It’s the Whole Foods paradox: I want to eat healthy, local ingredients—but I can’t afford it. It’s like seeing a fabulous dress at the store, before you turn over the price tag and have to walk away. We’ve all been there. Every time I hold a bag of chia seeds or a carton of hemp milk in my hand, I probably pick it up and put it back 3 or 4 times before I decide that it’s just not in my recently-graduated-college-and-moved-to-the-city budget. But I can’t help it, I love these products. So, what’s a foodie to do?
If you figure it out then please tell me. Living in Park Slope, Brooklyn definitely makes it easier to find these types of ingredients than living in the heart of Harlem where I was before, but it doesn’t make them cheaper. When I feel like I really need it, I’ll treat myself to one of these special omega-3 super foods and believe me, I stretch them as long as they’ll go.
Hazon’s mission is a lofty one.
It’s so big that I set out to see if all that talk was for real at the Hazon Food Conference, the eighth gathering of the New Jewish Food Movement. With 260 participants gathered at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center over Shabbat Hanukkah we set out to learn about social justice, food ethics, Jewish values and much more, I figured I would get a real sense of the authenticity of Hazon’s ambitious mission by spending four days “talking” food and learning more about Hazon’s focus on creating healthier and more sustainable communities.
Last summer I had the opportunity to attend the Hazon Food Conference through the generosity of Pursue. As a full-time food justice community organizer at that time, I had considerable information floating around my head about sustainability, structural racism’s role in our food system and the path our food takes from farm to fork. What I didn’t know much about was knishes.
Our first night at the conference, we were afforded the opportunity to participate in any number of DIY workshops, and I headed straight for Laura Silver’s knishery. The table was laid out with lumps of dough and bowls of mashed potatoes seasoned with caramelized onions, salt and pepper; I dove right in!
While attending the Hazon Food Conference at the University of California, Davis campus last month, I had the pleasure of leading a table learning and discussion at the Community-Wide Beit Midrash (house of study) program on Saturday morning. Sitting at separate tables in the large room, I was one of two people who lead sessions on non-Jewish rather than Jewish texts. The noise level was high but the energy level was fierce. My role was as facilitator, not lecturer, and I found it timely to present a topic inspired by a post in Grist.com, which referenced a TED presentation by Frederick Kaufman called “The Measure of All Things.”
In the third video in the TEDx Manhattan series, Kaufman says that his purpose is to speak about the “retail face of sustainable food, the marketing of sustainability, and the great ‘green wash’ heading our way.” He introduces the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops, an initiative based in Arizona and California. This Index focuses not on commodity crops but on lettuce, grapes, almonds, and tomatoes. It’s made up of farmers, food processors, large environmental groups and academics who are attempting to find consensus for a “measurement of a unit of sustainability” for conventional farming. This is self-regulation, aka “market capture” amongst economists. Their goal? A sustainability label.
Bring over 300+ foodies, chefs, nutritionists and rabbis together to talk about food… and you better have a good plan for what to feed them! Planning food for the Hazon Food Conference is a delightful challenge. We have a list of food values which we try to meet at all Hazon events — and yet the values themselves sometimes conflict with each other. Add the fact that we’re not throwing a dinner party for 12, and the decisions get a lot more complicated. Food procurement and institutional cooking is an area that has a long way to go in terms of sustainability, and we’re proud of our efforts to nudge us along on that route — but we’re far from there yet. Here are some of the values we try to meet, and the choices we made to get there at this year’s Hazon Food Conference at UC Davis.
1. Local & Seasonal: Should feature fruits and vegetables that are in season in August. Ideally they are grown in Yolo County (where UC Davis is), or at least, in Northern California or California.
2. Natural, whole grain, unprocessed: In general we favor whole wheat breads over white; granola or oatmeal over sugar cereals; yogurts, jams and peanut butters without preservatives, white sugar & white flour, artificial flavorings, or hydrogenated oils.
3. Fair Trade: Especially chocolate, coffee, tea.
4. Kosher: Any processed foods (that come in a package) should be certified kosher with a ‘kosher seal’ on the packaging.
