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11 October 2010

Passion at last: Gefiltefest

Most of the time I cannot help but feel despondent about kosher food.  External threats, in particular to shechita are a regular occurence, but appear to be gaining a particular head of steam at the moment with some illogical legislation that is passing through the European Parliament. 

The really depressing thing though is the attitude of the community itself.  There is a saying, ask two Jews a question and you'll get three opinions.  Yet, it seems to me that when it comes to food, this argumentative community goes mute and loses its critical faculties.

Consumers don't seem to care what they're eating.  Producers, regulators and suppliers are seemingly happy with the status quo given the lack of dynamism.  As a result, when we face a threat like we are currently doing from the European Parliament, there are very few knowledagable advocates for kashrut. 

Lots of people can tell you the laws of kashrut and the religious reasons for keeping them.  Very few can defend it in a wider context, can argue against the incorrect view that shechita is cruel or that stunning animals is humane.  Very few are willing to fight to be heard that some of the inherent rules of kashrut do mean that animals are better cared for than in many secular abattoirs.  Equally, there are very few people who walk into a kosher supermarket and balk at the unseemly quantity of over-processed foods that weigh down the aisles.

And then Gefiltefest happens and my hope starts to be restored.  On a soggy Sunday almost 300 people gathered to discuss Jewish food.

Yes, calling something Gefiltefest is meshugah, but come on it is a brilliant name and I for one am ever so slightly peeved I didn't think of it first.  I suppose I could always start a rival, Schmaltzfest. 

Anyway, whilst the name may have got my attention initially, what warmed my heart was seeing so many people in one place, passionate about Jewish food.  True, there were a lot of eccentrics, but I've come to realise that all too often campaigners are denigrated for what makes them so interesting.

It wasn't just an opportunity to fress, although there was plenty of that.  It was also an opportunity to learn, discuss and think about what next.  And as you might gather from the adage above, there were a lot of opinions, but in my view, now is exactly the time we need some vigorous debate.

The talks I went to were diverse and pretty fascinating:  Maureen Kendler on the history of Jewish cookbooks; Kevin Sefton on the attempt for making the Jewish community self-sufficient in Rosh Hashanah honey or Leon Pein on organic kosher food.  I didn't agree with everything I heard, some of it was pretty wacky, but everyone cared deeply.

I was delighted to hear from organiser Michael Leventhal that Gefiltefest 2011 is already booked for May 22nd.  My wishlist for that event would be for it to have kosher food, but delicious, interesting and exciting food provided by someone passionate with what they're serving.  This is not a plea for the same old viennas and latkes (however tasty they may be).  I'd like to discover small kosher producers and suppliers, again people with a passion.  I'd love to hear a debate between a kosher caterer, a butcher, a kosher shop owner and someone from the London Beth Din to discuss regulation and food pricing.  Organising the programme is not my thing, I'll leave that to Michael.  I'll just offer up another opinion.


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