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.
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.
Last week, the California based advocacy group Roots of Change posted a video called “Food Movement Rising”. This inspiring video reminds us of the challenges that we face and the responses that we can make to our contemporary food system.
The video encourages people who are passionate about the food movement to connect with each other and work together to make a better and brighter future. Michael Dimock, President of Roots of Change, has presented at the Hazon Food Conference in the past, and his organization continues to inspire our work. Here at Hazon, the video serves as a great reminder as to how we can make change in our food system through our Jewish institutions.
As a participant at the 5th annual Hazon Food Conference in Sonoma, CA I was set to learn about the current state of the Jewish food movement. I was ready for the conversations about raw vegan fare, workshops on organic produce, and sessions on new urban farming techniques.
But as I looked at the first item on the schedule, there it was. Babka. Front and center as one of the opening sessions offered at the conference. Why babka? Why here? Why now?
In a way, it felt like a step backwards to me. A loaf of refined sugar, white flour, and enough butter to even make Paula Dean blush. It’s definitely not your typical eco-friendly treat.