Today’s piece is written by Rebecca Starr. Past assistant director of the Detroit Jewish Federation’s Alliance for Jewish Education, she currently serves as an independent educational consultant and an instructor for Melton, an adult Jewish education program. This article originally appeared in myJewishDetroit, the online community journal of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.
I was raised on a sheep farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, in a small town called Pickford.
This isn’t a phrase you hear very often, especially from a Jewish girl, but nevertheless, it is the life my parents chose for me for the first 18 years of my life.
We lived off of the land. Our farm produced everything we needed to fill our bodies with healthy, wholesome foods and we were deeply connected to the land on which we lived. Our garden produced more vegetables than our freezer could hold and we ate the lamb that we raised.
My connection to food and where it comes from is rooted in my rich past and I am regularly reminded of it as the Passover season approaches.
As we break bread . . . for matzoh
Matzoh (unleavened bread) is the bread of affliction, the lechem oni, or the bread of poverty. The Jewish custom of eating matzoh for seven or eight days (depending on your custom) during the holiday of Passover reminds us that we were once slaves in Egypt. It reminds us that we did not have the resources to diversify or even complete our meals in bondage.
The act of eating matzoh takes us back to a place and time when food and freedom were scarce. It is truly amazing that such a simple food can bring such a strong and important message about the journey of the Jewish people. In truth, it also offers a very modern message to us as living in the 21st century.
Bondage takes many forms
Bondage and slavery can present themselves in many forms. The Israelites were literally slaves to the work of Pharaoh, but chains need not be present for us to feel as though we are victims of certain types of injustices today. When we consider the ways in which we access food on a daily basis, we realize quickly that sustainable, healthy, local, fair trade food is extremely difficult to find and even more difficult to find in less affluent areas.
In many ways, we are slaves to a food system that is not just and may even use unfair, illegal or unethical practices to create a product for our grocery store shelves with the single goal of turning a large profit.
The way in which we access food in today’s world looks a lot different than it did even 50 years ago. Local family farms exist, but in smaller numbers; animals are raised in unimaginable conditions that don’t resemble traditional farm habitats at all; agricultural workers are treated and paid unfairly; and food is processed so far from its natural form that it doesn’t resemble real food any longer.
We worry about pesticides and chemicals on a daily basis and we waste unbelievable amounts of food, fuels and resources on production. These are the things that keep me awake at night as I worry about which foods to offer my children and in what state we are leaving the planet for them.
There is no doubt that this message is concerning, and I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but I am hopeful that we can work together to bring about real change. The Passover season is the perfect time to make a commitment to learn more about food justice and sustainability.
Today’s recipe is a vegetable kugel that can be used on Passover because it contains no grain that hasn’t already been baked into matzoh (in this case, in the form of matzoh meal). There are many types of kugel, which simply means pudding. It’s a side dish that is baked and cut into squares for serving.