Canned vegetables await processing at the 2014 Hazon Food Conference.
Two hundred pounds of tomatoes. Some big and red and juicy, some yellow, some tiny cherry tomatoes, a pile of colorful beefsteaks and even a box of ripe green tomatoes with beautiful dark green veins.
This summer, two hundred pounds of tomatoes passed through our kitchen. And over the course of three weeks, our shelves got overwhelmed with tomato sauce, salsa and dried tomato chips.
Not to mention the two hundred fifty pounds of apples.
I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong impression: I haven’t always focused on preserving produce when it’s in season. My passion for canning and preserving represents a new stage in my life. Growing up, most of the cans I interacted with were either full of processed beets and green beans from the grocery store, or empty…and being kicked down an empty alley in a fierce game of Kick-the-Can.
I recently observed the following conversation between a mother and her 2 or 3 year old son. We were all at a coffee shop, I was catching up on some work for my health coaching certification on my iPad and at the table next to me this mother-and-son duo were enjoying an afternoon snack.
The mother had purchased a glass of tea, which came with two paper cups; my coffee came in just one cup. Surprised by the difference, the boy continued to ask further about coffee and tea, not only about the heat discrepancy, but about their essence and identities.
The mother, who admitted to her son that she does drink coffee too, was baffled – taken aback, even – by her son’s curiosity.
“It’s not that coffee is bad for you”, she started slowly, “it’s just not for everyone”. Then she added with inflection, “all of the time”.
Courtesy of Hazon
Seven years ago, Nigel Savage, founder of the Jewish environmental group Hazon, typed the phrase “Jewish food movement,” in quotes, into Google. There were zero results. Enter those words today, and you will find 80,100 results.
But Savage no longer has to rely on Google for proof of his movement’s success. A study released March 10 by Hazon and several Jewish philanthropies shows that the Jewish food movement — and the associated Jewish outdoor and environmental movements — are on the rise.
The study, which is the first of its kind in the Jewish environmental world, surveyed the range of immersive programs (of four days or longer) in Jewish outdoor, food, and environmental education, or JOFEE, as Hazon refers to it. In 2000, the year of Hazon’s founding, immersive JOFEE programs drew 197 people, but by the year 2012 such programs drew over 2,400 people annually. An immersive JOFEE program might include a bike ride through the Negev desert, a farming apprenticeship centered on Jewish learning, or teaching gardening at Jewish summer camps.
True confession: I’ve been a Martha Stewart follower since the early 90s. Her old magazines are stored in my basement and my daughters and I watched her old shows religiously. Parties, changing seasons, holidays, and projects were all sourced through our Martha lens.
So, it makes sense that when our youngest daughter, who made Aliyah this past summer and now serves in the Israeli Air Force, called with news of her engagement, wedding ideas were floating in my mind. Radio on, thoughts flying, errands ticking off the list and then I listened: Martha Stewart was on Sirus Radio taking calls from listeners, and of course, I had to phone in. I was told to hold for Martha as I pulled into our driveway.
My journey with the Paleo lifestyle began the day after Rosh Hashanah. I use the term ‘lifestyle’ rather than ‘diet’ for many reasons. Fully committing to this major lifestyle change was a tough choice for me. As a new year approaches, it is not uncommon to profess, “I’m going to start eating healthier, control my portions and make better choices”, “I’m going to eat less, move more and exercise regularly”. However, my resolution was: “I am going to try the Paleo lifestyle for a few weeks.”
What is the paleo diet exactly? Essentially, it is eating the foods that were eaten by our ancestors in the Paleolithic era. It’s part of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle meaning that the foods you are permitted to eat are: fresh meats (preferably grass-produced or free-ranging beef, lamb, poultry, and game meat), fish, seafood, fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and healthful oils (coconut, avocado, macadamia, walnut and flaxseed). Foods that are not considered part of the lifestyle are dairy products, cereal grains, legumes, refined sugars and other processed foods since these items were not part of our ancestral menu.
I work for the largest Jewish environmental organization in the United States. The kind that has a written food values policy which outlines the steps we, as an organization, take to ensure that the food we serve to our guests, participants, and each other is kosher, ethical, healthy, delicious, and a conversation starter.
Why then, do I have a five-pound bag of Halloween chocolates in my desk drawer?
Because somewhere around 4pm, it’s time for chocolate. And I don’t mean the good-quality, fair trade, dark chocolate (I keep that hidden in a different drawer), I mean that sugary, processed, preservative-laden, “exactly what I wanted right now” chocolate.
I recently found myself in one of my favorite places in NYC — The Union Square Farmer’s Market. As I wandered through the stalls, admiring the colorful varieties of cauliflower and broccoli I reflected on how much my shopping habits have changed. Sure, I occasionally shop at the Green Market at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, but for the past year I’ve purchased most of my produce from the Caribbean market around the corner from my house in Bed-Stuy. Spending almost a year on unemployment and one measly month on SNAP has changed the way that I budget, and the way that I shop for food.
