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Jul 23 2014

How Do I Teach My Suburban Kids to be Environmentally Conscious?

By at 4:20 pm


My husband is vegan, we’re raising our children as vegetarians, and we even started our own vegan cheese company. But I have a confession: I am still woefully ignorant on many food-related environmental issues.

Food labels, GMOs, and the intricacies of recycling and composting intimidate me, yet I want to make educating myself and my children about these issues a priority. I want eco-consciousness ingrained in them from an early age, much like I want them to enjoy physical activities and speak a second language. I know firsthand that it is much, much harder to change your lifestyle and habits later in life. A few years ago, I wagered with my husband that I could stay vegetarian for a summer and lost the bet halfway through when our friends invited us to the best steak house in New York. Actions speak louder than words, especially when you can’t talk with a mouthful of meat!

But the sad fact is, it’s hard for my children to learn eco-friendliness at home. We drive everywhere; we fill our garbage bin to overflowing every week; much of the food on our plates comes wrapped in packages and no longer resembles what it looked like when it first came into being; and we live in the suburbs, shielded from the natural rhythms of the earth. How am I supposed to help them make informed choices when I am not well informed myself? Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 25 2013

I Became a Kosher Vegan

By at 12:04 pm

fruits and vegetables on wood tableI’ve written here before about the carefree approach I had to food in my 20s: I ate and drank with abandon, just shy of gluttony, with a penchant for trying new cuisine in new places (thus, I went on a month-long, semi-solo sojourn to India to try the food). I come from expert meat-grillers, and the art of the old-school, dairy brunch that could render a person immobile for two days was not lost on me. Didn’t everyone’s grandparents put sour cream in cottage cheese with dill and radishes?

And then, in my 30s, I married an awesome guy who happens to have always kept kosher. That we would keep kosher wasn’t necessarily written into the ketubah (marriage contract), but an agreement we made that I was, and am, just fine with honoring. I missed cheeseburgers, and now don’t really even give them a thought, like an old boyfriend I know in hindsight was a lot of fun, but bad for me. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 15 2013

When You’re Not the Only One Feeding Your Child

By at 4:10 pm

handing over a popsicleWe all have plans for how our children will eat. The other parents will drool with jealousy over the varied and sophisticated palate of our little ones. They’ll run around the playground clutching carrot and celery sticks and turn their nose up at white bread. This works for a while, until your child leaves the house. Then it’s all over.

For the first time since I had my son, in January of 2012, I braved going to a Friday night Shabbaton dinner at my shul. With Shabbat starting early in the winter, it was pre-meltdown time for him and my 4-year old-daughter. Of course I forgot our little booster seat, so my eating-dinner-like-a-mentschette plan was in major jeopardy. When a family friend (aka the “baby whisperer”) told me it would be his pleasure to hold little “Dimples” on his lap during the fish course, I threw him the baby and ran to my seat to stuff my face while I had two hands and a lap free. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 7 2012

Food Challenges: My Husband’s a Vegan & My Son’s Hooked on Pouches

By at 10:27 am

fruit juicerThere’s an old saying that you can put three Jews together and get four opinions. Well, that’s the way it is with diets in my family. My husband is a vegan, my son is a vegetarian, and I am an omnivore who is abstaining from meat and poultry for the summer. I am going crazy trying to figure out how to feed everyone.

My husband has never tried to veganize me. He has encouraged me to be more informed about my food choices, but until recently I resisted. I was so overwhelmed with learning a new way to cook for him that I couldn’t stomach any more education. Tempeh? Soy? Seitan? I can make chicken soup so good you can taste it in your soul and roast chicken, briskets, and noodle kugels that practically forced me to start a waiting list for Shabbos dinners at my place. I used to pride myself on being a fabulous Jewish cook. Now it feels like I have to start all over and it is very, very hard at times. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 6 2011

Vegan Daddy

By at 2:40 pm

My husband Alex is a vegan. I am not–though I keep kosher. Whenever we used to talk about what to feed our son Aiven we both came away feeling frustrated and empty-handed. I wanted to introduce Aiven to all types of food and let him make the decision for himself as to what foods to exclude. But Alex had valid points as to why we should not introduce certain foods into his diet. To make matters worse, we kept discussing it over and over and over again.

What I worried about was the social aspect to food. Food cannot easily be separated from culture and tradition. To even consider saying no to every cheese pizza, birthday cake, and Bubbe’s chicken soup brought tears to my eyes. Aiven would hate us!

I asked Alex what he would do when his 5-year-old son asked for money to buy an ice cream cone with his friends. Alex said he would refuse. I wondered if there was a better alternative. I knew that if Alex always said no to every request for non-vegan food and didn’t let Aiven choose for himself, Aiven will resent his father. And since Alex did not want Aiven to reject veganism out of anger and rebellion, he started to open up to the idea of not raising him as a vegan.

At 5 months, we started Aiven on solid foods and the discussions became more urgent. In no time at all, Aiven was going to graduate from purees, to chunky food, to real solid foods. How were we going to handle this? Alex and I kept discussing the issue (like I said–we talked about it over and over and over and over again). I agreed to watch a video, Meet Your Meat. It was disturbing but did not sway me. I dabbled in some more research, but not much. I was adamant that Aiven should have all food introduced into his diet.

