Hazon Food Conference 2010

Below is the text to a drash/show and tell that I gave this week at my shul in honor of Tu B'Shvat:

For a version of this blog post with working links and photos, please visit my personal blog.

This week’s parsha has an interesting sequence of events. Probably the event that stands out the most is the crossing of the Yam Suf. This is an enormous miracle that is exciting and triumphant. The part we talk about a little less frequently is what comes after this sort of birth out of Egypt and into Hashem’s care. After the singing and dancing and celebration has ended, the people suddenly become frightened and ask, “Now wait a second. What are we going to eat?” So begins a series of food-related events that take place throughout the journey in the dessert. First, they are thirsty and cannot drink the bitter waters of Marah until Moshe is instructed to throw wood into the water to make it sweet. (Very appropriate for Tu B’Shvat) Shortly after, they camp in Elim among 12 springs of water and seventy date-palms. (also appropriate for Tu B’Shvat) Then Hashem explains how food from heaven will rain down on them. Later on, of course, the people will start asking for meat and will become so demanding and hungry for it, that they gorge themselves to excess.

We all know that food is important in Judaism because we interact with it all the time through chagim and Shabbat and other events. But recently I had an experience of looking at food in a new light that I’ve come to share with you today and actually talk about as somewhat of a show and tell. I’m part of a CSA at the <a href="http://www.hazon.org/go.php?q=/food/CSA/communities/tenafly.html">Tenafly JCC</a>. CSA stands for Consumer Supported Agriculture and is a partnership developed with a local farm or farmer. Through our CSA we get local organic vegetables during the warmer months of the year.

The reasons I joined were:
1. I was interested in obtaining local produce as a way to cut down on my carbon footprint through “food miles.”
2. I was interested in getting organic veggies.
3. I thought it was cool that I would actually be supporting a farmer and have access to the farm where my food came from.

A lot more has come. At some point I was invited to join the committee and because of that was encouraged to go on a retreat with the national organization our CSA works through, an organization called <a href="http://www.hazon.org/">Hazon</a>.

This <a href="http://www.hazon.org/go.php?q=/food/conference/2010CSA/HazonFoodConferenceEastCoast.html">conference</a> was amazing. It was held at the <a href="http://www.isabellafreedman.org/">Isabella Friedman Center</a> in Connecticut. It’s a sweet little place with just enough room for about 200 participants in a series of cabins and buildings in the woods – all Kosher facilities. They raise goats there and had I come a day earlier I might have had the chance to help milk them and see how the milk is made into cheese.
There were so many interesting people at the conference. To begin, there were a refreshing variety of denominations. For example, Shabbos morning you could choose from any number of services or activities to celebrate, but not all Orthodox. Yet there was a respect between all the groups and, in fact, when signing up for housing situations there was a place to indicate a preference for Shomer Shabbat roommates. I got to room with a writer and a Conservative rabbi. All of the meals were communal and I just met one interesting person after another with tons of really engaging and thought-provoking conversation. The food was incredible and always labeled with what it contained, where it came from etc. But I’ll talk about that more a little later.
There were workshops around the clock, all about food. I learned a ton of new things, and relearned things I already knew. I was reminded how little I know about where our food comes from, what’s in it, who’s preparing it and the affect this has on us and the world we inhabit. This weekend made me really look intensively at how our food choices relate to:
-the way we spend our time (whether we find time to prepare our food or not, for example)
-our health
-economics, jobs and poverty
-the environment in relation to air, water and land usage
-Torah and spirituality

Again and again during the conference the term “<a href="http://www.hazon.org/go.php?q=/food/jewishFoodMovement.html">Jewish Food Movement</a>” was used, a term I hadn’t heard before. What made this phrase so significant to me was that it made me feel I was taking part in history. The choices we make today as consumers will actually impact what food is like 50 years from now.

The first workshop I attended was about wheat. She had an ancient quote – unfortunately I’m not sure where it was from whether Talmud or what other ancient text, but it said, “Some day people will not be able to tell the difference between rye and wheat.” I, of course, haven’t the foggiest idea and seeing that really made me think about people’s relationship with wheat in the past and how we never even see wheat today until after it’s been processed. The presenter was a farmer and scientist who has been studying what wheat was most like in the time of our foreparents. She compared it to industrial wheat most of us eat most of the time today. Wheat changed dramatically over the years from a healthier more robust wheat to one that contains more gluten (hence gluten allergies) and can be harvested with enormous machines. The desire to have this seemingly more efficient way of harvesting wheat came about from the idea of wanting to feed more people, but the result is a less healthy product, much of which is fed to cattle instead of people anyway (when they’re not even supposed to eat it). In addition, this wheat prouduction often require pesticides that pollute the land and our bodies. The presenter gave us some seeds of wheat more like what our ancestors planted and asked us to try to grow our own and make bread with it.

At another time I heard a different farmer talk about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture">permaculture</a> which has to do with farming practices. I was one of the lay people there and didn’t understand all of it, but was really interested to learn how small farms are actually more efficient than industrial ones for a number of complex reasons. Briefly I’ll mention the simple fact that they use space differently. When you plant greater variety you can fit more into a smaller space and it’s easier to deal with pests when you have biodiversity. For example, there is something called <a href="http://www.kidsgardening.com/growingideas/projects/march02/mar02-pg1.htm">Three Sisters Crop</a> in which corn, squash and beans protect each other from pests and help each other grow. The presenter also talked about the importance of home gardens. I’ve been tempted to start a home garden for a long time and was even more inspired to do so after hearing this talk and later also hearing a talk (not at the Hazon conference but at another CSA event) from the founder of <a href="http://www.localharvest.org/">Localharvest.org </a>which connects home gardens to food pantries which otherwise very rarely have access to fresh produce.

