Kosher, Part III: Real People, Real Food: Christine Weiss

This next post is by Christine Weiss, one of the true leaders of the Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple community, and woman I am proud to call my friend.

Christine has done a lot of studying about Judaism in general, and this topic in particular.  She spent several months interviewing older women (14 of them) from our temple about living Jewishly before she came to the comfortable place she is at.  This includes how eating and care of food relates to Judaism and her Jewish life.  Many of the women she met with talked about their families’ choices around a kosher home and then their own choices. She found all of it very meaningful, whatever the choices were, and this exploration helped her understand people’s views (and her own views) about what Judaism asks of eachof us.

She and her husband David have 3 children, Daniel, Ben, and Elspeth,and one wacky Weimaraner, Rosie :-)

There is a bumper sticker from a spice store I frequent that sums up my philosophy about food. “Love people. Cook them tasty food.”

At our home we are melding food traditions that come from two different religious backgrounds, but from the same German orientation. Neither my husband nor I grew up under the strict dietary laws of any religion, other than on holidays, his family’s meals reflected kosher tradition, and on Fridays during Lent, my Catholic family never ate meat.

I admire and respect those that choose to observe dietary laws. I think there is true value in doing this in terms of developing one’s relationship with the Divine and with tradition. I think it can also be a binding experience for Jewish families that live steeped in a secular world.

For us, partly because these traditions were never a strong part of our lives, we do not feel that adherence to dietary laws serves the primary values of Reform Judaism that we emphasize in our home. Now that we have a Jewish home we noticeably do not follow religious dietary law, except on holidays, and instead opt for more or less three principles that guide our eating.

The first is very simply–cook. My husband and I both like to cook and we both cook primarily from scratch. Emphasis around our meals rests in ingredients that we find interesting and, during the right seasons, ingredients that we find locally. For me, cooking also means baking. On Fridays I usually have baked something for the kids when they get home from school to mark Shabbat. I like to bake things that taste great, so I tend not to worry too much about sugar and fat content, it’s dessert!

Focusing on good ingredients and flavor combinations leads to my second guideline–healthy food on the plate more often than not. We include a lot of greens and vegetables in our cooking and we seek out grass-fed beef products and free range chickens. We try to keep meat consumption lower in our house than either of us grew up with. We often have vegetarian meals. But we do eat meat regularly.  Almost all of our meat is from a local farmer, Brandon, whom we met several years ago at our local farmers’ market. Interestingly, his wife is from a Jewish background- although she is not observant. Getting to know Brandon and his family, including helping them out a little when they lost their home to a fire, has made a difference in our awareness of where our food comes from, as well as our children’s awareness.

Lastly– we love to try new things. Ask any one in my immediate family and they have probably eaten something most people would have not. This ranges from Cuy (guinea pig) in Peru to Kitfo (raw beef) in Ethiopia– and yes my kids have eaten (and enjoyed) these things too. Because we travel a lot to out of the way places we are often exposed to very different foods. Eating these foods helps connect us to these new places and helps fulfill our experiences as we visit more and more of the planet.

Food is an essential part of our home life, we encourage our children to cook and bake, and we encourage things to be made from scratch. We do not eat out very often, and we enjoy inviting guests into our home for a meal. But lets be real for a moment. I still have one child the refuses to eat peas, raisins, blueberries or any other similarly orb shaped food. Another child really resists eating vegetables as often as I would like. And finally I have a teenage boy that has no time for tofu, soy milk or similar items and although adventurous in eating has the primary concern of volume of consumption!

As a mother I take my family’s approach to food very seriously. My philosophy on food and how we relate to it socially, personally and spiritually is that each of us needs to take our own responsibility for our own health very seriously. What we eat becomes a part of who we are and I teach my children consistently how what they put into their body affects them in the short term and the long term. I hope that with this understanding about, and openness to, food my children will inhabit strong healthy energetic  bodies long into old age. My family have all been blessed with healthy and capable bodies, and I believe intensely that it is part of our responsibility as members of the spiritual presence on earth, that we take care of ourselves and use our physical gifts to contribute to our communities.

Briefly, a telling insight into how we eat may be the last three cookbooks we have purchased. 1) Lord Krishna’s Cuisine, The Art of Vegetarian Cooking, 2) The Family Meal, Home Cooking with Ferran Adria, and finally 3) Plenty, Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Yotam Ottolenghi.

–Be Well, Christine Weiss

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