Close Wallet, Open Mouth

Posted: April 14, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

Like many people, I’m concerned about how to get more bang for my buck while maintaining my fabulous (read: not that fabulous) lifestyle. But that’s a little tricky to do when it comes to food since I cook often and bring lunch to work already, and I’m not about to buy wilted lettuce or old cans of beans just because they’re on sale. As someone whose groceries are mainly produce and demands at least decent-quality stuff, how am I supposed to cut back without sacrificing my health?

A good answer: join a CSA. What the heck is a CSA, you ask? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s a way for consumers to buy fresh produce directly from farmers. As described by Local Harvest: “A farmer offers a certain number of ‘shares’ to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a ‘membership’ or a ‘subscription’) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.” This can include things like fresh eggs or other products a particular farm offers.

Something like this:

“Whoa there,” you’re saying. “That’s a lot of veggies in the box! I am but one person, surely I can’t eat all this every week!” Neither can I. That’s why a lot of CSAs offer half-shares that you can split with another person. Some CSAs will pair you up with someone if you don’t have a share buddy. Also, it’s half the cost!

Right now many CSAs are gearing up for the harvest season and have already begun to sell shares. You don’t go to the farm to pick up your box, they have drop off points in the community or neighborhood they’re serving. You can check out Local Harvest (linked to earlier) to see what’s available near you. A good alternative would be to check out a local farmers market, especially if you only want particular items.

I’m fortunate to live in New York City where there are tons and tons of CSAs all over the place, but what’s super cool is that one of my favorite organizations, Hazon, is now the largest faith-based CSA network in the United States. The farms aren’t necessarily run by Jews, but Hazon CSAs can be based out of synagogues or JCCs and offer Jewish education programs and enhances a local Jewish community. Though Jewish CSAs are far more prevalent due to Hazon, non-Jewish faith-based CSAs can be found too!

The CSA I am considering joining will end up costing $12 per week over 22 weeks for a half share. Though it has to be paid upfront, that’s not a bad deal for someone like me! I’ll get to experiment with new, locally grown veggies and try out new recipes. Can’t wait!

Happy New Year

Posted: January 6, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2010! I hope everyone’s holidays were lovely.

The Hazon Food Conference was held over Christmas weekend, and I realize that in the previous post there wasn’t much actual information about what was discussed. Much of the workshops were regarding sustainable agriculture, CSAs (community supported agriculture), community gardens, permaculture, etc. There were a few of DIY foodie workshops too, making your own mozzarella, pickles and sourdough bagels. Many of these had a Jewish slant, Hazon being at the epicenter of the New Jewish Food Movement.

Much of what took my interest, though, were the food justice workshops. These tended to overlap with the workshops mentioned above but also were concerning how to help our communities with regard to hunger and poverty, and also how to unite our communities around a greater good. For example, I met someone like Jonathan, a charismatic guy with so many ideas on how to improve people’s lives he can’t bear to contain them all. Based in San Francisco, he built a community garden next to a formerly dilapidated children’s library so impoverished city kids could get the chance to experience where their food really comes from: not the grocery store but a plant!

At another workshop I learned about anti-hunger advocacy. The president of MAZON, a major Jewish anti-hunger organization, who led the workshop, said that he even went so far as going on a Food Stamp Hunger Challenge Diet of only spending $21 a WEEK on food, to raise awareness of this issue. A week! That’s how much California gives out in food stamps per week. Insane, right? And he gained weight because the cheapest stuff out there is total junk food.

I met many, many people with the same goal and aspiration: to help others. It was refreshing to meet so many people like this all in one place.

One last panel I’d like to mention was titled “American Kosher: From Manishevitz to Tootsie Pops”. While it delved more into the spirituality of keeping kosher than I expected, I did learn a couple of amazing facts. Did you know that there were kosher meat riots on the Lower East Side in New York City, not once, not twice, but three times?? Yes, it’s true. Due to kosher butchers’ price gouging, housewives went on rampages in 1902, 1903 and 1917, attacking those who dared purchase any of the immorally high-priced meat. You’d think that would discourage further hikes in prices but I guess the butchers didn’t learn the first two times around.

