The first time I tried teaching some of my non-Jewish friends about Purim, I found myself describing it as sort of a reverse Halloween. Instead of dressing up and roaming the neighborhood streets asking for candy, we put it in baskets and give it out. But around this time last year, this otherwise lovely tradition became a problem thanks to my now 3, then 2-year-old son, who finally reached an age where he understood the concept of wanting candy.
With baskets of it lining our countertops, we could only get away with saying no so many times, which is tough if you’re trying to teach your young child that sweets are to be eaten sparingly. So I’ve decided that year, I want to put a healthier spin on Purim–one that entails a lot less sugar and a lot less waste.
My plan is pretty simple: I’m going to replace some of the usual players like potato chips, chocolate bars, and candies with healthier goodies like fruit, crackers, and trail mix. And rather than stuff those goody baskets till they’re overflowing, I’ll try to focus on filling them with items of quality.
Now I realize I’m being a bit of a party pooper here, but I promise, this is more than just an anti-sugar crusade. (For the record, I’m a big sweets fan myself, and I do believe in letting my son indulge in moderation.) First of all, I think there’s a lot more to Purim than an exchange of snacks, and I want my son to understand and appreciate the other elements of the holiday. On Purim, we’re supposed to not only give out gifts of food to our friends and neighbors, but also give gifts of charity to the poor–a mitzvah that tends to get overshadowed by the costume and carnival aspects.
Second, as Jews, we’re bound by the commandment of Bal Tashchit–do not destroy or waste-which I believe extends to food as well. It’s sort of a cruel joke that only three weeks or so following this influx of Purim goodies, we’re commanded to rid ourselves of all traces of chametz, as this forces many of us into the dilemma of throwing out food versus stuffing our faces relentlessly in the weeks leading up to Passover to avoid being wasteful. (I’ve been known to employ the latter tactic. As both a Jew and a snack-lover, I feel it is my obligation to ensure that no piece of chocolate get left behind or thrown away.)
But seriously, I’m a big believer that food should not be wasted, because yes, there are hungry, less fortunate people all around us who can’t simply go to the grocery store and stock up on everything their hearts and stomachs desire. I think we ought to be mindful of that even as we indulge.
Philosophical reasons aside, I’m also figuring I can’t be the only parent who feels the need to hide or confiscate half the Purim stash for the sake of her child’s health, and if I pledge to make Purim a bit healthier going forward, perhaps others will appreciate it and choose to do the same. In fact, I’m looking forward to giving out my healthier mishloach manot baskets, fruits and whole grains and all.
Oh, but I’m still going to throw in some hamantaschen–not because I think prune or apricot filling counts as a fruit serving, but because you can only mess with tradition so much.