Innovative Jewish education projects around the country are helping students of all ages to understand the connections between Jewish tradition and contemporary food issues. But what about the educators? How can these innovative professional and lay leaders, often working and teaching in isolation, create a community and come together to collaborate and work on common challenges?
Enter the Jewish Food Education Network. For the last two years, JFEN has encouraged its members to connect with each other, both face-to-face and virtually. Through weekly network listservs and occasional conference calls, the network has had the opportunity to connect and strategize on how to bring the connections between Jewish life and contemporary food issues to their classrooms. But virtual experiences, have their limitations.
At a session entitled “The University of California: Friend or Foe to Sustainable Agriculture” at this year’s Eco-Farm Conference, Tom Tomich of the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute reminded participants of how the California budget crisis may affect farming: With massive cuts to the University of California system expected, funding for agricultural research at its land-grant universities is in danger. The students and faculty doing GMO and pesticide research can secure funding from private companies, but researchers doing sustainable agriculture and food systems research are on shakier ground, says Tracy Lerman, a UC Davis graduate student and member of the Community Development Graduate Group. As an example, she cites the closure of the Small Farms Center as a result of state funding cuts to the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Lerman and her fiancé, Leon Vehaba, are helping to organize sessions at the 2011 Hazon Food Conference, which will be held at UC Davis this summer (August 18-21). The conference will showcase agriculture and food systems research taking place at UC Davis, which is the largest of the public land-grant universities in the state. In particular:
As the national discussion about food widens to include terms like food desert, food insecurity and food justice, Jewish food activists are broadening their responses to hunger in new and creative ways.
At the Hazon Food Conference West, I sat in on a panel discussion that highlighted examples of individuals and communities that are helping provide healthy sustainable food to all. Here are some of their stories and what drives them:
“So long as Kosher consumers demand cheap meat, and a lot of it, the big slaughterhouses and packing plants will continue to churn it out as quickly and inexpensively as possible.” – Sue Fishkoff, “Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority”
Four “meat-makers” at the Hazon East Coast Food Conference, held this past weekend, who spoke at the session “Pleased to Meat You: The Story of the Sustainable Meat Revolution,” are working hard to change that. Motivated by religious imperatives and their own personal food philosophies they share a common goal: to guarantee that the meat they distribute has been treated in the most natural way possible (organic and local feed, no hormones or antibiotics), has a small ecological footprint and is ritually slaughtered according to tradition.
“Goats are the Jews of the animal kingdom,” Aitan Mizrahi told a group at the Hazon Food Conference on Friday morning. The workshop participants, gathered in the warm, cream-scented air of a small industrial kitchen at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, immediately picked up on the tongue-in-cheek theme: They wander, they are intelligent, and they are stiff-necked, they said. And, Mizrahi pointed out, “They enjoy to be in a minyan and they also enjoy to go off on their own and shmooze.”
So the gentle and friendly milk-producers make a perfect fit for Freedman, an eco-conscious retreat space in the Berkshires.
During the session, Mizrahi described how the annex of the center’s staff housing where farming fellows make fermented delicacies, called the Cultural Center, turns goat milk into cheese and “goatgurt.” offering samples and sprinkling his presentation with biblical references. He and Adamah fellows Mònica Gomeryand Rachel Freyja Bedick also explained how the participants could turn their own kitchens into cultural hot spots.
Tshuvah, the Jewish idea of repentance is usually associated with Yom Kippur and atoning. But it’s actual meaning is return, an idea that Ilana Margolit, a nutritionist with a spiritual bent and Nigel Savage, the director of Hazon clarified in their Hazon East Coast Food Conference session “The Tshuvah of Feeding oneself,” this morning.
They applied the idea to food and the opportunity to use the act of eating and our food choices to return to our most pure and true. This opens up an interesting perspective when we look at our food habits. Instead of feeling guilty for eating bad foods or giving in when we have cravings, we can orient ourselves towards the experience of eating in such a way that we end up making the “healthy choices” for ourselves and not because our doctor, parent or nutritionist told us to. It is a truly liberating meal that leaves us desiring nothing.
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