All in all, this was a very enlightening experience. Part of my responsibility now is to create an event or program in my community relating to what I’ve learned. A group of young New York scholarship recipients and I are discussing now what we’ll do next. Be on the lookout, it will most likely be Tu B’shvat related, the new year for the trees, which is coming up at the end of January. This can be a great opportunity for a fun, educational meal. Recipes will definitely be provided!

What else? I’m looking forward to 2010. 2009 was a mixed bag for me. Food-related wishlist for this year:
- Join a CSA (financially pending).
- Change up my daily menu more; a girl can’t live on swiss chard and bulgur wheat alone.
- Grind coffee myself instead of buying ground beans.
- Buy more organic food (financially pending).
- Step out of my comfort zone and create different kinds of ethnic foods. Thai? Indian? French??
- Buy and read more cookbooks.
- Do more anti-hunger advocacy of some sort!
- Finally eat a banh mi.

Those all seem doable. Happy new year, everyone!

What a Weekend

Posted: December 27, 2009 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , | 1 Comment »

630 people. Four days. One conference. I am here in the rugged beauty of Asilomar State Park, where the Pacific Ocean meets a rocky beach, to attend the fourth annual Hazon Food Conference. Among the many ideas and emotions running through me, more than anything I feel blessed to be here, being able to exchange knowledge with a wide variety of people from across the country and around the world, from as near as Salinas, CA to as far as South Africa. As a Goldman Young Adult Fellow I am deeply grateful for this opportunity that the Fellowship enabled. Almost 50 other Fellows are here and we are discussing our next steps and how to bring what we’ve learned back to our communities, how to create teachable moments, how to build more sustainable communities.

I am here because I am interested in the nexus of Judaism, eating healthily and sustainably and helping those in need. Many others are focused on environmental issues, bringing down “the Man” of giant agribusinesses, or simply because they enjoy food! But what is this Food Conference all about anyway? Hazon states that they exist to create a sustainable world for Jews and for all people. Clearly, with over 600 people here, that chord resonates.

There are several programming tracks to choose from but I have gravitated to the Food Justice and Food Systems and Sustainability sessions. Thursday, December 24th was the first Conference day and I went to a panel on running a sustainable food business. Bottom line: it’s a lot of work and you have to hold on to your vision! In the evening Hazon screened films; I watched The Garden, a documentary about a 14 acre community garden in South Central Los Angeles fighting to keep it out of the hands of a developer, a powerful story of politics, injustice and people’s connections to land.

Friday, the second day of the Conference, I experienced some of my most meaningful moments. In the morning I attended a fantastic panel called Keeping the Tzedek (Justice) and Tzedakah (Charity) and was exposed to amazing Los Angeles-based social justice groups through congregations, like Ikar, a spiritual community in the vein of B’nai Jeshurun in New York, which created meals for homeless shelters as a community, then sitting down and eating with those they cooked for, interacting, discovering what else they can do to help. I heard from Eric Shockman, president of Mazon, a Jewish anti-hunger organization, about food policy and how we have the capacity to eliminate hunger in our lifetime.

I greeted Shabbat on the sands of the Pacific, danced during Havdallah, learned how to make bagels, clapped along to Yiddish songs sung by a Jewish cowboy from Petaluma, CA and so much more.

One great benefit of the Food Conference is connecting to a vast network of activists and people simply concerned with sustainability in their hometowns. I was surprised to see so many families here, some with children as young as 8 weeks! How fantastic! I also met people like Marina, who is starting a CSA in Brooklyn, and Josh, who is heading to Guatemala in a week as part of the American Jewish World Service’s Avodah program.

