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buspar The Jew and the Carrot » Lois Leveen - Voice of the New Jewish Food Movement

Lois Leveen

Lois Leveen is a writer, performer, and recovering academic who lives in Portland, Oregon. Her work has appeared in/on B*tch magazine, Interfaith Family, the Oregon Literary Review, and LiveWire radio. She is currently at work on the world's first memoir about a Jew from New York visiting Mary's Harbour, a town of 400 in Labrador. You can read her weeklyish humor blog at

Lois Leveen's Website »

Not a drop to drink. At least not a BPA-free drop.


It seemed like a great way to kill two birds with one stone.  Now I’m wondering if it’s killing—or at least harming—me.

Welcome to my water dilemma.

Last year, my concerns were mounting about both the evils of inherent in the privatization of water and the health risks of exposure to Bisphenol A,  used to produce many common plastics.  So the members of our household stopped using the Brita filter, and started toting straight-from-the-tap goodness with us wherever we went.  Toting it in SIGG water bottles, which were sold as a plastic-free, all aluminum alternative to BPA-laden bottles.

Trust the Swiss their website said.

Yeah, trust the Swiss . . . to sell you out to the Nazis.

If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d Have Baked a Cake . . . on the Hood of My Car


If my summer were a cookbook, it would be called What to Expect When You’re Expecting— Expecting Company, That Is, and It’s a Heat Wave.

Yes, welcome to life in the global warming oven.  We are on at least heat wave #3 of the summer here in usually temperate Portland, and I’ve had a potluck to attend or guests to host for all of them.  And while the hot weather makes me want to eat ice cream three meals a day, I know I really shouldn’t.

Especially not when “eating” means “bringing to a potluck where it will sit out in the sun.”

So what has been on the menu?  Lots, and I figured I’d share it in case you can’t stand the heat but still need to be in the kitchen.

Ask the Shmethicist: WWMPD? (What Would Michael Pollan Do?)


Oh dear readers, the Shmethicist has been AWOL for a while.  But now I’m back and better than ever (not unlike that pea soup that was even more delicious when we reheated the leftovers!).

Dear Shmethicist,

I am currently feeding a family of four (two adults, two toddlers) on a very small food budget ($150 a week).  A couple of years ago, my husband and I were able to buy all organic dairy and produce, and free range meats and eggs.  Now, it is a rarity.  Our costs are so tight, that even at $150 a week, we only cook nice dinners on Shabbat.

We have noticed a difference in how we feel and would absolutely love to do this again. We do not have our own yard in which to garden, which I would love to do someday.  There are several farms near here, but they are not open to the public (instead, they drive their goods to the farmers markets in the large city, which is over an hour away and which we cannot afford to drive to regularly, at $20 gas for the trip and $10 parking for the day).

Pesach Preparations Are All Sewn Up

photo by jelene

Every year, I host a seder that can only be described as unorthodox in every sense of the term.  The guests are usually folks who might not otherwise observe the holiday, and I’m happy to gather them into my home to pray, eat, sing, and think about what freedom means and what we ought to do to make more of it in the world.

I’m so happy to gather them that in the days leading up to seder, I start freaking out about what we’re running short of because I’ve invited so many guests.  Thus comes the last minute run for cutlery, dishes, glassware . . . every year it’s something different. The panic, however, remains the same.

Learning from “Midwestern Cooking”


As an exhibitionist ex-academic, I was delighted to participate on a Public Humanities panel on Food and Sustainability at Portland State University last week. The panelists were asked to keep their presentations short (6-8 minutes) so that there would be ample time to for the audience to participate in conversation.

Contrary to all ethnic stereotypes, I actually obeyed the short presentation format better than the other panelists. Here’s an even briefer recap of my brief comments . . . and an invitation to extend the conversation here.

Ask the Shmethicist: Does Tossing Flaky Teflon Make for Flaky Ethics?

A Panoply of Creative Unleashed!

This is your brain with a shmethical dilemma.

