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Posts Tagged ‘food’

Making Jewish Jam

My obsession began because I dislike the taste of honey. Several years ago, on Rosh Hashanah, I tried to think up a way to serve the customary apples and honey to my friends without actually having to eat the nasty stuff straight out of the bottle. The result: my now world-famous (ok, friend-famous) apple honey butter.

That day, I caught the canning and preserving bug. Since then (and with mixed results), I’ve jammed, sauced, pickled, and fermented anything that holds still long enough for me to squeeze into a jar. I have been consistently thrilled by a process which promotes seasonal cooking yet still allows me to enjoy the taste of fresh fruit in the winter. I love that preserving is fun and can be done easily at home. However, in the excitement of those intervening years, I somehow forgot that my original canning frenzy had Jewish roots.

Having just moved halfway across the country, I’ve been feeling homesick for something familiar. So when I discovered that this is the last week for blackberries here in Seattle, I couldn’t wait to get my little home cannery going again. However, this time the process brought me back to my jam roots in a new way. Now that I am temporarily without a local community, Jewish or otherwise, preserving berries helped me to feel a sense of place and purpose.

So while I was waiting for my jars to boil, it finally occurred to me that modern Diaspora Judaism has a lot to do with making jam. Like my honey apple butter, almost everything which was once religious has become secular. Though this is not inherently a bad thing, and in fact may help to unite people of many different faiths, we have unwittingly sacrificed our sense of the sacred.

I believe that a large part of the urge modern Jews feel to connect our religion with sustainability is an attempt to bring the sacred back into the everyday. To follow the commandment of Bal Tashchit, not to destroy, is to transform the daily grind of composting, recycling, cooking, and shopping into the sacred act of preserving part of Creation. It helps us to separate out a few holy, restful moments for ourselves each day. When we allow religion to infuse our activism, our acts elevate and connect us in a way impossible without the acknowledgment of the separate and sacred.

Today, I made Jewish jam. And when I open a jar and taste fresh blackberries in the middle of February, I will only be able to describe that moment as a miracle.

*If you would like any recipes, or if you have any preservation-related questions to ask or advice to offer, please post a comment! Now is the time to make summer fruit jams and pickles!

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Food for all?

Many Jews are aware of certain problematic theological aspects in Birkat HaMazon, the blessings said after each time we eat bread. I’d like to call attention to a line that occurs very early in these blessings, in the second line. After the opening line of the blessing, there is a line that states “hu noten lechem l’chol basar,” He (God) gives bread to all men. How can we recite this line after each time we eat bread when we know for a fact that there are many hungry, even starving, people in the world, who clearly do not have bread to eat, let alone protein, fresh fruit, or full meals.

I believe the answer to this problem lies in the liturgy as well, in the Ashrei, Psalm 145. About two-thirds of the way through, there is a line that reads “v’atah noten lahem et achlam b’ito,” You (God) give them their food in its proper time. This line is a bit confusing: what is the proper time for food? I would like to suggest that this line implies that we cannot sit idly and expect all people to have food, but that there need to be specific actions taken in order for this “proper time” to arrive. Due to the unique challenges of exploding populations, evolving economies and expanding technologies, the landscape of food growth, development and distribution is changing rapidly. It is, however, readily acknowledged by many that “the world produces enough food to feed everyone. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories per person per day.” (worldhunger.org)

The challenge, then, is presented to us to affect the necessary changes that will enable all people to receive their food. This time can be now, but it will not happen of its own accord. We must acknowledge the problems of world hunger, analyze potential actions thoroughly, and then take action towards bringing necessary resources to as many people as possible. In this Passover season, I hope that one day we will all, as a world population, be liberated from the slavery of hunger and move towards the freedom of having enough to eat, not just by the grace of God, but also by the efforts of each of us, so that all will receive enough bread (or matza) to eat.

(If nothing else, give a quick click to thehungersite.com : quick, easy, helpful.)

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The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, was recommended to me somewhat randomly by a colleague, off of a general discussion about the lunch we were eating. I ordered it on a whim off of Amazon, and after receiving it, looking at the cover, I wasn’t particularly excited about the impulsive purchase I had made. By the time I was 150 pages in, I was overwhelmed with new information, terrified by some of the problems presented in the book, and inspired to do something (which partly led to the impulse to create this site). Among the most notable/thought-provoking ideas in the book are:

CORN
In the first section of the book, where Pollan describes how “industrial” food is created, he spends a good deal of the section discussing the evolution of corn in American food and how it has become a staple of many processed foods, which makes up a significant part of the average American’s diet. This may be less of a surprise to observant Jews who, every year around this time, become very aware of the prevalence of high fructose corn syrup in foods to observe Passover, but the resources, efforts and culture devoted to growing corn were still remarkably and clearly outlined. The most interesting part of the section to me was not specifically about corn, but rather the artificial nitrates used in fertilizer for corn. Nitrates in nature are basically a closed system; since nitrogen is so stable, creating new nitrates only happens in extreme circumstances, ie lightening striking. But, in the early 20th century, a (Jewish!) scientist named Fritz Haber figured out how to artificially synthesize nitrates, thus breaking open the system, and things haven’t been the same since. Who knows what the effects of changing the chemical composition of our world are/will be?

AWESOME RELIGIOUS SUSTAINABLE FARMERS
In the second section of the book, Pollan visits a sustainable, organic farm-organization called Polyface Farms, run by a man named Joel Satalin. Satalin’s rants/insights are among the most entertaining and insightful parts of the book, and he masterfully synthesizes strong beliefs in individualism, libertarianism, sustainability and faith into a fascinating world view. In addition to tearing down any illusions I had about what “organic food” really is and made me appreciate the thought and effort put into running a sustainable system, I was also struck by Satalin’s religion. Though not a fanatic, Satalin’s faith is a key part of his outlook and, though he is not Jewish, I felt a resonance, and a hope that perhaps a similarly Jewish project might not be so impossible.

PIGS
In the last section of the book, Pollan sets out to create the perfect meal; by his criteria, this means a relatively tasty and nutritious meal made up exclusively of foods that he has grown/gathered himself. Not only does this include more typical items such as vegetables from his garden, but also more exotic components such as wild boar that he hunts himself (apparently, this is doable in California…gotta love it). The striking part of this for me was that Pollan is, in fact, a Jew, something that he refers to a couple of times in the book. To see any type of non-kosher item prepared by a Jew in a “perfect” meal would be striking to me; to include pork is almost comical. To me, this speaks to the importance of this blog. It must be possible to find a synthesis combining the values that Pollan espouses without totally ignoring Jewish tradition and heritage, and while I have nothing but the utmost respect for Pollan and his work, I certainly hope that this is but the first step in the process of finding an environmentally sustainable Judaism.

Overall, a highly recommended read to gain tons more information about what you’re eating, where it comes from, what it might mean, and how you can begin to do something about it.

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