Archive for the 'Health' Category

Postville, Procter & Gamble, And The Problem With Pareve Margarine

The raid on the kosher meat-processing plant in Postville, Iowa, threw us a bone in the shape of a vigorous new debate on whether it is fitting and proper to designate as “kosher” products made without regard for animal welfare, fair wages, and the environment.  To these I would add human health.  What does it mean to approve the manufacture and distribution of products that are known to compromise the health of those who consume them?  Is there a distinction to be made between contaminants that do their work quickly, like salmonella, and those whose destructive effects are slow and cumulative, like trans fats?

Getting Off The Bottle

This week, as Earth Day came and went and I attended a fair here or an Earth celebration there, it also donned on me that Spring is here!

So, beyond my environmental excursions, I also attended of variety of events held on my very own Columbia University. Yet, what I found was an inability to fully appreciate some of the events due to the ubiquity of plastic water bottles. Some may laugh, but I find myself becoming more and more annoyed with these obnoxious bottles that I suddenly see everywhere. As I have previously written about bottled water, my awakening began when seeing the movie “Blue Gold: World Water War’s” on instant play on Netflix. Then, I really became irked when seeing “The Story of Bottled Water,” which I posted on this blog.

Watch Food, Inc. for free on PBS


If you haven’t had a chance to see Food, Inc., carpe diem! PBS recently aired it on POV, television’s oldest showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV has also put the entire film on their site for free viewing for a limited time. It’s only up until April 28, so check it out today!

Being Lite, and a Light

(originally posted on

“I’m so glad you are here today,” the woman said to Pandora at her Weight Watchers meeting today. “Because you were the crazy lady.”

The woman speaking had just made her lifetime goal, and she was speaking in front of the whole group about her success. She took the opportunity to single out my wife for honorable mention.

“I always thought of you as the crazy lady,” she continued. “because nothing you said made sense to me. You were in a completely different place. But now that I’ve been following the program, everything you said when I first started fits together.”

New Podcast Episode with Wilderness Torah’s Julie Wolk

Listen to our new PODCAST, Episode 5 by clicking here!

Co-Founder Julie Wolk sits down with me on the latest Hazon Podcast. Listen to what Wilderness Torah is doing to revitalize the American Jewish Community. Also, don’t forget you can subscribe on iTunes by searching “Hazon”.

Also, don’t forget that it is Earth Day this week, so check out all the options going on in your area. For a good listing, check this website out

They have a map where you can choose where you live and find out what is going on near you!

Living with Food Allergies

One bane of being an Ashkenazi Jew is all the food allergies that seem to run rampant through my bloodlines. As many others of Eastern European descent, I’m highly lactose intolerant, and I have recently been diagnosed with non-Celiac gluten sensitivity (in fact, it is supposed that many people with IBS actually have some type of undiagnosed gluten intolerance/sensitivity). [I fondly refer to myself as a lactard/glutentard.]

Living with food allergies can make things difficult, especially when it comes to Shabbat. Of course I love eating Shabbat meals at the homes of my friends, but it’s always quite a dilemma for me. If they don’t already know the ins and outs of my dietary restrictions, do I tell them?

Being dairy-free isn’t too much of a problem (usually), since most of my friends serve meat for Shabbat meals, and most Jews are used to cooking parve (neither meat nor dairy) items. It’s the gluten-free restrictions that are the buzz-kill.

Bottled Water Is Like Smoking While Pregnant

Earth Day New York

If you didn’t know, this past week featured World Water Day. A brief internet search can tell you more about this, but the general idea is for people to focus on water consumption and stress the importance of water conservation. Last summer, when I was wwoofing in Israel, water conservation was at the forefront of everyone’s minds. It only rains in the winter there, and farming in the summer meant that water had to be very seriously considered in its allotment. Luckily, farmers utilize gray water and drip irrigation methods to maximize water usage.

However, for those of us who do not live in the Middle East or on a farm, usually we are pretty unconcerned with our water usage. We shower everyday, run dishwashers, run laundry machines, brush our teeth and leave the water running (I never understood this one) and other daily mundane activities that consume our fresh water supply. In NYC, our fresh water is being threatened by drilling for natural gas near the reservoirs upstate, where our tap water comes from. The danger of losing our tap water is one of the most serious issues facing the future of the city.

