Keeping It Healthy?

Posted: March 3, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , | 6 Comments »

Warning: I did NOT create the following baked good:

Several observant Jews work in my office and so on Monday, the first workday after Purim, co-workers dumped the unwanted remnants of their Purim baskets in the kitchen for others to “enjoy”. This, dear readers, is the shocking aftermath. What the heck is it? I’m not sure. I can only deduce that some snack factory in Illinois churned this out in hopes of capitalizing on the ever popular Twinkies market — seriously, who eats Twinkies (or Twinkies knockoffs) anymore?

What kills me is that someone actually ate this since there are a couple of them missing!

What’s my point? Well, aside from looking plain ol’ gross, check out what this “Jr. Strawberry Jelly Roll” is made out of:

A bunch of preservatives, chemicals and sugars. Unhealthy, bad for you, and probably tastes like crap. But what’s this? There are two hechshers (kosher symbols) at the bottom, the little ‘M’ and the tablet with a ‘K’ inside. Yes, this package of sugary empty calories is kosher. So what? Well, despite the fact that in recent years there have been giant leaps forward when it comes to food companies producing healthier products, or at least touting the scant health benefits of their own junky foods, kosher products generally have lagged far, far behind in getting in on this trend. This is a sad but typical example of an item you’d see stuffed on a grocery shelf in the kosher section. I’ll bet if your local supermarket has one, you might find several products like these. It’s as if retailers think Jews don’t eat anything but overly preserved gefilte fish, instant soup mixes that still have loads of trans fats or cans of oversalted chicken soup! Please.

But there is a ray of hope.

Despite the fact that many kosher products barely resemble real food, there are now thousands of mainstream items by big brand names that are now certified kosher. You probably have at least a few in your pantry or fridge and don’t even know it! There is an encouraging amount of organic and healthier kosher products now, even antibiotic-free chickens at Whole Foods! Though stereotypical “Jewish food” isn’t historically healthy (giant pastrami sandwich with a side of pickles and schmaltz, anyone?), it’s nice to know that despite the predominance of the “Jr. Jelly Roll” and its ilk there are increasing amounts of Jews who care about their health and what the heck they’re eating. Even rabbis are getting in on the healthy lifestyle thing.

So while I came back to work after a lovely weekend and found really nasty snacks, I did what I felt to be the right thing:

I threw them out!

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.