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.

Dear Shmethicist,

Several months ago, I managed to convince my eight year-old that we should avoid eating any chocolate that isn’t fairly traded. But with Halloween coming up fast, I’m in a tizzy. Do I deny my child the pleasure of trick-or-treating? I don’t want to imply that ethics can be cast aside when they become inconvenient. Nor do I want to enforce the boycott and risk having my kid resent fair trade politics — and her activist parent.



Dear Spooked,

Halloween has long been a challenge for many Jewish families, in some cases because of Kashrut, in other cases because of concerns over the holiday’s pagan roots, and in yet other cases because those store-bought masks never accommodate the finer shnozzes among our tribe. So why should this year be any different?

You’ve already taken care to ensure your child understands the importance of ethical food choices. Seize the opportunity to make Halloween a treat, rather than a trick, by extending that lesson. How? Lots of ways!

• You can contact your neighbors in advance, sharing information about the reasons to choose only fairly trade chocolate and asking them if they would be willing to join you in making fair trade purchases for their Halloween goodies. You can do this on your own, or include your child as you make the rounds — presenting the ethical eight year-old should help you manipulate the adults more easily.

• You’ve missed this year’s deadline for ordering reverse trick-or-treating kits, but next year, organize your child’s class to participate together, spreading the word — and some yummy samples — among even more kids, parents, and neighbors. The kits include FREE fair trade chocolate samples. FREE CHOCOLATE!!! Surely that’s one way to put a Jewish spin on a pagan festival. Find out more.

• Suggest your child incorporate fair trade right into her Halloween costume. If dressing as a fair trade chocolate bar seems a little too close to one of those disturbing branded Wonder Bread or Big Mac costumes, get creative. What better way to make people take notice than for your eight year-old to dress as an enslaved child laborer on a cocoa plantation? Sure, it’s tasteless and terrifying, but so is Hannah Montana, and you know that costume will be plenty popular this year.

Got a burning ethical food question, or just want advice on what to make for dinner? Send your questions to

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12 Responses to “Got a Food Question? Ask The Shmethicist”

  1. Eric Schulmiller Says:

    I’m SO bummed I missed the deadline for those reverse trick-or-treat kits – what an amazing idea!!

    Here’s a good source for more background info:

    Another solution, while not any healthier, is to simply give out non-chocolate candy, like Airheads (which are shockingly popular in my n.o.t.w.), Blowpops, etc.

    And, depending on your political persuasion, you might decide to let your (locally-grown?) pumpkin send a message as well:

  2. Judith Says:

    Not wanting to contribute to the epidemic of obesity and diabetes, I’ve given out stickers before and the little kids like them. The big kids just want the candy. I did too when I was their age.
    By the way, sells organic fair trade candy in Halloween inspired shapes. They also have vegan options.

  3. Avigail Says:

    Lois, where are you sitting to enjoy that amazing Portland cupcake? Boy, do I miss the carrot cake cupcake at St. Cupcake! Next time you’re in NYC we’ll have to scout out a good place for our local cupcakes (so far, no one compares to St. Cupcake).

  4. Rabbi Shmuel Says:

    “The kits include FREE fair trade chocolate samples. FREE CHOCOLATE!!! Surely that’s one way to put a Jewish spin on a pagan festival. Find out more.”

    No, no my dear Crystal Shmeth, what’s Jewish about it is not that it’s free but that it resembles Purim where instead of extorting candy under pain of property damage, we give treats to our friends.

    Boruch Hashem we live in the woods so trick or treaters are not a problem (especially this year that H-ween falls on shabbos.

    Here’s an ethical dilemma I haven’t quite worked through – if you’re gonna throw eggs at a Toyota Prius on Halloween would it be better if they were from free range birds? Or when festooning the neighbor’s trees with toilet paper (ostensibly for not giving out fair trade goodies), should one use “Seventh Generation” – does that lend an aura of mindfulness to the act?

    Just curious

    PS – othere than the few cheap shots, actually an entertaining post.

  5. ck Says:

    Aw man. When I was a kid I loved, LOVED, Halloween. And it didn’t turn me into a Satan worshiping pagan either. My Mom wasn’t too pleased about Halloween but the kids always won out – except when it fell on Shabbat. Then we would have to content ourselves with just passing out free goodies to the neighborhood kids as we had no eruv in our ‘hood.

    That having been said, I appreciate your inaugural post and all, despite the excessive schtik – my family is as Jewish as they come but I think big shnozzes are symptomatic of Jews with shtetl ancestry – my family is possessed of nothing but the finest aquiline noses. But how can you write a post like this on an otherwise fine Jewish blog and not even mention the ethical issues of Halloween falling on Shabbat?

  6. Shmethicist Says:

    CK, yours may be aquiline, but still it is clearly a shnoz for sniffing out subtle shmethical concerns.

    If you are a daylight trick-or-treater, this year you are free and clear on the Halloween/Shabbat conflict.

    If you’re after candy (or other hallowing times) after dark, however, you’re up the Negev without a paddle.

    Because one can lobby the secular authorities to manipulate time, but as anyone who watched too much TV, including commercials, back in the 1970s knows, we have to answer to a higher authority.

  7. ck Says:

    Aw pshaw. You can’t fornicate with demons unless it’s dark! Going trick or treating during the day is the ultimate sign of being a little wuss. God… what’s happened to America???

  8. graeme Says:

    I have food in the freezer that has gone past its sell by date by a year, would it still be safe to eat

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