My White House Reflections


Sam Kass, White House assistant chef and Food Initiative Coordinator, wore a green tie – it was appropriate since the meeting was on St. Patrick’s Day. Twenty-eight community and faith-based organizations (CFBO) from around the country, including Hazon represented by yours truly, had gathered for a one-day meeting to discuss First Lady Michelle Obama’s ambitious initiative, Let’s Move, to combat childhood obesity in one generation. Kass and Jocelyn Frye, the First Lady’s Policy Director started the day by talking about the meaningful role that faith-based organizations play in their communities. The White House is seeking a comprehensive strategy to tackle the dual problem of hunger and obesity and they see faith-based organizations as uniquely positioned to do this work by allowing children to connect body, mind and spirit. Kass spoke of the need for simple ways for people to transform their lives and to then become leaders for others to make healthy changes, too.

Resources and Action on school lunches

A couple of times when I was a kid I was able to convince my parents to buy me a school lunch. I still remember the feeling of independence I had when I got those bills from my Mom and Dad, and the amazing taste of that beef taco. That’s right – a public school beef and cheese taco. With iceberg lettuce. A trayf-er thing I cannot remember eating…

Cartoons and Candy

When I was little, about six, seven years old, my favorite after-school cartoon was the Steven Spielberg-produced “Animaniacs”. I don’t know how many of you watched this charming variety show starring the pun-spewing Warner siblings Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, but this little gem of animation was the origin of such now-classics as “Pinky and the Brain”.

Many of the show’s musical numbers stayed with me for years and remain with me still, but this particular one, entitled “Be Careful What You Eat”, popped into my head the other day as I read the ingredients on a popular candy bar which shall remain nameless. Whenever anyone asks me why I avoid sodas or popular brands of chips, I direct them to this song. Watch it and reach for the vegetables.

Mark Bittman on Soda and Obesity

Soda.  Pop.  Coke.  S.S.B. (sugar-sweetened beverage).  Whatever you wanna call it, it’s bad for you.  Or so argues Mark Bittman, the New York Times‘ “Minimalist” columnist and prominent foodie in this Sunday’s New York Times.  This phenomenal article poses the question of whether soda may be the next tobacco.  He interviews proponents calling for a special excise tax on soda to fund obesity prevention programs, as well as other measures to curb the intake of these empty calories in a can (or bottle).  The article comes after Michelle Obama’s appointment to lead a national campaign against childhood obesity, which some believe is linked to an excessive consumption of soda and candy.

The War on Vegetables

(Originally published in The Forward)


Last November, I koshered my kitchen for the first time. I did so with the full understanding that my decision came with certain compromises, like giving up my favorite cheeses and my delicious but uncertified collection of vinegars. While a bit heartbreaking, these were sacrifices I was willing to make as I welcomed in my new lifestyle. If only I had known that I might have to give up salad, too.

Leafy salad greens, along with berries, asparagus and a variety of other produce, have come under serious scrutiny in the kosher world over the past decade. There’s nothing treyf about these particular fruits and vegetables, except that they have a tendency to attract insects, which are halachically forbidden. Once they are removed from a spinach leaf or the inside of a raspberry, the produce is theoretically fit to eat. But kosher agencies like the Orthodox Union and KOF-K argue that certain bugs (for example, aphids, thrips and mites) are too small to spot easily, but large and common enough to be compromising.

Post-Hannukah Chicory Fix

Chicory (cultivated)

After eight days of Hannukah holiday feasting, I felt like something was needed to cut all that oil in the system.  The edible wild greens that are now in season seemed  just the ticket.

Edible wild plants have been an essential part of the local diet here in the Galilee going back to the stone age hunters and gatherers.  I have learned from neighbors in the nearby Bedouin villages which plants are good to eat, where to find them, and how to prepare them.  One of the staples, which is considered a seasonal delicacy, is wild chicory – known in Arabic as elet, and in Hebrew as olesh.  It can be found around the edges of fields – a low-growing starburst of scalloped leaves.  And it is considered to be extremely healthy – good for “cleaning the blood”, as my Bedouin friends have explained.

Going out and gathering is not as commonly practiced in the traditional Arab cultures of the Galilee as it once was – yet the taste for elet remains.  Now enterprising farmers have started to cultivate elet and other edible wild plants, and sell them in the local Arab green grocers.

Kitchen Gardens in Kenya

Kitchen Garden in Kenya

Cross-posted on From the Ground—the blog of American Jewish World Service (AJWS).

“Kitchen gardens in Kenya” is not a phrase we hear often, but for many people, that phrase is the key to survival. In a country of nearly 35 million people, malnutrition and hunger are staggering problems, particularly for Kenyan children, orphans and people living with HIV/AIDS. In the rural, western regions of Kenya, sustaining basic nutrition is a chronic struggle in the face of food insecurity. Too weak to walk long distances or stand in lines waiting for food aid, those who live in rural areas and subsist on less than a dollar a day do not have access to the basics needed to live healthy, dignified lives.