In July of 2011, I found myself in an interesting predicament — I was unexpectedly unemployed. As the thrill of spending work days on the beach turned into weeks and then months without so much as an interview, my meager savings disappeared and my debt mounted. I realized that I would have to get government assistance. I struggled with this realization and put it off until the very last moment, which I learned was a terrible idea because you don’t just get SNAP benefits just because you want them — you have to wait.
For the past two years, I have had the privilege of serving as an AmeriCorps Volunteer Coordinator at the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center. In 2011, I partnered with the Temple Beth David Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and Long Island Cares, a major food bank, to collect and distribute fresh produce to local food pantries for Care to Share. This initiative, a collaboration of UJA-Federation of New York, AmeriCorps, Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and Hazon, aims to feed the hungry during the Sukkot and harvest season and raise awareness about the importance of healthy eating and nutrition. Volunteers helped promote and support this initiative in Suffolk County by spreading the word and donating fresh fruits and vegetables straight from their home gardens or purchased from a store. Two volunteers I worked closely with, Beth Needleman at Temple Beth David and Elana Sisson at Long Island Cares, played vital roles in helping collect 505 pounds of fresh produce to give to local food pantries, an amazing accomplishment that allowed us to help approximately 490 families on Long Island. We take pride in helping those in need by making their holiday season more abundant and special.
Manna, the unknown substance upon which the Jews subsisted in the desert, has been a subject of mystery and wonder to the Jewish people for many thousands of years. Last night, a trendy New York beit-midrash study group called LABA brought the question to the table once again as part of their year-long discussion of food and eating. When I spoke to event organizer and Laba artistic director, Elissa Strauss, she explained that Manna is a miracle and a mystery. It’s not what we think of when we think about Jewish food, but it was a really important part of the Jewish experience in the Desert.
It’s mid-July and farmer’s markets and gardens are brimming with gorgeous produce. You don’t have to look far to find interesting ingredients for a summer meal — some of them are already a part of your everyday veggies. Instead of throwing away veggie leaves or discarding what are typically thought of as weeds (like dandelions and purslane), a slight change in perspective will reveal an even wider array of summer produce right in front of your eyes.
This week’s featured CSA veggie is beets. Often the leafy beet greens are discarded in favor of the rich root which is commonly baked, boiled, or made into soup. But beet greens are also a delicious and versatile summer veggie, and by putting the greens in a pan, rather than in the bin, you will gain a delicious and nutritious addition on your plate. Beet greens are actually so tasty that whole varieties have been cultivated so that the plants produce copious amounts of tender, sweet leaves and only the suggestion of a red beet.
Last week’s op-ed by Mark Bittman made its way around my circles in seconds. Bittman validated what many of us in the natural foods arena have been saying for a long while — that dairy doesn’t necessarily do the body good. The same can be said for wheat, corn, soy, meat and many other high-allergen foods. It doesn’t mean that everyone needs to give them up, and it doesn’t mean that all sources of dairy and producers of dairy are inherently bad. Just read the comments (all 772 of them at the time of writing this article) and you will see that Bittman has opened up a hot topic here.
I’ll try to avoid such intense controversy — but I do recommend reading Bittman’s article and discussing these topics amongst yourselves: Jews and Lactose; Jews and Food Allergies, and the ongoing debates surrounding them. Many who might not tolerate dairy in its unfermented form (milk, cream, most butters) might very well tolerate fermented dairy (yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, sour cream, cheeses, etc.). As a natural foods chef I always encourage my clients to consume the highest quality dairy available to them — be it raw or low heat pasteurized, un-homogenized if possible and always organic.
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.
I know, I know. The last thing you want to think about right now is another holiday in October. As much as many of us love the High Holidays — the sweetness, the reflection time, the motley collection of creative community sukkahs, the lulavs and etrogs, and joy — there’s a point at which (probably around now), we’re done.
But there’s one non-religious day I want you to add to your calendar now that this month of Jewish holidays is almost over.
The First Annual Food Day is Monday, October 24, with events happening all around the country. Food Day is billed broadly as a day to change how Americans eat and think about food. It’s also a very specific opportunity for individuals and organizations to make our advocacy for sustainable, fair food systems go even further.
For centuries, the system of kashrut helped us to decide whether food was “fit” for us to eat, but contemporary food issues are raising a whole new set of questions about what food we should and shouldn’t eat, which kashrut may or may not be able to answer.
Last May, Siach: An Environment & Social Justice Conversation brought together social justice leaders from across the United States, Israel, and Europe, including those who are developing the idea of Kashrut, to consider such factors as where food come from, who’s serving it, and how are those people treated.
