I remember my grandparents talking about having “a seltzer,” maybe even an “egg cream.” As a child, I thought: What’s that? Are there eggs in it?
Today, I’m a big fan of making my own seltzer drinks with an inexpensive home seltzer maker. It helps the environment by using less plastic, I save money by not buying marked up bottled water or soft drinks, and probably most important: I can avoid the super sweet high fructose corn syrup sweetened drinks and save my health.
While it’s a small step, I believe actions like these help cut the federal deficit and could save the country. As several commentators have noted, we spend trillions of dollars a year on healthcare. And, as Michael Pollan’s argued in a 2009 article and Mark Bittman’s Opinionator column more recently stated, our health depends largely on what food choices we make. We now know that the American diet and industrial agriculture is leading to unhealthy lifestyles and health problems, which put a strain on our healthcare system.
OK, but egg creams? Get serious. This is a minute change. You’re probably thinking that to make change we need to slash major programs and tighten our national belts. In our culture we are used to identifying a problem and finding the “silver bullet solution.” It’s like spraying pesticide to get rid of the bugs on your farm or garden. Spraying that pesticide might get rid of the pests, but it will cause a host of other problems. As H.L. Mencken said, “for every problem there is one solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”
Maybe the way to work on solving the national debt, and a host of other problems as well, is not to find one global “silver bullet” but to start doing small prosaic actions that can push us in the right direction. Judaism has generally avoided the global fix-it solution and favors these kinds of small, individual actions. In Pirke Avot (2:1) it says, “Be as careful in doing a small mitzvah as a great one, because you do not know the reward of mitzvot.”
Making your own seltzer drinks, like egg creams, is one small action that we can take. While there have been attempts to mass produce them, egg creams really only get that signature creamy froth on top when you add the seltzer on the spot. I propose reviving the custom of our grandparents and making our own seltzer drinks. What if at Jewish events we left off the bottled water, cans of soft drinks and bottles of sweetened teas and had old fashioned seltzer water and some fruit juice to mix in?
We can’t always know the effects of our actions, but each person can do something small, a little mitzvah, and you never know, it could tip the balance of the whole world, and even reduce the federal budget deficit. So in the meantime, I’ll be drinking my homemade egg creams.
Natan Margalit received rabbinic ordination at The Jerusalem Seminary in 1990 and earned a Ph.D. in Talmud from U.C. Berkeley in 2001. He is Director of Oraita, a program of continuing education for rabbis of Hebrew College, as well as spiritual leader of The Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life, in Western Connecticut. Learn more on his blog: Organic Torah.