A thoughtful hostess puts something for everyone on her menu. So it is with the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s new exhibit, “Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture, and American Jewish Identity.” As John Stewart says in one of the show’s catchy wall quotes, “There’s nothing that two Jews like more than to sit around in a diner late at night and talk about what they’re eating.”
Visitors are welcomed with the words, “Come on in! Have you eaten?” and invited to vote by touch-screen for the “most Jewish food” from a list that includes Persian rice and falafel, along with the usual suspects. Just as Jews have immigrated here from all over the globe, Jewish food is more than latkes and bagels.
Friday night dinners at our home were inviolable.
We rarely ate dinner out the rest of the week, but there were exceptions: good pasta con ceci at the Italian restaurant in the mall where my father drank sambuca with coffee beans floated in it, adventures in the city to find Peking duck.
Friday night dinner at home was an unbreakable rule, though. It was an amazing one in inciting no protest, even as my brother and I grew, and adolescent imperatives began to press against parental constraints.
It is often said that Americans are overfed and undernourished when it comes to food. Supermarket shelves are lined with highly processed “food” products that contain little nutritional value when compared to the number of calories provided. While these products excel at meeting our energy requirements as cheaply as possible, one of the many hidden costs is that they leave us lacking required nutrients. In America it is difficult to starve, but easy to be malnourished.
And yet, there are still people who are hungry in this country. The USDA census on hunger estimates that in 2010, 48.8 million Americans suffered from food insecurity, meaning that nearly 50 million people in this country were not only malnourished but also hungry. That number included adults and children, and in fact households with children were more likely to be dealing with issues of food insecurity.
This time of year, as I plan my Thanksgiving feast, I struggle to reconcile that while there will be a literal feast on my table, others are struggling to have any food at all.
“Do Jews celebrate Thanksgiving?”
To many American Jews, this questions seems to have an obvious answer. A holiday that involves copious amounts of food and stressful gatherings of relatives? Of course, Jews celebrate it! Yet, questions posted on the websites from Yahoo to UrbanBaby show that confusion persists over whether Jews observe the day.
And actually, it is not as obvious a question as you would think. Thanksgiving’s origins were more Christian than they were patriotic. According to historian Jeremy Bangs, director of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum in the Netherlands, the famous 1621 meal between the Plymouth Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians likely had some religious under (or, perhaps, over) tones. Remember, these were the Pilgrims, the ones who pissed off everyone else in England by being too zealously religious.
For most of us, Thanksgiving is a time to overindulge, give in, and stuff ourselves to the brim — not so different from most Jewish festivals that revolve around food. You’re probably expecting me (a holistic health counselor and nutrition student) to give you a list of all the things not to eat, right? Well, what if I told you that you could eat to your heart’s content on Thanksgiving, with a small catch? Follow 4 simple tips.
The turkey is the star on Thanksgiving so I won’t ask you to change that (though I will advise you to purchase one that is free-range and request that you refrain from deep frying it!). Instead, I’m just going to make some suggestions for how you can switch things up a little this year for the remaining items on your table. Though we’ve all become accustomed to similar dishes year after year at Thanksgiving, adding some new recipes into your holiday repertoire can really do wonders for your waistline, wallet, and the planet.
Irish bagel lovers aren’t having much luck: a 13.5% value-added tax will be tacked on to the traditionally Jewish favorite for the first time.
Under new plans by the Irish government to raise desperately needed revenue, bagels, croissants, garlic bread and other premium baked goods will be hit with the tax next month. Consumers are likely to bear the brunt of the cost.
Ordinary bread is exempt from tax in Ireland, but the Irish revenue service changed its determination on bagels this month, saying they were not “sufficiently bread-like” to be exempt from taxes on prepared or “value added” foods.
With Thanksgiving around the corner I have a one-track mind: pumpkin. Pumpkin lattes, pumpkin spice cake, pumpkin soup, pumpkin muffins and pumpkin ice cream. I’ve eaten all that in the past week. Do I have an addiction? Probably, but I’m okay with that.