There were quite a few cooking demonstrations. The only one I made it to was by a woman named <a href="http://www.hazon.org/go.php?q=/readingroom/05-extraExtra/20060707-LindaLantos_-_RealMilk.htm">Linda Lantos</a>. She has studied all kinds of cuisine and works with people to help them create food routines and diets that work for them even with allergies and other problems. She gave an incredible workshop on cooking with children. I went to it with a little bit of skepticism because I figured I already cook with Naomi. But as both a parent and teacher I was stunned by how much more there is to say in this area about what kids are actually capable of doing in the kitchen, helping them be interested in healthy foods, dealing with power issues around food, and on developing vocabulary to help them talk about food.
<p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 0.5in;"><a onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_vdsSgXCqRiE/TS4MdBuQoMI/AAAAAAAADQg/7lvZoRkNVKQ/s1600/100_1933.JPG"><img style="cursor: pointer; width: 200px; height: 150px;" src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_vdsSgXCqRiE/TS4MdBuQoMI/AAAAAAAADQg/7lvZoRkNVKQ/s200/100_1933.JPG" alt="" id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5561396282667344066" border="0" /></a></p>
There was Torah learning including shiurim and before meals, moments of reflection, of how to eat meat ethically, on eating with intention and spirituality.

Some other people at the conference included:

Naf and Anna Hanau of <a href="http://www.growandbehold.com/">Grow and Behold</a> which is a local group that sells Kosher grass-fed and very happy chickens.

<a href="http://www.negevnectars.com/">Negev Nectars</a> which sold me some really yummy apricot preserves. It’s kind of a long-distance CSA. In this case, you accept food mileage if you buy into a share and get organic olive oil and preserves sent to you from a kibbutz in Israel several times a year.

I unfortunately missed the presentation from <a href="http://www.utzedek.org/tavhayosher.html">Rabbi Ari Hart </a>who has created a sort of social justice heksher that monitors food organizations for fair practices for workers. He is really looking for support of people like you that can tell local restaurants that you would want to support them for getting this hekshers.
<p class="MsoNormal"><span > </span>There is so much more I could tell you but it's getting close to kiddush time, so let me just share one last story. The most important moment of the weekend came for me during an actual eating experience. On Shabbos we were served a cholent and, before we ate it, someone stood up to explain that the meat in the cholent came from one of the goats raised at the Isabella Friedman center. They talked about raising it there and where it was taken to be schechted. The man who actually raised the goat stood up to speak. It was a difficult moment. He was an awkward speaker and looked like he was struggling to speak. He said, “This goat was raised in love and it left this world in love. Please… receive it with love.” After hearing that I had to think for a moment about whether I wanted to eat it, but I almost had to, knowing the sacrifice that had been made for me. It was challenging, and it was very good. It was a holy eating experience during which I really thought about what it meant to have Hashem and this man and this goat making this sacrifice for my benefit. After that I felt like I could never eat the same way again and have made some personal changes in my eating habits as a result.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 0.5in;"><!–[if !supportEmptyParas]–> <!–[endif]–><o:p></o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 0.5in;">I’m going to end by sharing several invitations to you.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 0.5in;">The first is an invitation from the Green Committee and from co-sponsors (leaving this blank on my blog for confidentiality). Thanks to all of these people we are having a special Kiddush in honor Tu B’Shvat. The food is primarily prepared by Hummus Elite. We've chosen a vegetarian menu because the less meat we eat means the more land being used more efficiently for food production for people. The food contains several fruits that come from trees in honor of the trees and the environment and as many of the seven species for Tu B'Shvat that we could fine. You'll probably be especially interested to know that wheat and barley are represented by beer.
</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 0.5in;">The second invitation is from the Tenafly CSA. We will be holding will be a <a href="http://www.jccotp.org/category.aspx?catid=421">seder</a> at the <a href="http://www.jccotp.org/category.aspx?catid=421">Tenafly CSA</a>. on Wednesday the 19th. The seder itself is at 6 but there is a children's craft project at 5:45. The cost is $10 per person or $18 per family. (Please RSVP!) In addition, I would ask you to really consider joining our CSA before the spring.
</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 0.5in;">The third is from me personally. As you can tell, I would love to keep talking about this experience. If you are interested in knowing anything more, please talk to me or visit my blog where I've posted this entire drash and included links. I can send you the address if you email me. [If you are reading this now, thank you for visiting the blog!] </p><p class="MsoNormal" style="text-indent: 0.5in;">With that I'll just remind you that when you have eat today, please be sure to really think about how blessed we are to have the food that we do as you hear kiddush, wash and bentsch. Shabbat Shalom and Bteavon!</p> <a onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_vdsSgXCqRiE/TS4McFPYRqI/AAAAAAAADQQ/oC9TNV38M6U/s1600/100_1941.JPG"><img style="cursor: pointer; width: 200px; height: 150px;" src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_vdsSgXCqRiE/TS4McFPYRqI/AAAAAAAADQQ/oC9TNV38M6U/s200/100_1941.JPG" alt="" id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5561396266431694498" border="0" /></a>

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