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Conversation with Nigel Savage, Founder and CEO of Hazon

By Stacey Dresner

FALLS VILLAGE, Conn. – The Hazon Food Conference will be held Dec. 29-Jan. 1 at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Conn. The annual event connects people who are working for sustainable food systems nationally and internationally, and in their communities.

Nigel Savage, originally from Manchester, England, founded Hazon in 2000, with a Cross-USA Jewish Environmental Bike Ride. Today Hazon has more than 60 staff based in New York City, at Hazon’s Isabella Freedman campus, and in other locations across the country. Hazon plays a unique role in renewing American Jewish life and creating a healthier and more sustainable world.

Hazon is one of a tiny handful of groups to have been in the Slingshot 50 every year since inception, and in 2008, Hazon was recognized by the Sierra Club as one of 50 leading faith-based environmental organizations.

Savage has twice been named a member of the Forward 50, the annual list of the 50 most influential Jewish people in the United States, and is a recipient of the Bernard Reisman Award. In 2015 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Before founding Hazon, Savage was a professional fund manager in London, where he worked for NM Rothschild and was co-head of UK Equities at Govett. He has an MA in History from Georgetown, and has learned at Pardes, Yakar, and the Hebrew University. He was a founder of Limmud NY, and serves on the board of Romemu.

Savage executive produced the British independent movies Solitaire For 2 and Stiff Upper Lips and had an acclaimed cameo appearance in the cult Anglo-Jewish comic movie, Leon The Pig Farmer. He is believed to be the first English Jew to have cycled across South Dakota on a recumbent bike.

He recently filled the Jewish Ledger in on the upcoming food conference and what attendees can expect.

 

Q: How many years has the Hazon Food Conference been held, and why was it started?
A: The first Hazon Food Conference was held in December 2006, and we’ve done it every year since. It grew out of our desire to significantly increase the number of Jewish CSAs in America [Community-Supported Agriculture projects], and with a broader desire to catalyze what we went on to call “the Jewish Food Movement.” We’re proud of the range of ways that it’s had impact around the country.

 

Q: What is the goal of the conference?
A: The food conference has two main goals. First is to connect the dots between food, the environment, and Jewish tradition. They are profoundly interconnected, and exploring them together may change the way you think about literally everything. The other goal is to throw a smashing New Year’s party!

 

Q: How many people are expected to attend this year?
A: Capacity is about 160 people. I think we’re expecting about 200.

 

Q: Who attends the conference?
A: The crowd is pretty diverse. Chefs and food industry professionals. Farmers and homesteaders. Rabbis and lay leaders. Climate activists and artists. Vegans and carnivores. The connecting thread is a real love of food, a love of Jewish tradition, and a broad intuition that connecting food and Jewish tradition is a good way both to strengthen Jewish life and to create a more sustainable world for all.

 

Q: Is there a specific theme for the conference this year?
A: This year‘s conference comes right after the climate talks in Paris. So we wanted to do a few sessions that look at how eating habits impact climate change, and vice-versa. Of course Jewish tradition has quite a lot to say about eating habits, and where our food comes from, so we’ll explore how each sphere informs the other. And, at the same time, this is only a few of our sessions. There’s a lot more going on.

 

Q: Like what?
A: There are workshops, discussions, DIY demonstrations, from sausage-making to bagel baking, delicious farm-to-table meals, and it all culminates with the New Year’s bash.

 

Q: Who are a few of the special guests and what will they be talking about?
A: Some of our guests include Rabbi Danny Senter, COO of Kof-K kosher supervision and backyard homesteader; Leah Koenig, author of Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen; Dr. Ted Merwin, deli expert and author of Pastrami on Rye:

An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli; and Robert Friedman, owner of Robariah Farms, a kosher, sustainable Massachusetts poultry farm. We are also thrilled to share that Bill McKibben, the leading climate activist of our time, will be a special guest via video uplink.

And the last thing I’d say is that round about now it’s Chanukah. That’s an early and profound example in our tradition of how food and changing the world overlap. The deepest themes of Chanukah are existential and inspirational – light in the darkness; the weak overcoming the mighty; defending the rights of minorities; connecting to the land of Israel. But where would Chanukah be without latkes?? Or Chanukah gelt? Or sufganiot?  So this is a great moment to think about how food, Jewish tradition and the wider world interact. Happy Chanukah!

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