For many years I was searching. Macrobiotics, Veganism and Vegetarianism, Juice Fasting, Caveman, Raw and Living and other natural nutrition lifestyle movements were a part of that search. I even dabbled in the world of the gourmet for a few years and once threw caution to the wind and lived on junk food for several months.
My food-awareness had been conditioned since childhood. My mother and her mother were ahead of the pack. Gramma believed in undereating (Yes-she really was a Jewish grandmother!). Mother was anti-margarine, pro-whole grains long before it was considered normal. My maternal grandmother was what I would call a “spartan” eater. She ate very little and lived in fairly good health until she was nearly 100 years old. My paternal grandmother also ate very little and lived to be 102 (when she died of an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in her nursing home). However I can’t recall her eating anything except chocolate.
I knew the way food was embedded into our cultural and personal consciousness was important. I just didn’t understand why exactly.
For most of my adult life I was searching for some answers to pretty big questions. At some point I realized that my search for meaning and my side search for “right” diet were related–but I wasn’t sure how, exactly. I had spent quite a bit of time looking at other spiritual philosophies and religions, but until I examined my own spiritual heritage, nothing clicked. I began to explore Judaism and what I found, I liked. No, loved.
Because so many of the people I met in the “natural foods and lifestyle” milieu were Jewish I figured that there was more sandwiched between the two than met the eye. The Jewish people I met weren’t simply gourmets, gourmands, or even “health-food nuts”. They were always talking about the “bigger picture” of how and why we eat. They were passionate about food and even more passionate about what food meant to them.
The Jewish men and women I met were food snobs and reverse food snobs. Sophisticates or purposeful unsophisticates. Organic gardeners with grubby fingernails and chic city women with chic reservations. They were passionate about cheese or bread or kale. Or wine. They let you know right away what they ate, the way New Yorkers let you know whether they live on the Upper West Side or the Village. Or the way people in Beverly Hills let you know who does their hair or the way Bostoners let you know when their ancestors arrived on the continent.
Then I met a couple who kept kosher. And something clicked.
Once I let go of my bias against the Jewish religion (I had no such bias against any other religion, just my own; anyway, Judaism is more a complete way of life rather than a religion), I found myself starving for knowledge about Jewish traditions. Both the practical and mystical appealed to me. After some pretty serious reassessment of the direction my life was heading I made a personal commitment to live according to our ancient ways, not in a picky-choosy way, but in a Macro way.
Then, thanks to some wonderful teachers I learned about the Jewish way of life, including diet. In addition to dietary laws, there were dietary “minhagim”, or customs, that had significant mystical meaning. There were Matzohs on Pesach (Passover) and Challahs on Shabbos (Shabbat) and fried foods on Chanukah. I rushed to embrace them all!
Still, I knew I wanted to maintain my healthy outlook while tapping into the traditional Jewish lifestyle. But, it was surprisingly difficult. The Shabbos recipes I received were loaded with sugar, salt, white flour, margarine, highly processed foods and other products I didn’t want to base my diet on. Not even once a week.
Whether or not our great grandmothers were from Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Austria, Hungary, Romania, France, Italy, Germany, Bulgaria, Greece, Tunisia, Lebanon, Israel, Ethiopia,Turkey, India, Morocco, Persia, Iraq, or any of the other exotic locations of the Jewish diaspora, the foods they prepared were made from primarily unprocessed ingredients. They were also generally seasonal and organic, but of course, that was all that was available. I wanted to eat the way they did–minus all the hours and hours of prep time.
Meanwhile, my life did a 180 as I plunged into a new, old world. Eating right temporarily fell by the wayside. I started to feel blah as my diet radically changed. *I still counseled people but found that when recommending dietary changes, now I had to take into account traditions that are nearly inviolable. And they are wonderful traditions with deep meanings (which I hope to discuss in this blog), traditions such as serving fish at most holiday meals. Traditions such as eating dairy foods on Shavuos (Shavuot) and removing a piece of dough when baking Challah and saying a blessing over it.. Mystical traditions, celebratory traditions, and practical traditions. Traditions based on ancient, beloved laws and traditions based simply on the locales in which our ancestors lived.
In addition to slightly modifying everyday healthy foods, I was impelled to create healthy versions of Jewish dishes as well as make other healthy foods part of a Jewish lifestyle. I had to also refine my philosophy of food based on the teachings of the sages and mystics such as Abraham, Jacob, King David, Rambam (Maimonides), Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the Belzer Rebbe and more. I’ve found (thank G-d), that I was on the right track, but merely missing a few wheels. The result? I’ve developed and adapted recipes, come up with simple insights and blended them into an old-new outlook.
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*I have twin careers. In addition to my work as an editorial consultant and writer I’ve also written about and counseled people about diet and health, ( working with people with Crohns, IBS, Lupus, cancer, psoriasis and other skin problems, allergies, anxiety and so on) for over twenty years. Currently I am working with people in the United States, Canada, Israel and England.