A great wave seems to be cresting. Many people, Jews and non-Jews, are fed up with eating products created with unpronounceable chemicals or caged, hormone-laced meat; they want to ensure that no one in America goes hungry from lack of means. Among the trees, along the dunes, More than 600 visionaries and leaders are crackling with energy wondering what they can do next, how they can help, or are teaching others their solutions.

I am grateful to be merely one these 630.

Pre-Conference Time

Posted: December 23, 2009 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Today’s the day I fly out to Northern California! After staying a night in the Bay Area, I’m hitching a ride to Monterey (ok, on a shuttle bus) and will be surrounded by foodies, nutritionists and many others at the Hazon Food Conference Thursday to Sunday, the 24th through the 27th.

Some exciting news: I was asked to guest post on The Jew and the Carrot, Hazon’s own blog! I’ll be cross-posting my conference experiences here too so all you Pretty Girls fans will be able to follow along. The amazing Joh showed me how to set up Twitter on my non-smartphone, so throughout my time there I’ll update with the workshops I’m checking out, and perhaps something along the lines of “OMG dinner is so yummy” but I’ll keep that to a minimum!

The Conference seems fascinating. Though there are several tracks ranging from DIY Food to Food Justice to Jewish Food Education, after perusing the schedule I’m having a difficult time picking just one I’d like to attend per period. Choices, choices. The schedule can be found here if you’re interested in seeing what the workshops and panels are all about. I find myself gravitating to the Food Justice and the Sustainability tracks, but learning how to make my own mozzarella sounds quite tempting as well. Any recipes I acquire will be reposted here and given due credit, of course!

Unfortunately, I will be missing the pre-conference chicken shechita (ritual slaughtering), which takes place as I’m travelling. Not that I’m into slaughtering animals myself but when else would I get to experience this? And these birds aren’t just for demonstration. We’re going to be eating them later on! I mean, whoa. Talk about locally sourced! I think it’s important to really see what it means to know where your food comes from, but I’m sure this topic will come up over the course of the weekend. It’s actually pretty controversial because even though at previous Food Conferences there were shechitas (one year was a goat!), some people believe that it’s a little hypocritical for an eco-friendly organization to promote eating meat since raising cattle causes a lot of environmental problems. But again, I say it’s all about knowing where your food comes from; I’m sure whoever was out there with the chickens will think twice about grabbing a wing come dinnertime!

This is so exciting. I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen, but I can guarantee that it’s going to be educational, fun and filling! Till then, happy holidays everyone!


Posted: December 16, 2009 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , | 4 Comments »

An amazing thing happened last week: I discovered that I was granted a Young Adult Fellowship to go to the 4th annual Hazon Food Conference!

What is the Hazon Food Conference? Well, Hazon I’ve mentioned in a previous post; they’re a Jewish organization all about creating a sustainable, healthy environment for all, as well as being pro-biking! They rock. Part of being sustainable and healthy is eating sustainably and healthily, and for the past three years they’ve held these Food Conferences to host workshops on how to do so and discussing current trends in what is called the New Jewish Food Movement. Personally, I find this very exciting.

I’ve definitely known of the Food Conference but never figured I would be able to attend because it’s clear across the country (this year, in Monterey, CA), and not even counting airfare, registration and room and board is another $700 or so. On my salary, uh, that isn’t possible. But right before Thanksgiving, their email list sent out an application for a last minute grant — the Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation decided to sponsor New Yorkers in their 20s and 30s (like me!) to attend, including airfare! They asked for the Young Adult Fellows to participate enthusiastically (check) and upon our return, create some programming or event in our communities based upon what we learn at the Food Conference, such as hosting a Sustainable Shabbat, or starting a CSA, etc. (Double-check — I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a while!)

Sooo, the night before I left to go home for Thanksgiving, I stayed up until 4 AM honing my application, knowing there was no way I would be able to finish it later, and sent it out. Finally last week I heard back that I got it! I’m thrilled!

