Category Archives: Food

New iPhone Apps that are Good for the Jews

Not sure which blessing to say over what foods? No need to live with the shame any more. Just download the new iBlessing application onto your iPhone and with the touch of a finger you’ll know exactly which bracha to utter over fish, meat, bread, fruit, etc. While you’re at it you might as well download the nifty Parve-O-Meter: a timer app that calculates exactly how long you need to wait to eat dairy after you’ve eaten meat (or vice versa).

What’s next, the iSefirah app for those who lose track of the Omer? (I shouldn’t laugh – I’m sure the Apple folks are working on it as we speak…)

If you’ve got iTunes, you can find the iBlessing and Parve-O-Meter here. If you’re blessing-challenged and don’t own an iPhone, don’t fear: check out the Say-a-Blessing Keychain (now offered with the handy LED flashlight feature!)

Guest Posts from Rwanda

There have been several instances on this trip in which smaller groups have opted for side trips separate from our main itinerary. I’ve asked two participants to share their experiences with you – our first report comes from JRC member Rich Katz, who visited a Rwandan organic farm with fellow JRC’ers Ray Grossman and Jonathan Nachsin (above). Here’s Rich’s report:

“It’s Milk – Not Meat”

One of the best examples of a grass-roots effort to improve the lives of poor and low-income families and individuals in Ruanda the work of Richard Munyerango, the Managing Director of the GAKO Organic Farming Training Center just outside of Kigali. We first met Richard when he participated in the Earth Box training session we conducted at the Remera Center earlier in the week. At that time, he invited us to his farm and training center to see what he is doing to promote more nutritious diets for the people who cannot afford them.

The Center was started to help the widows of genocide and children who are heads of households, and it has expanded since. By working with local associations who suggest the names of participants, he invites eighty people at a time to his training center for a month to learn organic farming techniques.

It is his opinion that people will be able to reduce the expense of their medications if they eat better food, which they can grow locally without the use of expensive chemical fertilizers. In addition, he sends trainers to each province of Rwanda to work through the local health agencies to promote organic farming practices. Since its inception, the Center has trained over a thousand people all over the country.

Richard’s farm consists of two small plots of land, gently sloping down a verdant hillside. At the upper end, he has built a modern classroom building and two dormitories for men and women. We were most impressed, however, with the number of small demonstration/experimental earthen mounds that he developed, each of which is devoted to growing a particular fruit or vegetable. We saw mounds that were growing cabbages, leeks, strawberries, spinach, kale, peppers and so much more. There were also small areas devoted to growing corn and bananas.

At the lower end of the property, Richard has a demonstration project for training people how to use cow manure and other animal products to produce compost, which he uses to amend the clay soil that is so prevalent here in this part of Rwanda. It is this composed material that makes the mounds so productive. He derives the compost from cow manure (hence the title of my post).

We learned so much from Richard about his method of organic farming, and at the same time we were pleased to be able to help him better understand the process we use in the States (using earthworms to create compost). He appeared to be very interested and excited about the possibility of adding this practice to his already considerable the curriculum. We also mentioned the nascent practice in the US of developing farming co-ops to connect growers and buyers, so that the farmer has a reliable source of capital and owners/consumers have a reliable source of organic produce. All in all, this was a very valuable and mutually beneficial experience.

Our second report comes from Kelsey Waxman, who attended a yoga group (above) run by WE-ACTz at the Remera center while the rest of the group went to the Nyamata genocide site. She was joined by two other JRC members: her mother (and inspired trip organizer) Elaine along with Beth Lange.

Here’s an excerpt from Kelsey’s travel journal:

We were then dropped off a Remera again: me, Mom and Beth for the afternoon yoga class. We went out on the cement porch with ten women, all chatting giddily in Kinyarwanda. They all had on African print fabric yoga pants and there was much disputation about when to start.

Two women led the class through a basic primary Ashtanga set, and the women laughed, chatted and helped each other through the entire thing. It was apparent that some of them had done this before. Some were more flexible than anyone I’d ever practiced with.

