One of the ethical principles on which the Jewish environmental and food movements rest is ba’al tashchit, the commandment not to needlessly waste or destroy. One area of modern life that desperately needs to understand this principle better is our food supply, where over 40% of the food produced for human consumption is thrown away. Food waste begins in the fields, where imperfect produce is left to rot, continues through to stores that throw out expired products and restaurants that dump uneaten servings, and to our homes. With so many Americans going hungry, it is a travesty that so much food (and money) is being thrown in the trash.
Restaurants have also come under increasing scrutiny because of the rapid rise in portion sizes, with single servings often containing more than the recommended daily allowance of calories. These large portions either encourage people to eat beyond their satiation point or leave much of the food to be thrown out. Combined with the growing number of meals that Americans eat in restaurants and the fact that restaurant food often contains more salt and fat than comparable food served at home, the super-sized restaurant meals are a major factor in both the obesity crisis and the food waste epidemic.
So how do we as individuals and communities try to uphold the value of ba’al tashchit when we eat in restaurants? Many of us curb our instinct to eat mindlessly by taking home leftovers or by splitting dishes. Through the blog Wasted Food, I learned of an innovative program taking shape in Austin, Texas.
At one time every Israeli, especially male soccer fans, knew how to crack sunflower seeds. It was a perquisite to living in Israel, along with not so subtle line jumping. Those without this talent were looked upon as outcasts.
Chucking the shells directly on the sidewalk was part of the local custom. At bus stations piles would accumulate to the size of termite hills. By a quick glance at the height of the mound, it was possible to estimate the duration of the commuter’s wait, and indirectly the efficiency of the town’s public transportation.
While most Israelis are proficient with single seed shelling, some have become professional. They load fistfuls in their mouths and fire the shells like a submachine gun. Attempting to imitate this feat will only lead to appendicitis from swallowing the wrong parts, or the very least indigestion.
Sufganiyot get a 21st century makeover. Check out the Mexican hot chocolate glazed ones with fluff filling. [Chow]
If you’d rather buy your sufganiyot, stop by Mile End for some raspberry filled poppers. [Fork in the Road]
What happened at the Farm Bill Hack-a-Thon? [Grist]
Get your fry on with these recommendations for how to fry perfectly for Hanukkah. [Epicurious]
Left over corned beef from the deli can be transformed into this deliciously rich corned beef hash. [Serious Eats]
A decade ago, living in New York City, I met the woman who became my wife. During our courtship, she invited me to fly out to California to meet her family, and she warned me about “Baking Day.” For generations, all the women of her family have gathered together on a Sunday during the winter holiday season to bake. They get up before dawn and set to work mixing the various amounts of eggs, sugar, flour, and yeast to make enough breads, pastries, and cookies for all of the extended family members as gifts. My wife informed me that Baking Day is the most important day of the year and not to be missed, and once I caught a glimpse of what Baking Day really was, I knew why.
When I walked past the kitchen door, I could spy the women scurrying about between powdery clouds of flour that hung low in the air like some kind of baker’s fog, sisters and wives arguing over rye seeds and chocolate chips, all over the clamor of the mixer. I heard grandmothers and daughters analyzing the stiffness of egg white peaks like doctors over an x-ray. Yet somewhere between focaccia and snickerdoodles, all basking in the heat of the oven, these matriarchs spoke of the most important things: memories of the past and plans for the future, loves lost and gained. It was almost as if wisdom itself were punched right down that day into the mounds of rising dough.
In the almost feudal state that Nicaragua was 90 years ago, daughters of wealthy families were taught French and needlework, and were expected to marry well. They knew nothing about how their food was cooked, their clothes made, or their households provisioned. They weren’t allowed to associate with the servants, or even to enter the kitchen. Finishing school in Switzerland, then marriage to a suitable boy — those were girls’ expectations in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, back when my Mom was growing up.
My mother’s parents, descendants of Spanish Jews, owned sugar-cane and coffee plantations. They were proud of their Sephardic heritage, but for the exception of lighting Shabbat candles and abstaining from pork and shellfish, they had dropped Jewish observance. Sad, but maybe inevitable in a country where only a handful of Jewish families have ever lived.
Life flows in cycles. When we breathe, there is an out and there is an in. We go to sleep and we wake up. Our heart pumps and it rests. What about our food? We spend all day expending energy, so three times a day we need to refill. Our food can be many things to each of us. Fuel for our motion, building blocks for our body, a way to connect with the source of life, or a way to bring people together — to name just a few.