The crazy thing is, it’s over Christmas weekend. Meaning, I leave in less than two weeks. And I have to plan everything out! I’m the kind of person that absolutely needs to know logistics beforehand, otherwise I get very anxious. The flight’s booked and I’m going to stay through New Years with my friend from the Bay Area after the conference ends, but I need to figure out everything else!!

There are programming tracks and I plan on participating in as many as possible. They are: Do-It-Yourself Food; Food Justice; Israel: Food and Agriculture; Jewish Food Education; Jewish Tradition and Food: History and Culture; Health and Nutrition; Food Systems and Sustainability; Fasting and the Holiday of Asara B’Tevet (a minor fast day); Kids, Teens and Families; and Food for Thought.

They all sound great but I’m especially interested in Health and Nutrition, Food Systems and the Jewish Food and Culture tracks. Hey, we’ll see. And then on the last day they’re having a shuk (market) where we can purchase local goodies.

Though only the lobby of the conference grounds has Wi-Fi, I’ll try and update while there. We’ll see how it goes!

Sustainable Kosher

Posted: November 25, 2009 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

For Shabbat dinner a few nights ago I went to a program at 92Y Tribeca, a local Jewish cultural center, to eat professionally prepared local foods and learn a bit about the local, sustainable foods movement and how it relates to Jews today. Two speakers were on the program, Zachary Adam Cohen who runs the Farm to Table blog, and Nancy Lipsey, who works for one of my favorite food organizations, Hazon.

It goes without saying on a site like this, but eating healthy, fresh, seasonal foods is something I care deeply about, and the more local and sustainable food is, the better! You can really taste a difference in quality, and knowing that you’re supporting a local farmer or business is a gratifying feeling. Have I mentioned how much I love farmers markets?

I wouldn’t call the menu for the evening local, though, despite the fact that a local chef prepared it: salmon in beurre blanc, salad with pine nuts, crisp green beans, couscous, cauliflower and parsnips with carrots. Dessert was strawberries and grapes (neither in season!) and homemade rugulah from the chef’s bakery in Staten Island. OMG – yum! Will find out later the name and location of said bakery.

Once most of the room had finished munching on their cauliflower, Zach and Nancy addressed the audience, Zach spoke about his blog, the kinds of topics he covers and why. Later, Nancy spoke about what Hazon is and does and their contributions to the Jewish food movement, which is basically the current trend in sustainable, seasonal food but with a Jewish bent. Unfortunately, while both were charismatic and spoke well, neither got to cover much of what they were billed to talk about, both going off onto tangents, like genetically modified foods (GMOs) and Whole Foods and how they’ve been raising the “local/organic” profile to mainstream consumers.

Just about the only relevant topic mentioned – briefly, was “What does kosher mean,” literally. “Pure?” came a suggestion from the audience, but the true answer is “fit,” as in, “Is this fit for me to eat?” Hazon is one of the leading organizations advocating the eco-Jewish movement currently on the rise across the United States, and they’re asking questions such as “If the first ingredient in this food is high fructose corn syrup, is it fit for me to eat?” and “If this cow has been slaughtered by a 16 year old illegal immigrant earning less than minimum wage, is it fit for me to eat?”

That last question and others like it are being raised by other groups trying to change the definition of “kosher” to include ethical eating practices relating to the conditions of the workers preparing kosher foods, so that not just that the meat is fit to be consumed on a physical level, but on a morally sound one as well.

So, a lot to chew on, so to speak. But it was frustrating for these topics to be touched upon only briefly and I would have liked to hear more.

I’ll definitely update soon with that rugulah info though.

Johanna: The Improviser

Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

Alyssa: The Triple Threat

Can do it all. And modest to boot.

Bakezilla: We Use Mixers Too

She likes to bake. Actually, baking is the only thing she does. It's a passion.

Rita: The Kosher Chick

Restrictions have nothing on her.