I went back to the Internet for something, but I wasn’t sure what. Information? Alternatives? Excuses? I came across a message board for parents raising vegetarian children. In reading the messages, a new way of thinking dawned on me. I knew I could never agree to exclude all animal products from Aiven’s diet, but I was wrong in thinking that I had to include everything in his diet. There was a middle ground.

Since I’ve been with my husband I’ve eaten much less meat and chicken, and I hardly miss them. I figured it wouldn’t be so hard to exclude them from Aiven’s diet, and as the message board pointed out, he would still have plenty of other sources available for protein. Socially, it would be manageable, too. It’s relatively easy to explain vegetarianism, and I won’t have to worry about my child starving in the school cafeteria like I would with a vegan diet. As a bonus, since I’m not going to cook separate meals for myself, keeping a kosher kitchen will be a lot easier without having to worry about meat and poultry!

Rather than including until Aiven could decide to exclude, I switched it around. I would exclude a couple of things until he decided if he wanted to include them. I approached my husband and he agreed almost instantly. He even said I could give Aiven gefilte fish!

I am proud of us for finding a compromise–as hard as it was. Every marriage has its share of emotionally-charged issues that can take on a life of their own. It’s up to us to communicate with our partners and work as a team to find a creative solution. It took a lot of patience, but we got our happy ending. That is, until Aiven decides he wants a steak, medium rare.

Apr 12 2011

Passover Survival Tips for Vegans

By at 2:41 pm

Quinoa--great for Passover.

Imagine if you will that in addition to the five Biblically prohibited grains (rye, wheat, barley, spelt, oats) and the Eastern European custom of refraining from eating kitniyot (including beans, peas, corn, and rice), you add on the excitement of choosing not to consume any byproducts of animals (no beef, fish, chicken, dairy, eggs, or honey!). That’s Pesach in our house, including for our 2 ½- and 5-year-old boys.

Eight days and eight nights, baby. All vegan. All kosher for Pesach. And no eating out at non-Passover certified restaurants. Ready to call Child Protective Services on me yet?

Well, don’t. I find it fulfilling, meaningful, and spiritually satisfying to raise my sons the way Jews have fought to live for thousands of years, despite persecution and threat. Every holiday is an opportunity to impart some lesson, some tidbit of meaning, and some dose of enjoyment and pride in our heritage.

Passover is no exception despite the dietary restrictions. It’s not even an option for our sons “not” to observe Passover as we do. As Jews who believe in the system of laws (Halacha), we do not own any consumable hametz (which refers to foods made from those five grains I mentioned earlier) during Passover. We couldn’t give it to our boys if we wanted to–it is gone! The foods we choose to feed our sons most of the year are not hametz anyway: their main food sources are fruit, vegetables, and protein-rich foods such as nuts and beans. They are healthy, thriving, and happy as vegans, but Passover indeed limits them in two important arenas of their lives: rice and pasta.

Like most children, they love rice and pasta and would eat it every meal if I let them. “Passover pasta” is just not the same thing as the real deal.

So, this leads me to my Passover Survival Tips for Vegans

#1: Quinoa.

Quinoa is a high-protein, inexpensive, easy to cook seed from South America. Quinoa takes on the flavor of whatever you want it to, much like rice, but we douse it in marinara sauce since we can’t use soy sauce during Passover. (Soy sauce is from the soy BEAN; remember? No beans for us.)

#2 Homemade almond milk.

Since we don’t drink cow’s milk, and we can’t have soy or rice milk on Passover (kitniyot strikes again), I make almond milk a few times during the holiday from ground almonds and water, with a bit of maple syrup. Our boys don’t drink it (they also don’t drink rice milk or soy milk during the year; just water); we use it with Passover cereal, which is generally really sugary and ridiculously unhealthy.

#3: I ease up on my general low-sugar and barely-any-candy rules during Passover.

I don’t want our sons to feel deprived, and I don’t want them to associate Passover with unhappiness in the food department. So I let them have small treats and I don’t stress about the handful of days they may use “real” non-organic non-hydrogenated margarine on their matzah. I lather on the marinara where I normally would drizzle it, and I make sure to try and bake something exciting at least a few times during the holiday.

* * *

I have found that Passover leads me to a lot of reflection: personal, spiritual, and dietary. What do I need to keep me going? Are my kids too dependent on starch when I want them to get more fruits and veggies into their bodies?

I don’t think it’s oppressive or cruel to insist that my children observe the holiday stringently. I want them to know what kind of Judaism we practice, and I want them to see that the world is not always made for our 100% comfort, but that being Jewish sometimes means doing things and then learning their meaning as we explore them.

That’s not too lofty for small children. Judaism values including children in our holidays not because it forces them to be adult before their time, but because they can appreciate mitzvot and commandments and it prepares them to be adults who don’t see being Jewish as an obligation; rather, it is a privilege and a blessing.

Chag Pesach Sameach!


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