After quite a few laughs, they asked us to teach them some poses. My mom, being an experienced yogi, led them through some crazy poses like pigeon, headstand and the boat. The faces of agony and hilarity some of the women made during the boat pose were so funny and the faces of the other women made those imitating them sent us all into giggle fits. More and more people came around and either watched or participated, laughing along with us,

It was the end of the class, during Shavasna, corpse pose. You’re supposed to be completely quiet…like a corpse, but everyone chatted like little girls through the entire ten minutes. It was so funny, everyone pouring through the doors, sharing laughs and yoga mats. After, Beth pulled out the camera and we took many, many pictures with our new yogi friends.

Pistachio Sedition Raging in Israel

A recent article in YNet revealed this ironic nugget: the US Ambassador to Israel has sent a letter to Israeli Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, excoriating Israel for illegally consuming Iranian pistachios nuts:

The US ambassador’s letter reveals another amazing fact: Israel is the largest per capita consumer of the pistachio. “I am writing to draw your attention to the troubling issue of illegal importation of pistachio of Iranian origin to Israel,” writes Jones.

“Israel is the world’s largest per capita consumer of pistachio nuts and therefore an important market – estimated at $20 million – for pistachio producers…Evidence strongly suggests that most, if not all, of the pistachios entering Israel are actually of Iranian origin.”

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Israeli snacking habits will attest that Israel will be hard pressed to give up their pistachio addiction, no matter where the nuts actually come from. For its part, Israel claims it gets most of its pistachios from Turkey (yeah, right!)

The most priceless part of the article comes at the end, when journalist Nahum Barnea unabashedly editorializes on the scandal of the situation:

Every pistachio nut brings Iran another step closer to achieving nuclear capability…

Awaken to Justice!

What can you say about the situation at the AgriProcessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa other than it was the kind of thing for which the term “shandeh fur de goyim” was invented?

The Jewish world has been seriously abuzz about this whole big mess for a several weeks running now. If by chance you haven’t been following the story, you should know it touches all the bases, from maltreatment of undocumented workers to government raids/detention to union busting to cruelty to animals to (I kid you not) allegations of illegal methamphetamine labs. If you want some sordid reading material on the subject, you can check out these articles in the Chicago Trib or the Jewish Forward. I just don’t think I can bear to summarize it all for you here.

All I can say is thank goodness for Uri L’Tzedek (“Awaken to Justice”) – a grassroots petition/boycott initiative by the brave yeshiva students at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Another gutsy player is the Jewish Labor Committee, who has been tirelessly tracking this issue. (For more on the rising Jewish protest against AgriProcessors, check out this article from The Nation).

Don’t Just Stand There

If you are reading the news about recent global crises and you’re feeling overwhelmed and impotent, I’ve always found that actually doing something seems to help allay my feelings of helplessness.

To help aid victims of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, I’m encouraging donations through the International Development Enterprises. IDE Myanmar opened in 2004 and is one of the few organizations that is doing both relief and development work in all of the affected areas and also has government permission to go into them. Donations to IDE Myanmar will be used for relief aid to survivors of the cyclone in the Irrawaddy Delta region, many of whom have no shelter, food or fuel. Most critically, IDE will initially focus on providing immediate relief but will also plan for rebuilding communities to be self sufficient in the long-term.

On a wider front, Avaaz.org is organizing a campaign to deliver the following petition to G8, UN and EU leaders to respond to the growing world food crisis::

We call on you to take immediate action to address the world food crisis by mobilizing emergency funding to prevent starvation, removing perverse incentives to turn food into biofuels and managing financial speculation, and to tackle the underlying causes by ending harmful trade policies and investing massively in sustainable agricultural productivity in developing nations.

(For important background on the food crisis, I recommend this excellent NY Times editorial.)

What’s Your Footprint?

Just finished playing an on-line quiz called “Consumer Consequences” – a test sponsored by American Public Media that helps you determine your personal environmental footprint. Based on your consumer habits in various categories (i.e. use of public transportation, energy bills, eating consumption, trash disposal) the quiz calculates how many earths it would take to sustain your personal lifestyle.