When you think of food – what comes to mind? Usually we think of tastes, smells – the sensual experiences of eating. If we dig a little deeper, we’ll get to issues of producing food (growing, raising, processing…) and preparing it – buying, cooking. If we really “unpack” the idea – we’ll think about the lack of it – hunger – and all the different social, economic, environmental, and political issues that are embedded in our food system that makes it the way it is…
The Israel Sustainable Food Tour, sponsored by Hazon and the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership will deal with all these issues and more. We will hit the ground picking, kicking off the week in the field, doing the age old activity of leket, gleaning, collecting agricultural produce straight from the fields, for distribution among disadvantaged populations. The organization that promotes food rescue, and other initiatives to combat nutritional insecurity is called Leket – Table to Table – a worthy beginning to a week focused on the sustainability of our food system – including issues of justice and fair access.
While headlines about the Farm Bill focus on the role of commodity subsidies in creating the ubiquity of processed foods in the U.S. (and increasingly in the global) food system, on the final day of the 2011 Hazon Food Conference, some of the most passionate and committed members of what some are calling the “new Jewish food movement” got a deeper look at the details of the policy landscape that shapes the way the U.S. food system functions and influences the rest of the globe.
At the “Farm Bill 2012: How the Jewish community and you can make a difference” workshop, presenters Oran Hesterman of the Fair Food Network and Dahlia Rockowitz of American Jewish World Service provided a background into why our policies look the way they do — the intentions with which they were designed, and how we can change them. Illustrating the critical role played by many of the Farm Bill’s sections other than the commodity payments, both presenters raised some serious questions for the audience, and pointed us in the direction to begin to use our voices as citizens and voters to answer them:
I just came back from an inspiring tour of University of California Davis’ food science program led by Sean Lafond, a Ph.D student in food sciences, who recently prepared tomato ice cream as a fun experiment in his home. “It tasted like tomato ice cream,” he said, though he doesn’t usually dabble in experimental ice creams, like the avocado ice cream made in one of the test kitchens by another researcher.
For the food conference participants, seeing the four-building complex replete with food kitchens, a wine laboratory, a brewery, a processing plant and an experimental garden was a full-circle kind of experience, where we could see the kind of work that goes on behind the scenes to put the ideas behind the food movement into action.
Writing about food can be an experience to savor, according to Jewish cookbook author Joan Nathan. “For me, writing about food is talking about culture and history,” Nathan said at a presentation on food writing on Friday at the Hazon Food Conference in Davis, Calif. The author of ten cookbooks, Nathan also writes about food for the New York Times and other publications from her home in Washington, D.C.
New York journalist Jeffrey Yoskowitz and California food blogger Amiee Kushner also shared their insight into the field of food writing to an audience of around 35 people at the University of California Davis. Yoskowitz, who keeps kosher, chronicles Judaism’s complicated relationship with pork at the website porkmemoirs.com. Meanwhile, Kushner writes a blog for an audience of Jews and non-Jews alike called Jewish Food in the Hands of Heathens.
August 18, 2011 marked the first day of Hazon’s annual Food Conference. The four day gathering at UC-Davis, a global leader in sustainability projects, united people from Colorado to Japan under open blue skies and amongst beautiful trees, flowers, creeks, and even a dairy farm and winery. Food, fun, and activities aside, the 311 person gathering had an intense agenda including seven program tracks like Food Systems and Policy and Jewish Agriculture.
The Food Justice and Tikkun Olam track provided an opportunity for community activists, teachers, students and foodies alike to learn from one another about our complex food system and a broader movement to address hunger, poverty, workers rights, and food access both locally and abroad. Pursue, a project of American Jewish World Service and AVODAH, hosted a session called “Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA): A Vehicle for Collective Action and World-Changing!” The workshop provided a platform for learning, idea sharing, and, ideally, continued conversation and collaboration. All three presenters were recipients of the Pursue Food Justice Scholarship, a pilot initiative to strengthen the food justice programming at this year’s conference.
We’ve gotten our hands dirty making pickles. We’ve pounded sauerkraut like bubbes from the Lower East Side. We’ve planted herbs in havdallah gardens and we’ve learned amazing new braids for our challah, which we’ve leavened with natural sourdough. The DIY food movement has taken hold of the Jewish community — and it’s logical that after the vegetable growing and the bread baking that our thoughts turn to meat.
Ironically, though the DIY movement may be fueling interest in kosher slaughter, though, it’s not something you can read about on an urban homesteader blog and try in your backyard. The laws of shechita (kosher slaughter) are carefully guarded, and one must undergo rigorous training to become a shochet (a ritual slaughterer), at least according to orthodox standards. That said, there is still an opportunity for hands-on learning, and communities across the country have been gathering at farms and community centers to watch kosher shechita and in some cases, pluck a feather or two. The experiences are profound, and participants often have the opportunity to wrestle with important issues of meat eating, kashrut and Jewish tradition as a whole.