For me, Thanksgiving is all about self-reflection and food. Originally intended to celebrate our freedom and to give thanks for a good harvest, Thanksgiving has morphed into a time when we gorge ourselves on foods, and spend time curled up on the sofa afterwards paying for it! Luckily, during this holiday pumpkin takes center stage.
The classic gourd, which many think of as iconic American, has a surprising Jewish connection going back 500 years. The “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food” explains that pumpkins were widely cultivated throughout the Americas for about 6,000 years and were among the first New World foods that the Native Americans introduced to the Europeans, who brought them back to Europe.
Despite another week of Wall Street protests that have dramatically cut into his business, the owner of one of the area’s largest kosher eateries is sounding a tentative note of optimism. “It’s almost Shabbos, and I feel good,” Marc Epstein, the owner of Milk Street Café, told the Jew and the Carrot this morning. “I think we’ve seen the bottom, and things are looking up.”
Epstein’s comments came after what he described as a “devastating” two months for his business, which opened in lower Manhattan in late June and saw sales drop sharply with the start of the Occupy Wall Street movement eight weeks ago. The restaurant received a wave of media attention at the start of November, following Epstein’s reluctant decision to lay off about a quarter of his restaurant’s staff of roughly 100.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, master chef Jacques Pepin shares his secrets. [Village Voice]
This might just be the best sounding babka we’ve ever heard of. Abraco is selling ricotta and orange blossom babka. [Serious Eats]
Want to see just how much you know about the laws of Kashrut? Take this quiz. [My Jewish Learning]
Are we in a bagel crisis? [New York Post]
New visitors to Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market, or shuk, may not find it noteworthy that an upscale cocktail bar called Casino de Paris has recently popped up amidst its labyrinthine alleys. Seeing the boutiques and artisanal food products that now accompany the traditional butchers, fishmongers and produce vendors, newbies may not realize that just a decade ago, the future of Mahane Yehuda was not so bright. But this bar, along with the hundreds of young Jerusalemites that flock to it each evening, tells the story of the shuk’s revitalization.
“Ten years ago [the market] almost vanished,” explains Eli Mizrahi, the former head of the Mahane Yehuda merchants association and the man credited with launching the shuk renaissance. A third generation shuk vendor, Mizrahi was unable to stand the thought of the market’s demise. So he took a risk and in 2000 opened the upscale Café Mizrahi in the center of it, serving cappuccinos and fresh pasta, camembert sandwiches and shakshuka. “It was kind of craziness,” he recalls. But word spread through the media and it brought people back, breathing new life into Mahane Yehuda.
Living in Tel Aviv means that I take a lot of things related to food for granted. I know that when I go to the market, veggies will be much, much cheaper than packaged foods and fresher than most places in America. I know that nearly any time of day or night I can order a latte and sit with my computer for hours, without anyone rushing me to leave. I also know that the season for tomatoes is more similar to the one I grew up with in California than the one I got used to coping with in New York. Those are everyday kinds of things that I’ve learned after more than a year of living in Israel.
But last week I had the pleasure of exploring the food landscape of Israel from a new angle as a participant on the Israel Sustainable Food Tour, sponsored by Hazon and the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership. Jeremy Benstein of the Heschel Center crafted a tasty and interesting itinerary that kept us moving and eating across the country. I was treated to meals in restaurants I never would have found on my own, visited farms where folks are doing incredible work, and met outstanding people who are invested in food issues here in Israel. We explored themes that I spend a lot of time thinking about but less time engaging hands on.
It would not be inaccurate to say that I have the palate of an octogenarian Polish Jew, despite the fact that I’m a 27-year-old Australian living in Brooklyn. Whenever I hypothesize with friends about what my final meal would be (you know the game), my answer is always the same: Shabbos dinner, Ashkenazi-style: challah, schmaltz herring, gefilte fish, chicken soup with kneidlakh and lokshen, roast chicken with potatoes, poppyseed cake, and a finger or two of Johnnie Walker, neat. I get misty-eyed just thinking about it.