I’ll warn you ahead of time: your results will sober you up. To state the obvious, the earth simply wouldn’t be able to support its 6.6 million residents if everyone lived like a typical over-consuming American. (A critical statistic: we Americans constitute 5% of the world’s population, but consume 25% of the world’s energy).

Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, the test itself is actually pretty fun to take (they even let you pick a goofy avatar persona). Along the way it also includes important insights about American consumption and tips on how you can reduce your footprint. One especially interesting feature: you can compare your footprint with reporters from various American Public Media programs. (Full disclosure: mine is almost equivalent to the the footprint of Krista Tippett, host of “Speaking of Faith“).

World Water Week

Did you know that lack of clean and accessible drinking water is the second largest worldwide killer of children under five? Rather than take that in as yet one more depressing stastistic, there is something you can do. UNICEF’s Tap Project is an effort that celebrates the clean and accessible drinking water available as an every day privilege to millions, while providing safe drinking water for children around the world.  

Here’s a description the Tap Project’s figurehead campaign, World Water Day:

Beginning Sunday, March 16 through Saturday, March 22, restaurants will invite their customers to donate a minimum of $1 for the tap water they would normally get for free. For every dollar raised, a child will have clean drinking water for 40 days.

Currently, UNICEF provides access to safe water and sanitation facilities while promoting safe hygiene practices in more than 90 countries. By 2015, UNICEF’s goal is to reduce the number of people without safe water and basic sanitation by 50 percent.

The Tap Project has a great website that walks you through the entire project and gives you an easy way of identifying participating restaurants in your area. (After a quick perusal, I discovered that nearly all of my favorite local eateries are part of this campaign.)

Will this effort be enough? No. Will every effort make a difference? Absolutely. Click above to learn more about World Water Week.

Duty Calls

Man should strive to have his intestines relaxed all the days of his life.

–Moses Maimonidies

Be forewarned: this post is about poo.

Why, you ask, is a rabbi writing about…uh… bowel movements? Well, because as the Rambam himself reminds us above, having a successful BM is nothing less than holy work. If you think I’m joking, you should know that one of the best known daily blessings in Jewish tradition is the one we say before we do our business every morning:

You abound in blessings, Eternal One our God, Soverign of all Creation, who with wisdom created the human being with wisdom, making for us all of the openings and vessels of the body. It is clearly apparent that if one of these passage-ways be open when it should be closed, or blocked up when it should be free, it would be impossible to exist or stand before your Presence. You abound in blessings, the wondrous healer of all flesh.

It may well be that we are waking up to the joys of regularity – and in particular the importance of examining what we leave behind. The whimsical medical guide, “What’s Your Poo Telling You?” has now sold 250,000 copies world-wide – and even the Oprah Winfrey show has devoted air time to the the health importance of toilet bowl gazing. Could it be that that poo-observation is becoming (pardon the expression) something of a movement?

If I haven’t completely nauseated you by now, click above for a musical tutorial or check out this recent article from Salon. Here’s an exerpt:

Going to the john is no longer simply a process of elimination. No, the “unbridled elation that results from releasing the perfect poo” is now a transformative act, bringing the conscientious fiber-eating toilet sitter to a spiritual or sexual high.

(Hmmm, maybe Maimonidies was onto something after all…)

Tam Tam Crisis Looms

matzo_crackers.jpg

This just in: there will be no Tam Tams on your table this Pesach.

You heard me right. Manichewitz recently announced that due to unforeseen delays at their “brand-new, state-of-the-art, computer-controlled” Newark plant, the company has been forced to cut back on several of their matzah products and will not be producing any Tam Tams at all this year. What’s next, a run on sugary fruit slices?

An article in the New Jersey Jewish News has the whole sad story. (Among other things, it features the horrified response of Andrew Halper, owner of Zayda’s Kosher Deli in South Orange.)