As a child, I always knew that I would be a healer. So when my life path led me toward cooking, I started to realize that the way we eat is the most direct and constant form of healing and replenishment that we can give ourselves. I never quite understood the idea that we need to be sick before thinking about making ourselves healthy. Sure, life gets busy, and we may forget to do yoga or even breathe deeply (now is a good chance to try that one), but it is only so long that we can go without remembering to eat. Maybe the key is remembering that what we eat directly relates to our health. After all, sages as distant as Rambam and Hippocrates agreed that our food is our medicine and our medicine is our food.
Call them the baker’s dozen bakers. Well, almost.
They’re 10 or so women living at a Jewish nursing home in Montreal, neighbors on the sixth floor, who bake together most Tuesday afternoons, coaxing big, sweet aromas from a small convection oven.
“Visitors tell me they can smell [the baking] when they step off the elevator,” says Catherine Drew, a therapeutic recreation specialist, who shepherds the weekly flock of bakers at the Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre.
It’s just a short walk or wheelchair ride from their rooms to the communal dining area, where Drew, circling among the residents settles in at a long table, distributes large-print recipes and crisp white butcher’s aprons. With ingredients for chocolate chip cookies in easy reach, the women work with practiced hands, cracking eggs, measuring sugar, tipping flour.
As much as Jews love their holiday feasting, big family meals can also bring up some anxiety. Maybe you keep more kosher than your parents. Maybe less. Maybe you used to be a vegetarian, but now you eat meat, but only if it’s sustainably raised. Navigating special food needs with loved ones is fraught because of the powerful symbolism of sharing (or not sharing) food. We know from our tradition of kashrut that the notion of “permitted” and “forbidden” foods plays a role in determining who sits together at the table. But what happens when we expressly want to eat together, just not eat the same food? This real email exchange (below), between a Jewish farming couple (Jon and Sherry — names changed for anonymity) and their family before a holiday visit, brings some of these questions to light (lightly!). Share your own family stories in the comments.
Serious Eats editor Ed Levine has been dubbed the “Missionary of the Delicious” by Ruth Reichl and rightfully so. There are few food writers in America who seem to enjoy good food more than Levine. He can rattle off lists of the best delis, pizzas, desserts and a place to get an obscure Chinese dish you’ve never heard of in almost any major American city.
His website Serious Eats provides a space and community for enthusiastic eaters to share recipes, tales of new restaurants and creative food events. This fall, Levine and the editors of Serious Eats dropped their first book, “Serious Eats: A Comprehensive Guide To Making & Eating Delicious Food Where You Are,” a food book with recipes, fun food timelines, recipes and comments from members of the Serious Eats community.
Sprinkled throughout the book are a handful of references to Levine’s Jewish culinary background growing up on Long Island and being a descendent of a Lower East Side pickle seller. He shared with us what it means to be a “Serious Eater,” his thoughts on contemporary Jewish food and what he’d like to eat for his last meal (hint: it includes pastrami).
Yotam Ottolenghi, the London-based Israeli chef and master of vegetarian cuisine isn’t a veggie himself, but his cookbook “Plenty”, “is among the most generous and luxurious nonmeat cookbooks ever produced,” says Mark Bittman. [New York Times]
Let the latke recipes start! Here’s one for apple and cheese-stuffed ones. [The Kitchn]
We tend to think of seasonal eating as a buzzword in today’s foodie scene, but it’s actually an old concept. As a practitioner of Chinese medicine, I spend a lot of time sifting through ancient Chinese treatises on diet and healing, all of which stress the importance of eating with the seasons as a means to living a healthy, long life. In my acupuncture practice, I find seasonal food recommendations and recipes extremely useful and empowering to patients, who start cooking for themselves and feeling better. Little did I know, much of what the classics of Chinese Medicine say can also be found in the writings of Maimonides, the great 12th century Jewish scholar.
We don’t often think of the traditional Jewish diet as healthy, but Maimonides had some pretty insightful things to say about food, many of which would still be considered relevant in our current food culture. Maimonides was a prominent and prolific medieval Jewish scholar, philosopher, and physician, and he wrote extensively not only on Torah, ethics, and Jewish law, but also about diet and the treatment and prevention of disease. In fact, it was Maimonides who first recommended chicken soup, in his treatise On the Cause of Symptoms, for the management of breathing difficulty and weakness, and now we all reach for a bowl of the Jewish penicillin as soon as we feel a cold coming on!
