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13 April 2010

Kosher Food Week

I can't remember which book it was, but in one of his earlier works Bill Bryson declares his love for local newspapers.  He argues that it's only by reading what's going on at the community level can you get a feel for the people who live there.

Whilst I wouldn't deride The Jewish Chronicle as merely a local paper, it is as the title suggests a community paper and is rightly proud of it.  It can generate rather mixed feelings across the UK Jewish community, some think its too parochial, others argue its too sensationalist and others still just enjoy reading it after dinner on a Friday night.  (As an aside, if you really want to see a parochial title go and check out The Jewish Telegraph.)

Personally, I don't agree with everything I read it in the JC, but that's true for any paper and being challenged is good.  Under the editorship of Stephen Pollard the JC has at last embraced the internet and has been running some pretty interesting content on its still-slightly-clunky website. 

I was particularly taken by a series of guest articles proposing suggestions for how best to improve the Jewish community in the UK.  The ones I liked most were those focused on making the most out of being a small community: creating a community service programme to provide further support to the least fortunate in society and streamlining our charities to ensure they are providing the right services.

Obviously I couldn't pass up the chance of offering my thoughts on how we could do more with our food and it is on the site now.  For context, it's worth noting that I wrote this during the recent festival of Passover, during which the Seders are the ne plus ultra of Jewish festive dining.

The basic premise of my idea is that we really need to be reminded of the value of what we're eating.  For a community that sets so much store in food, we seem blithely unconcerned about it.

One final point, in the JC article they've titled my idea Kosher Restaurant Week, that was just one idea, part of a bigger picture. But I like it, as this post's title shows though I'm keen to widen it beyond restaurants to kosher food in general.

This is cross-posted from the JC's website.

I know the point of maxims is that they are poignant because they ring true and for me “They tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat." is a nice encapsulation of the Jewish approach to eating. Along with images of bubbes or Jewish mothers force-feeding their offspring, food is both perceived as, and is actually, central to the Jewish identity.

Yet as a community in the UK, food is rarely a topic for debate. Food is something we all do, it is something we sometimes do together as a community, but it is rarely a topic of discussion.

In the United States there is a vocal movement discussing the ethics of kosher food. These are not debates about shechitah, rather it is a discussion about why is kosher meat so expensive? Why have animals destined for the shochet`s knife lived in conditions rarely much better than factory farms? Is it all about quantity, or does quality matter as well?

The secular world has handled similar issues, focusing on provenance, animal husbandry and alternative farming methods. The kosher community in the UK blindly goes on eating puffy, watery chickens and heavily processed foods.

In the UK, kosher shops or restaurants get credit for selling food approximating treyf [not kosher] equivalents, not the quality of their produce.

I'm advocating that we shouldn`t just be celebrating with food, we should celebrate our food.

We should have a kosher restaurant week where restaurants show off the quality of their cooking rather than crowing that they can cook kosher versions of sizzling beef or an ersatz version of the already ersatz chicken tikka massala. Butchers should do blind tastings comparing organic-style and `normal` chickens. Fishmongers should remind us that it was Jews who brought fish and chips to the UK.

It’s time to embrace what we eat and how we eat it and stop being so reticent about something so self-defining.


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Steady on Anthony, bit cavalier with your food history there. Probably right to give Jews the fish in fish'n'chips but don't the Huguenots have first dibs on fried potatoes?

Gav, it's the way you read it. I did mean fish n'chips as opposed to fish and chips. If you see what I mean!

Ah, subtle. Might have to give you that one mate.

Yes, food is something we should celebrate together. Good food, good people, good coffee; will make up a nice day and a nice memory to remember on.

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