To that list I’d add something incongruous, though no less essential: my mother’s avocado, egg and onion dip. There was no avocado in my grandparents’ respective shtetls, certainly, but it’s as native to Shabbos dinner in my Australian family as hummus is to an Israeli lunch. We ask for it in one breath, not bothering to enunciate the words properly: “pass-the-avocado-egg-n-onion.” No please, no thank you. (Ours is an etiquette-optional table.) My father, who is unfailingly generous with food — always insisting that everyone else serve themselves and eat before him — only ever seems disappointed when he misses out on avocado-egg-n-onion dip. Occasionally, when ripe avocados prove elusive, there’s no dip at all, and dinner feels incomplete.
Over the course of my few months of farm life, I’ve thought about “The Little Red Hen” more times than I have since early childhood, and each recurrence leaves me with a new lesson. In the story, the hen decides to bake a loaf of bread from scratch, starting with planting wheat. At each step she asks her friends and neighbors for help, but nobody wants to offer assistance until the time comes to eat the bread, at which point the Little Red Hen dismisses her compatriots and keeps everything for herself. Jewish lessons abound from this text on all levels — the story could be the starting point for a discussion on blessings or how to treat others, and I could even see it as the basis for a Talmud class: Does it matter if the hen harvested her wheat before or after Passover? If the hen is Jewish and her friends are not, was it appropriate for her to ask them to complete steps of the bread making process? But I digress.
I claimed in my last post that the Jewish community has little room for low-wage earners, and hence no room for farmers. In other words, most of American society looks and acts a lot like the Hen’s friends, and my experience with the modern Jewish community has been no exception. We expect to be served. We assume that bread will appear on our supermarket shelves, in our cupboards, and on our plates. We do not care how it got there, and moreover, we want no part of the process. Feeding ourselves is not our problem; it is the job of others. But we have no regard for farmers or farming, or for baristas, bakers, or line cooks. We do not understand their lifestyles and therefore have no appreciation for their inherent richness or for the value of producing food and sustenance oneself.
But what if things looked different?
I suppose I am one of those weird people who enjoy grocery shopping. I like wandering through them, relishing the produce, ogling the olives. I find it relaxing to plan meals as I stroll the store. So before my husband I moved to Israel from Brownstone Brooklyn nearly two years ago, one of the big questions on my mind was where I would shop. Would I be able to find my staples like miso, rice paper, and quinoa? And what about organic? Despite the fact that we weren’t the classic new immigrants — confused, languageless, with almost no one to turn to — Israel was still half a world away from the familiarity of our beloved Park Slope Food Coop where we did most of our shopping, and Trader Joes, where we did most of the rest.
I’d visited Israel before and had been in the standard supermarkets. These options are pretty comparable to any grocery store in the USA, with the major difference being that they’re stocked with Israeli favorites instead of American favorites — things like tahini, hummus, shachar (chocolate spread), and the ubiquitous frozen corn schnitzel. Also, since Israel tends to be a more traditional society, there are fewer pre-made and frozen meals floating around.
These grocery stores are sufficient. I can find brown rice, plenty of packaged legumes, maybe even some miso; I can get by. But there is also a lack of aesthetic in them, a grittiness brought on by linoleum tiles, fluorescent lighting, and the sickly sweet smell of cleaning products. They offer a sort of lobotomized shopping experience.
I’ve been fressing in the Midwest more or less continuously since 1958. I grew up in a kosher home in Manitowoc, WI, population 33,000, with an active Orthodox-ish congregation of about 50 families. When I was a preschooler, my Grandma Mamie Muchin used to shlep me to visit the local shochet, who kept chickens in his backyard. (Little did I know their fate.)
Otherwise, Grandma always seemed to be preparing kosher delicacies from scratch: cheese blintzes, gefilte fish, chicken soup with matzo balls, brisket, chopped liver, a crusty bread and a sort of cholent. In the ensuing decades, I’ve attended my share of Passover seders and Shabbat dinners. So I was quite surprised to discover recently that I had been missing out on some terrific heartland Jewish delicacies.
They’re chronicled and analyzed in the new book “From the Jewish Heartland: Two Centuries of Midwest Foodways” by Ellen F. Steinberg and Jack H. Prost. The co-authors discover recipes for borekas filled with dried Michigan cherries, a pie loaded with Minnesota huckleberries and “Minnesota-style” gefilte fish made with northern pike caught in one of the 10,000 lakes.
