature. Katzan, who experienced his own philosophical awakening after reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, says, like many people, his community is supportive of the ideas behind companies like KOL, but many have yet to “take the leap” to put those ideas into practice.
KOL’s greatest impact may lie not in getting the kosher community at large to buy its meat, but in provoking these consumers to consider how their ethics square with the food they put in their mouths. As Katzan sees it, this kind of ethical consumerism may not “move the whole industry dramatically, but I think it will become more and more normal.”
Rebecca Flint Marx lives in New York City and has written about food and other topics for publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Village Voice, CHOW.com, and New York magazine.