FESTIVE MEALTIMES CAN BE CHALLENGING – AND REWARDING – FOR JEWISH VEGANS
By Miriam Porter
This article first appeared in Boston’s The Jewish Advocate in November 2014
It is common to celebrate the various holidays with a festive meal. Whether it’s kosher, pareve, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, vegetarian, vegan, or your own combination of what works for you, it’s most likely a meal you have put a lot of thought and work into… and maybe even a little bit of magical love!
As a child I enjoyed delicious vegetarian meals at Passover, Rosh Hashanah and breaking the fast after Yom Kippur. Growing up in a veggie home, our chicken soup was replaced with pea soup and noodles; veal, meat loaf, gefilte fish and lox were replaced with lentil pilaf, rice and veggie casseroles or lokshen kugels; and a multitude of grains and dairy meals replaced all animal and fish dishes. And I am pretty sure my Bubbie made the best potato loaf and lemon meringue pie in the city!
I raised my son vegetarian also but three and a half years ago when Noah turned five he motivated both of us to become vegan – for the animals. We now follow a plant-based diet and said goodbye to dairy and eggs forever and hello to quinoa, pasta, tofu, beans, tempeh and tons of fresh veggies. These days with such great selection at grocery stores, we even enjoy vegan cream cheese and cheddar slices!
But when the Jewish holidays arrive, it’s time to be a little more creative while sticking to cultural traditions. I consulted books and websites to create a vegan Passover seder plate. ( We used a beet instead of a shankbone and the cutest little white turnip instead of an egg!). Jewish Vegetarians of North America [http://jewishveg.com] was extremely useful when I was attempting to connect issues of Judaism to the beliefs that Noah and I have about animals. The president emeritus of the association, Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., wrote an informative book, Judaism and Vegetarianism. He is also the author of more than 200 articles on related topics and I have consulted many of them. But this past Rosh Hashanah, Noah begged me to find plantbased challah bread, since our previous challah was made with eggs. I scoured Toronto with my vegan-radar and discovered that Sweets From The Earth (a Toronto based vegan company specializing in baked goods) was making challahs this year for the high holidays! When I brought our long braided challah home on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, Noah literally jumped for joy.
Instead of dipping our apples in honey (because bees are not plants!) I discovered delightful agave nectar – a natural sweetener derived from the agave plant. As we said the blessing over apples and nectar for a sweet new year, I included a prayer of thanks that I was able to substitute all the traditional foods of the holiday in accordance with our own beliefs.
But I didn’t want our Rosh Hashanah celebrations to only be about our meal. I wanted it to be about helping others enjoy a meal as well. It is a mitzvah and an act of human kindness to bring food to those in need. I have tried to instill these values in Noah for the last several years, and we often help others. As a single mom I don’t always have money or food to give, but Noah and I always say hello to people living on the street, sometimes stopping to chat. This past Rosh Hashanah it was Noah’s idea to prepare food and bring it to the friends we met who have no home. The recipients of Noah’s wholewheat sandwiches with chocolate spread were very grateful.
I was reminded of my friend Allan who lived on the street for years. It was a cold Canadian Thanksgiving and a woman cooked Allan an entire festive meal and brought it to him on the street wrapped up beautifully. I remember Allan smiling because someone cared enough to ensure he was included in the holiday. Sadly Allan passed away the year before Noah was born so they never met. But I believe they would have really liked each other since they are both empathetic, like to make people happy and believe in equality for all. Allan shared his homecooked meal that day with a homeless youth who had no food and I told Noah this story on Rosh Hashanah. As a mother I hope to continually teach Noah the importance of Tikkun Olam (healing the world).
Now to start preparing for Chanukah – I have just over a month to find a yummy kid-friendly, plantbased potato latke recipe!
Photo: Miriam Porter