Are we what we eat?

This weekend is the second London Gefiltefest - a very eggciting addition to the calendar! I was hoping to contribute by facilitating a session there but have unfortunately had to cancel last minute. I know I am missing out!
It's a good opportunity for us to reflect on our eating habits and what they say about us. Artist Lee Price has recently done a fascinating series of photos exploring women's relationship with food, including secret eating, binging, and she writes:

"In regard to women/food issues, I think that many women are brought up, both through our immediate families and through society, to nurture others at the expense of our own needs. We hide our appetites, not just for food but in many areas of our lives, and then consume in secret. In some of my most recent works the women seem to be coming out of the closet, eyeing the viewer - not censoring their hunger."

Judaism is very interested in putting boundaries around what we eat, as many other groups do in order to delineate identity and social norms, not just those around gender, which of course differ from culture to culture. I didn't grow up keeping strictly kosher, but began to at university as it provided me with a daily reminder of who I was and that what I eat says something about who I am. Although they aren't always fulfilled, I also believe kosher principles embody ethics and ideas that are important, in terms of care of animals, care of the land, health, pleasure, and while kosher slaughter is controversial, I do believe if you are going to take an animals life, doing it by hand humanises the process and the slaughterer.

But not wanting to engage in that particular debate today, there are so many issues to consider when putting food into our bodies. The first is human labour. You all know my preference for Fair trade and food is a growing market in this arena. But there are also issues of fair employment in the Western World and in Israel there's the brilliant idea of kosher certification given to affirm workers in restaurants are paid fairly and treated well.

And then there's what goes into our food. Much of Jewish cookery isn't necessarily famed for it's healthy ingredients (shmaltz, calves foot jelly, latkes, and some more shmaltz) although there's plenty of new food writers offering new healthy alternatives and updates. At home we tend to try and save meat and special treats for shabbat (an idea the Swedes have taken on too with one day a week known as 'Godistag' - goodies day (not sure that's a direct translation but is how it always looked to me!) We also try to have salads and fresh fruit that are bit of a splash out that we might not treat ourselves to during the week, showing who we are by what we eat on what day. Then again resisting treats when at a desk is a continual challenge.

And of course one of the most important functions of food is that it brings us together. If we can overcome all our differences and find ways to bring different communities together over food, it is a real unifier and helps to normalise relationships. But we also have to be aware that food can be a divider, and I know that while kashrut is a way for me to identify with a peoplehood it also sets me apart as different. Maintaining the balance between my sense of identity and peoplehood, and not putting up social barriers is a delicate one, and one I am often conscious of.

Whatever the issues you are most passionate about in food, I'm sure Gefiltefest will be a wonderful place to explore and learn - and eat!
B'tei avon/ Bon appetit!


  1. This is perhaps more of a problem for Jews, but perhaps it can be as much of a problem for Vegetarians or anyone with special dietary requirements for other reasons. However, if your host(ess) knows you are Jewish or Vegetarian surely it is only good manners for them to serve food you can eat and not sit down to a plate of pork chops or sausages while you only have potatoes and a meagre helping of vegetables.

    Something I enjoy from time to time, which I believe is a Jewish recipe is potato pancakes (latkes?), although I don't eat them with apple sauce. I don't know if my grandmother got the recipe from Jewish neighbours or her mother-in-law who might have been Jewish.


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