Saul’s Deli Bridges the Gap Between Traditional and Sustainable

Et tu, Saul’s Deli?

I’ve somehow always managed to compartmentalize comfort food and sustainable/healthy food.

The latter is what I eat on a regular basis—quinoa from the organic grocery, locally grown kale from the farmers’ market—that’s my regular diet. But sometimes I want to break away from all that healthiness and enjoy a greasy, meaty Rueben.

And maybe, for those few heavenly corned beef moments, slathered in Swiss cheese and sauerkraut, I don’t want to think about where the cow came from or what he was fed or how much damage I’m doing to the planet.

But alas, I’m from Berkeley. And, like a growing population of responsible eaters, we care about stuff like that.

I grew up four blocks away from Saul’s Deli. Their matzoh ball soup was always a close second to Grandma’s, Dad’s and Aunt Kathy’s. Okay, I guess that makes it a close fourth. If I wanted latkes when it wasn’t Hannukah or gefilte fish when it wasn’t Passover, I always knew where to go.
Karen Adelman and Peter Levitt, co-owners of Saul’s Deli, are well aware of their loyal customer-base. They have always made it a priority to cater to those traditional Jewish tastes. But as the sustainable food movement becomes more and more prevalent, they also have a second priority. Or, as Adelman put it, “I wouldn’t want to sell meat that I wouldn’t eat.”

Thus began Saul’s is attempt to marry Jewish tradition and sustainability. But when updating MY comfort food, they’ll need to tread carefully to not displease their loyal customers. So they decided to do something different. In order to bring the traditional deli into the new food movement without losing customers, Saul’s invited the customers themselves to participate in the decision-making process.

Thus, the “Referendum on the Jewish Deli Menu (and Sustainability): Can a Retro Cuisine be Part of the Avant-Garde?” was created. Originally intended to take place at the restaurant itself, after 250 tickets were sold (all to benefit an eco-charity), the event moved to the larger venue of the Jewish Community Center around the corner. Panelists included Michael Pollan, invited not only due to his notoriety as the leader of the national food conversation, but also because he is a Saul’s regular.

Topic for discussion included, for one, the pastrami sandwich. That tall, meaty symbol of the Jewish deli. But for that pastrami to be sustainably raised and grass-fed, the cost of the meat would double, if not triple. The audience was asked if they would be willing to pay more for a smaller sandwiches made with higher quality meat. Most of the people there said they would. Yes, that’s what it’s like growing up in Berkeley.

Other sustainable and health-focused changes, some of which have been implemented already, include removing  Dr. Brown’s sodas off their beverage menu (they replaced this traditional high-fructose corn syrup-laden deli staple with equally delicious homemade varieties) and changing their menu to be more seasonal. “We’ll still have everything you love,” explains Adelman. “Just, not all the time.”

I guess that means I can’t get gefilte fish in December. But if that’s the small sacrifice I have to make in order to effect change, I guess I’m willing to make it.

Though I jest, Saul’s is obviously taking a big step in the right direction of supporting the sustainability movement. As Michael Pollan put it: “I often get asked, ‘Isn’t this an elite movement?’ When sustainable food gets into the delis and taquerias, you extend the benefits to everyone. This is the democratization of the food movement.”

Audrey is a freelance copywriter. She has worked with every kind of company, helping them to communicate their message of sustainability. Careful to never greenwash, Audrey believes that transparency in marketing is just as important as branding. And that doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive. When she's not blogging, marketing sustainability or writing radio commercials for Chinese food, you can find Audrey rock-climbing, riding her bike around San Francisco, or looking for work (she's available for hire, call now!)

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