MyJewishLearning.com has served up a new Jewish food blog, A recent post features a Jewish takes on Thanksgiving food in the form of a turkey shaped challah. Festive. [The Nosher]
Which food magazine has the best Thanksgiving issue? Eater weighs in. Who has the best round-up of glossy Thanksgiving food coverage? Eater wins. [Eater]
Say goodbye to Sabra and give this three-step recipe for homemade hummus a whirl. [Serious Eats]
Marge becomes a food blogger in this week’s episode of the Simpsons. Simpsons executive producer Max Selman gives us a preview of what to expect. [Grub Street]
Convincing ten straight men to talk seriously about an artisanal product for half an hour is like pulling teeth: Convincing 2,000 straight men to pay over $100 each to discuss nuances in its process and product for three or four hours on a Tuesday night, is marketing gold. And that’s the genius of WhiskyFest New York (and Chicago and San Francisco) — getting a crowd of men to approach a premium, gourmet product as if it were baseball.
And, despite this year’s WhiskyFest New York on November 1 being held inside the Marriott Marquis hotel, a sprinkling of baseball caps were indeed in evidence. They were, however, not being worn out of respect for America’s secular religion, but worn by some individualistic members of the Modern Orthodox population who were extremely well represented at the event. Largely, though, black kippahs were de rigeur for those sipping the smooth, honeyed grass flavors of the 30-year-old Old Pulteney or the beautifully rounded peaty tones of the 17-year-old Balvennie.
Some good news for hungry Jewish Capitol Hill staffers, lobbyists and politicos.
The Senate cafeteria will soon begin offering kosher food alongside its regular specialties (which include the famous ham-and-bean soup). As first reported this week in The Washington Post, the cafeteria has reached an agreement with a local kosher deli to provide pre-packed sandwiches and meals at the Senate.
“I am thrilled that the Senate cafeteria is providing kosher food for Senators, staff and visitors,” said William Daroff, who heads the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America and frequently visits Capitol Hill when lobbying for Jewish causes, “It is truly a much-needed accommodation to ensure that all Americans are able to break bread in our halls of power.”
It was after Rabbi Ari Weiss bumped into and spoke with Rabbi Steve Gutow of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs on Rosh Hashanah, that he decided to take the Food Stamp Challenge. This means he would have to get by on no more than $31.50 worth of groceries (the average amount of food stamps granted to a qualifying individual) for an entire week. That’s just $1.50 per meal, without snacks. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, especially since he keeps strictly kosher.
“There were bottles of wine that cost more than $31.50 on the table at holiday meals I had just attended,” Weiss, the director of the Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek, told the Jew and the Carrot prior to beginning the challenge, which took place October 27 through November 3. Nonetheless, Weiss was determined — despite the extra difficulty kashrut would pose — to join the many others around the country, including many members of Congress and Jewish community leaders, in experiencing what it is like to be one of the 45.7 million Americans who receive Food Stamp benefits and the one in six American households living in hunger.
When I walked into Roxbury Park’s Community Center this past Sunday night, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve been involved with the New Jewish Food Movement for a number of years, and one of the many questions I keep asking is, “What exactly is the landscape of the Food Movement?” In my work as a community rabbi both within a congregation and outside of it, I know that community needs definition, even in the broadest possible sense. Without definitions, a community can fail, especially one that describes itself as a “Movement.” So when my food-based organization, Netiya, co-sponsored a food justice event, Harvesting Justice, along with JFSJ/PJA and IKAR, I walked in with a number of questions in my pocket: what is the message of this “movement,” who makes up its committed core, and what can we learn from each other? In short, my questions could be surmised into a single query: “Who are we, really?”
Harvesting Justice brought together a large swath of organizations and individuals who self-associate with the word “food.” In the courtyard of the community center, a number of invited groups put on a foodie fair with booths with everything from making vegan-raw chocolate pudding, to “shopping” (read: taking for free) from a selection of fallen fruits and vegetables from around Los Angeles, to advocates for restaurant worker justice. One would need a very wide-angle lens to capture the panorama of issues, programs, and initiatives associated with the Food Justice Movement, let alone the entire Food Movement.