Values into Action: The Making of a Sustainable Kosher Kitchen

When we bought our house, we knew the kitchen would need to be redone. The drop ceiling had fluorescent lights that hummed. The refrigerator, over twenty years old, sometimes made a ghostly groaning noise that no mechanic could address. The original cabinets were more than forty years old. When we opened them, we often found chips of particleboard on our dishes.

Anyone want some particleboard for dinner? No worries. It rinses off easily.

But for the last ten years, we stuck with this kitchen, only making minimal improvements as needed. Why? Of course, part of the reason was the enormous expense of re-doing a kitchen. We had just purchased a house and had other expenses. We didn’t feel we truly needed a new kitchen, and didn’t want to feel like we were just doing it to keep up with the neighbors (who often did have much nicer kitchens than ours… but why should that require us to change?). Being honest with each other, we both admitted we weren’t quite sure we were old enough or settled enough to have nice things.

You call this a recycling center? We have, for ten years.

Something else was nagging at me. Consistent with our values, we try to live as sustainable a lifestyle as possible. We have hybrid cars, geothermal heating and cooling, and a compost bin on the side porch. A new kitchen felt like the opposite of that impulse. So much chemical use, so much destruction of things that might already work. What about the trees that might be used to make the new cabinets? When we finally began to interview people to do this job, I asked questions about environmental specifications and found the potential contractors clueless about basics like Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood or paints with low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). They told us that if we wanted anything like that, we’d have to do all the research and purchasing on our own.

We had seen friends do their kitchens in a simple and relatively inexpensive way, with chain hardware stores, and we knew that was an option. But the more I thought and prayed about it, I didn’t want to do that. As an environmental educator and activist, I have often taught that the most important home based environmental choices are the big ones: the car, the major appliance, the kitchen. What does it matter if I recycle my bottles but don’t inquire where the wood comes from when I buy cabinets that will last for decades? Considering how much money we’d be investing into this kitchen, I wanted that money to go in the direction of our values: to sustainable choices and local businesses.

Three cheers for local environmental businesses. ;)

So when we heard that EcoBeco, a local company we had used for energy audits, was beginning to work in contracting, we were intrigued. EcoBeco told us they would use all low chemical products in the construction process, and reduce destruction as much as possible. They also introduced us to the Amicus Green Building Center, a sustainable supply company. When I walked into Amicus Green and saw FSC certified wood cabinets, sustainable cork flooring and counters made from recycled content, I knew we were finally working with the right people.

Construction of our new sustainable kitchen begins this week. In this space I’ll be posting updates as the work goes on, including the products we chose, pictures of the construction and the Jewish wisdom that informed our choices… and G-d willing, pictures when it’s done. Stay tuned!

*Disclosure Note: I requested and received small discounts from ecobeco and Amicus Green Building Center to promote local businesses I believe in.