This is your brain with a shmethical dilemma

Dearest Shmethicist,

I recently decided to stop using my Teflon-lined rice cooker because I’m finally convinced that coating isn’t something I want flaking into my food and getting into my body. I figured there are still lots of people out there who don’t mind non-stick stuff and even prefer it, so I gave my rice cooker away for free. I also gave away a set of plastic mixing bowls when I bought stainless steel ones. I figured it would save someone money and keep those things out of the landfill. But later I talked to my mom and her reaction was that I should absolutely NOT subject other people to the things I wouldn’t use myself. She’s very conscious of sustainable practices and is a big advocate of fixing things rather than throwing them away and buying new ones, and she buys a lot of second-hand stuff herself. But she was certain that my rice cooker was better off in the trash.

What do you think? Send the old stuff to the dump, or give it to people who might buy it anyway?


Frying Pan into the Fire?

Funny, You Don’t Cook Jewish

Shleppy in Shleopard

Is there a Jewish — and thus also a non-Jewish —way to cook?

I’m not talking about kashrut, which defines what one cooks.  I’m talking about how one cooks.

Actually, I’m talking about how I cook, and how my not-a-member-of-the-tribe partner Chuck cooks.  I’m wondering if like so many other aspects of our lives, the differences reflect our disparate religious upbringing.

My male partner was raised Christian in Canada, achieving a veritable trifecta of soft-spoken repression, at least compared to this loud Jewish woman from New York with whom he’s chosen to spend his life.  The manifestations of our differences range from the onerous to the hilarious. And we’ve begun to wonder if our cooking styles are among the things affected.

Ask the Shmethicist: Is there something pHishy in my water?


On most nights, we don’t even dip once.  So what’s the shmethicist doing taking a dunk with Beastie Boy Adam Yauch and Daniel Craig?

Dear Shmethicist,

I recently learned about and taste tested alkaline water…which is supposedly water with a very basic pH level, although to me it does taste just like the stuff we’re used to.  Apparently, we are all full of way too much acidity, and if we drink this water, it will help to neutralize our pH, and lead to all sorts of health improvements, such as decreased chance of cancers and heart attacks and the water will even hydrate us more than the H20 we typically drink.  Do you know if there is any truth to this?


pHish Out of Water

Ask the Shmethicist: Can a Nice Jewish Girl Enjoy a Naughty Nosh?


Oh readers! What an exciting time for a Yenta! My first Shmethicist column got a shout out in The Forward. And readers’ questions are pouring in.

So I thought I’d start with the spiciest query . . . and I don’t mean the one about habaneros versus jalapenos.

Got a Food Question? Ask The Shmethicist


It’s a Jewish food blog, so, nu, here’s a little good old-fashioned Borscht belt humor:

Q: What are the two things Jews know?
A: Suffering, and where to find good Chinese food.

Okay, so maybe “good” shouldn’t be used to modify Borscht belt humor. I’ve known that joke for 20 years, and who knows how old it was when I first heard it. It must be further past the expiry date than that container of organic non-fat sour cream you’ve got pushed way back in the corner of your fridge.

So here’s an always-fresh corollary:

Q: What are the two things Jewish women love?
A: Eating and giving advice.

Thus is born a new The Jew & The Carrot feature, “The Shmethicist” – a moral nosh on ethical eating. Readers are hereby invited to send in your ethical food quandaries to Because why should Randy Cohen have all the fun?

Since you didn’t know I existed until just now, I’ve taken the shmethically questionable route of making up our first reader query, just so I had something to answer.

Loco for Locavore: Bashing the Local Food Backlash


Judging from some recent food journalism, using spurious logic to rationalize the choice not to eat ethically is as easy as slathering a mound of Jif Creamy onto a slice of Wonder Bread.

For example, Portland, Oregon is a great city for green living. Maybe that’s why the Oregonian, our newspaper, recently started a weekly green living column — although with dubious results. The inaugural piece was about how to not feel guilty when you *don’t* buy organic. The gist of the article was that as long as you avoid the “Dirty Dozen” – the twelve foods most contaminated with pesticides — you’re a-okay. As columnist Shelby Wood giddily reported:

With the Dirty Dozen in mind, I paid the $1 premium for organic spinach (No. 11 on the Environmental Working Group’s list) at the grocery last week. But I saved $1 on conventional broccoli (No. 35) and 20 cents a pound on bananas (No. 37). After all, I’ve been eating those for 34 years. And I’m not dead yet.

Great job, Shelby. Perhaps you’d like to celebrate by investing that $1.20 you saved on some low-tar cigarettes.