Turning the Tables was a series of articles through the Jew and the Carrot blog in a partnership with Hazon and The Forward. I focused on the intersection of food and spirituality.
Here are links to my major articles.
Turning the Tables: The Disturbing Torah – This column is not about food. It’s about living with meaning and purpose, and there’s no better meeting point of the personal and communal, the mindful and the prophetic, the historical and the contemporary than in our food.
Why I like the Big Gulp Ban: This country needs a tectonic shift in thinking to change our future. Our lives depend on it. What Mayor Bloomberg has done, even if the measure doesn’t pass muster, is push Americans to focus negative attention on one of our national icons: the tall, shimmering bottle of fizzy soda.
The Black Fast Our Black Fast brings us to the bottom, showing us how broken the world is — in order that we know what must be done to redeem, repair, and build a world that turns darkness into light, chaos into order, and fear into hope. For foodies, then, fasting is of the deepest part of the eating experience. It is the foil from which all other food is appreciated and sets in motion the very context from which the “why” of food is born. With the fast we answer the simplest of question of why we eat – because we can.
Is a Jellyfish Potato Kosher? What is the Jewish view of genetically engineered crops? Not surprisingly, there are differing—and complicated—opinions. A rabbinic colleague, Avram Reisner, wrote an erudite teshuva (Jewish legal opinion) for the Conservative movement outlining many of the issues.
Apples Dipped in Honey Where did the custom of dipping apples in honey come from anyway? The earliest sources I found regarding eating symbolic foods on the New Year are in the Talmud (Keritot 6a), but apples are not mentioned. Only dates from which honey could be extracted. Other foods included pumpkin, fenugreek, leeks, and beets, all symbols of fertility.
Food Resolutions for the New Year – If you’re like me, January prompts you to reexamine a few bothersome behaviors — and make a few (or more) resolutions for the coming year. Making resolutions is a dangerous proposition, of course. A strictly goal-oriented approach gives us a flat, “all or nothing” mandate that can lead to failure. By February, our resolution has dropped off our spiritual radar, and we marinate our inertia in the guilt of giving up. As the negative emotions pile up, we risk (as the rabbis say), “begetting one sin with another” — creating a vicious cycle that leaves us in a spiritual mess. Instead, let’s take a deeper approach.
The Secret of Tu B’Shvat – We are natural and social creatures, living among the swarms of life and reaching beyond it through the study of Torah Tu B’Shvat reminds us of this paradox. The holiday connects us again to the natural world, reminding us that we have an enduring partnership with our land and fellow creatures.
It’s Not My Problem – We cannot with any sense of coherence say that I will spend my time, energy, and money conjuring the most delectable of culinary creations without any consideration for those who struggle to find their next meal. Their struggles are our struggles. It is no longer enough to grow our own food without fighting to ensure that the entire food system is just.
BBQ-ing for Dad – When we moved into our single-story ranch house in Plano I was enamored with the gas-powered built-in BBQ in our backyard. I approached it carefully and lifted up the lid to peer into the darkness that lay beneath. What amazing pieces of meat can we cook on this altar to the gods of cookery? To my utter dismay, my father pulled me away and shut the lid. He said to me, “Look here, son, we’re not going to use the gas BBQ. If you want to really BBQ, you have to do it right. That means we grill with charcoal. It’s the right thing to do.”
The Masquerade of Life – There’s more to this festival than “eat, drink and be merry,” Our rabbis teach that feasting is not enough. We must spread goodness in the world, no matter how fragile.
Dayenu, Is It Enough? – No single action can fix our broken food system, but we pray tonight that through our collective actions taken together, and in partnership with God, we can work to make sure that there will be a night in the future where no one goes to sleep with the pain of an empty stomach, no one feels their dignity impugned for being poor, and all can share in the bounty of the earth and say, “Blessed are You, God, Who gives sustenance to all.”
Bringing Justice Back to Tu B’Shvat – Let’s bring back justice to Tu B’Shvat praxis. If you celebrate with a seder, do it backwards. Begin in the world of spirit, and end in a world of action. Let the ritual bring you into this world and inspire you to rise from the seder table to work with the widows, orphans, and strangers to build a better world. As Jews, our songs and praises find their meaning when we act on their messages to address the broader challenges facing our community. This year, we should mark this day with its original intention.
Let’s Be Clear: ‘We’re Not About Food – Food has historically been the force for social cohesion. It intersects so much of our lives, from our dinner plates at home, to the grower in the field, to our medical system. The New Jewish Food Movement can uncover its power to unite Jews from differing political, ideological, religious, and socio-economic perspectives by realizing that food is the means to greater end — a just, verdant, sustainable community. That’s the true power of who we are.
Turning the Tables: Leftover, not Left Out – Leftovers embody a spiritual dimension to food that “new” food never can. If a new dish means anticipation, then leftovers mean reflection. If new food means looking forward to something special, then leftovers mean looking backward at something special — and making it new again. Having leftovers is itself an act of living memory.
The Miracle of Latkes – This little potato pancake has become the central food of the holiday. According to some, we eat latkes because they are fried in oil, symbolizing the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days. But what else can we learn from the little latke? Is there a way to connect it to the holiday beyond the fact that it’s fried? With these questions in mind, here are a few tips for considering the miracles at our tables…
Proposition 37, Food Movement’s Bar Mitzvah – We’re learning the rules of the game here—how to organize, how to raise funds, how to get the word out. With every campaign, we are growing stronger. Food issues are moving out of the lifestyle section of the newspaper to the front page. It’s our public debut that says, we’re young but we’re ready to play the game. Someone get the (organic) candy ready.
Deep Kashrut Resolutions for New Year’s – Elsewhere I wrote that the core problem of our food system is that our food has become flattened into mere objects or commodities to be consumed. The solution to this flattening is the reclamation of the depth our food represents. More than a mixture of ingredients, our food is freighted with values, memories, and political processes. When we place a morsel in our mouth we immerse ourselves into these depths. I called this process Deep Kashrut. When it comes to making resolutions for the New Year, instead of thinking of resolutions as flat goals, let’s think of them as life-adjustments to deepen ourselves. In that spirit, here are five Deep Kashrut Food Resolutions for the New Year that are achievable today…
Without Flour There Is No Torah – 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.