I’ve been a gardener and foodie all my life. Family legend has it that as a toddler I used to go from one cherry tomato plant to the next in our backyard garden, picking and sampling each one. The green ones I’d spit out, but I didn’t give up; I savored each sweet, red tomato as a gift as soon as I found it. Later I discovered my love of cooking with my first cooking class at age seven and hours upon hours of hounding my great-grandmothers, grandmothers, and mother to teach me what they know…until I developed my own eclectic, vegetarian cooking style.
I find myself lucky enough to share my love of food and gardening at my synagogue, Congregation Sherith Israel, Nashville’s Orthodox synagogue. I hadn’t taught Sunday School in nearly 20 years, but was told I had free reign to do pretty much whatever I wanted with the bar/bat mitzvah aged kids each week. My class has taught me as much as I teach them, and we have worked together to build and maintain two raised bed gardens, cook and bake countless recipes, and do the odd crafts project to decorate the Sukkah, tables for the Hannukah festival, and the students’ homes.
The Shabbat dinner tables of my two grandmothers were never complete without noodle soup. Each grandmother made it on a weekly basis — it’s such a basic staple of Jewish cooking. Nana, who was from Eastern Europe always made chicken soup (hers was like liquid gold), while Oma, from Germany, made beef soup, a base of so many soups in the German-Jewish cooking tradition. As different as they were, I loved both versions and I have always felt lucky to have two distinct cooking traditions in my background.
When my parents met, they were each introduced to the food traditions of the other’s family. My mother, whose family rarely cooked chicken, remembers eating a glorious roast chicken the first time she was invited for a Friday night meal cooked by her future mother-in-law. Conversely, my father remembers the first time he visited the Rossmersfor a Shabbos meal and being surprised by the berches, the German-Jewish version of challah. It looked totally different than what he was used to: it was longer and narrower and was sprinkled with poppy seeds. It was that night that he also came face to face with Oma’s beef noodle soup for the first time.
A recent development in kosher meat is stirring up controversy among Jews both observant and secular. It’s Spanish goose. Spanish farmers discovered that the flesh of their organically-raised geese tastes exactly like pork. Two entrepreneurs caught wind of this culinary phenomenon and immediately foresaw a market for the swinish treat: treyf-curious Jews. Now, all it needs is rabbinical approval.
Ynet reports that Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, Yonah Metzger, enthusiastically endorses importing the pork-flavored goose to Israel.
To be sure that the flavor is authentically porcine, Metzger sent samples to three non-Jewish chefs. All agreed that the flavor of the Spanish goose is astonishing — just like pork. (What kind of pork it tastes like, we don’t know yet. Fried chops? Sugar-cured ham? Bacon?) With flavor stamp of approval at hand, Metzger argues that an authentic-tasting alternative to pork might persuade secular Jews to choose kosher.
As a Jewish college student living in New York City, I am frequently challenged to make eating and living sustainably work on a very tight budget. I’ve found that there are some ways I can spend less money and skimp, and there are certain areas where splurging is definitely worth the extra cost. I try to follow some key guidelines — listed below — when buying both food and household products. Whether you’re a college student, or just want to save a few extra bucks, these tips are useful in integrating sustainably minded changes into your daily routine.
Shop at the Farmers Markets: Not only are farmers markets great for buying local produce, they are relatively inexpensive compared to chain supermarkets. I especially love farmers market apples — at NYC markets they are reasonably priced, taste delicious, and help to support local economies!
The extra nights refer to no Hanukkah miracle, but the (expensive) extension of WhiskyFest New York. As I reported on November 11, in response to heavy demand for tickets Malt Advocate has decided to move WhiskyFest from a Tuesday night to a whole weekend and to rename it WhiskyFest Weekend New York.
With a $675 price tag and a Friday night start time, it seems like the demand and the demographic for next year’s event will be different from previous ones. Granted there are many more sessions to attend and granted you can also sign up for a “Grand Tasting” on either Friday or Saturday night for around the same amount as the 2011 event ($175 if you book before July), but it seems there’s no hope for Sabbath-observant Jews trying to make it to a “Grand Tasting” on a week when Sabbath does not end until 6.30pm.
As the owner of an organic, kosher bakery in the Hudson Valley, Dan Leader’s life is a round-the-clock whir of promotion, sales, recipe testing and travel. But when his customers share stories about beloved bread in far away places, he finds time to listen. After hearing from Latvian shoppers that a special, very dark rye was made near the city of Riga, the founder and force of Bread Alone Bakery had to see for himself.
“My grandmother came from Lithuania, my grandfather came from Ukraine but some of my family’s relatives were in Latvia, and I have to tell you that the best, old-world Jewish baking is in Latvia,” he said, still excited about a recent, two-week, fact-finding trip that took him to the legendary Laci Bakery outside Riga.
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.