On Mon­day, Sue Fishkoff wrote about peo­ple who only keep kosher on hol­i­days. She is the author of Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a High­er Author­i­ty.

The first time I had my hands inside a still-warm turkey, I won­dered just how far I was will­ing to take this busi­ness of get­ting up close and per­son­al with my food.

I was at an organ­ic turkey farm an hour and a half north of San Fran­cis­co with two dozen oth­er vol­un­teers on a wet, cold win­ter morn­ing in Decem­ber 2008, prepar­ing what would become the main entrée for the Hazon Food Con­fer­enceShab­bat din­ner lat­er that week. We stomped around in the driz­zle and fog, as orga­niz­er Roger Stud­ley explained what we were about to do.

We’re doing this old-school and hands-on,” he stat­ed. We’re doing it as a com­mu­ni­ty, mak­ing meat for the con­fer­ence we are about to attend. This is a project bring­ing us clos­er to the source of the food we are eat­ing, mak­ing real the fact that we are tak­ing the lives of ani­mals in order to sus­tain ourselves.”

The annu­al Hazon con­fer­ence is the pre­em­i­nent nation­al gath­er­ing of activists in the new Jew­ish food move­ment, a grow­ing fam­i­ly of main­ly younger Jews who want to make food choic­es that are in line with Jew­ish val­ues as well as their moral and polit­i­cal beliefs con­cern­ing work­ers’ rights, good health, humane treat­ment of ani­mals, envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, and food access for the poor. This laun­dry list of con­cerns makes it dif­fi­cult to feed a con­fer­ence of 600 hun­gry peo­ple, some­thing the orga­niz­ers dis­cov­ered ear­li­er that sum­mer when they debat­ed whether to include meat at all for a gath­er­ing that typ­i­cal­ly includes so many hard­core vegetarians.

The choice was made — Shab­bat isn’t Shab­bat with­out the option of a roast bird — so there we were, watch­ing shochet Andy Kast­ner grab the first turkey and slit its neck with a quick back-and-forth motion of his care­ful­ly sharp­ened knife.

Kast­ner was still in rab­bini­cal school — he’s now the Hil­lel rab­bi at Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty in St. Louis. I’d met up with him a few months ear­li­er at a kosher goat slaugh­ter in a Con­necti­cut field, and he’d shared his thoughts as he skinned and evis­cer­at­ed his first mam­mal. It was, he admit­ted, not an easy experience.

By Decem­ber he had more prac­tice, and the turkey shecht­ing went smooth­ly. The rest of the group split into two, with half of us assigned to hang up the just-slaugh­tered birds and pull out their feath­ers, while a small­er, braver group did the evis­cer­a­tion, pulling out the inter­nal organs and plung­ing the turkeys into a plas­tic bin filled with water. To kash­er and pre­pare the the birds, we had to soak them for half an hour, then cov­er them in salt for anoth­er hour, rinse them three times, and seal and pack them up for trans­port to the con­ven­tion center.

The ground inside the stor­age shed where we worked quick­ly filled with fly­ing feath­ers. As I con­cen­trat­ed on my task, I noticed that each bird I plucked felt far­ther removed from the liv­ing ani­mal it had so recent­ly been. Was that some­thing my own con­scious­ness was doing, to pro­tect my emo­tions? Or was it the same phe­nom­e­non I observed when I worked on an assem­bly line in a kib­butz fac­to­ry, where after a while automa­tion leads to objectification?

I also thought about my grand­moth­er, who bought her chick­ens from a kosher butch­er in Perth Amboy, New Jer­sey, glad they were already plucked and gut­ted. How she would have shook her head and laughed at us, a bunch of city folk with roman­tic notions about the beau­ty of killing and clean­ing our own meat. Who needs it, she would have chuckled.

But that Fri­day in the din­ing hall, when I looked at the roast turkey leg on my plate, I felt a gid­dy sense of pride. I found myself eat­ing more slow­ly, savor­ing each bite as I remem­bered the hours of hard work involved in get­ting that bird to this table. I thought about the Jew­ish tra­di­tion of hon­or­ing the Shab­bat by serv­ing the best food one can afford, includ­ing meat, even if one avoids it the rest of the week. And I was struck once again by how Judaism takes note of the eter­nal cycle of life and death, com­mand­ing us to bless the food that sus­tains us before we put it into our mouths.

And it all made sense.

Sue Fishkoff’s new book, Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a High­er Author­i­ty, is now avail­able. Come back all week to read his posts for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and My Jew­ish Learn­ings Author Blog series.