This morning my mom and I were drinking coffee, talking about food. She has followed my interest in local and sustainable food, and often writes to me to tell me about something new she’s just learned, or the local food organizations doing good things in Vancouver. I love it! She used to do a lot of cooking and planning kiddush for our synagogue, and was telling me about the fruit platters she used to make.
“I used to make a big platter — watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe, and pineapple — sliced thinly and fanned out, and then tuck “bunchlets” of red and green grapes all over the platter, and strawberries. It looked really nice.
“And then, after learning more about this food stuff, I started only buying strawberries in June, when they’re in season. And I didn’t use them the rest of the year. I got really excited in June when the new batch of strawberries would come into the markets, and I could put them on the fruit platters.
“But I was thinking one day — it’s not like the rest of this stuff is seasonal, either! Pineapple is never in season here! What would you serve in the winter? If you really only ate what was locally in season — what would you do for a fruit platter?
It’s a good question — but I countered with a different one: do you NEED to have a fruit platter?
It’s true, it’s expected, it’s standard: lunch at the shul on saturdays is salads and bagels and lox and fruit platter, beautifully fanned. But there are alternatives. How about dried fruit (it’s acceptable on Tu-B’shvat, why not other times?!) or canned fruit. Or frozen berries! Blueberries are huge in BC (I’ve even found BC-grown blueberries at the coop in Brooklyn – wild!) and they freeze really well. What if the shul served blueberries, granola and yogurt as a fruit option during the wintry months, and then fresh fruit when it was available in the summer? Or apples and pears — ok, so they don’t look so great when sliced, but what if you offered them whole? Is the point the food or the presentation?
She had also pointed out that even if she didn’t buy the melon for the shul, that it would still be sold in supermarkets all over the city. I countered that this may be so, but how much opportunity the synagogue has here, an institution serving 40 or 60 people lunch once a week, to subtly change our expectations about what we eat: oh, why aren’t we having melon this week? Well let me tell you about gas and food transportation….. I can hear the lunchline conversation already.
There are all kinds of levels to effectuate change: teach kids in schools, hold conferences, write stories, lobby your government. But I admit, I got really excited thinking about a synagogue — and maybe all synagogues! — taking this kind of leadership role in this work. Making a decision to source harder-to-find local options (and create de facto a market for them by being a large-scale purchaser), or limiting the kinds of food served at simchas or weekly services, and being prepared to have the conversations that will necessarily come when expectations get challenged. So much possibility! Because “harvest festivals” and “sustainable dinner nights” are all very well and good — but if we can change the day-to-day food that we eat and expect to eat, we would be making a huge step.