Slower is smarter: How to apply the food movements principles to the New Year

As you compile a mental inventory of all the relationships that need mending this Rosh Hashanah, consider adding “me and my food” to the list.

“Rosh Hashanah is a perfect time to think about mindful eating,” said Joan Nathan, a Jewish cookbook author who attended and spoke at the Slow Food Nation festival held Labor Day weekend in San Francisco.

During her presentation, she made hummus with a mortar and pestle to illustrate the value of from-scratch preparation.

“It is the New Year, the fall harvest, a time to reflect on who we are, which means what we eat, as well as what we do,” Nathan added. “If we slow down and reflect a bit, perhaps expanding our prayers before the holidays to reflect about our earth, we will be better people and perhaps change our ways.”

In the wake of the slow food festival and in the weeks leading up to the High Holy Days, Jewish foodies say there is no better time to evaluate — and perhaps adjust — how and what we eat.

Are you eating fruit shipped from South America, sold at stores that underpay its employees and squeeze out smaller farms? Do you have your breakfast on the go, lunch at your desk, and dinner in front of the TV or computer? Are you eating out for more than 50 percent of your meals? Do you find that eating meals gets in the way of other things you want to do?

Rosh Hashanah asks Jews to think about teshuvah (returning or repentance). As we turn inward, we are given the opportunity to consider how the food we choose to eat and the places we choose to purchase that food impacts our community and the Earth.

Slow food asks consumers to consider the same thing, said Naomi Starkman, who helped coordinate the Slow Food Nation festival in San Francisco, as the organization’s communication and policy director.

Slow food, she said, means food should taste good; be produced with methods that do not harm the environment, animals or humans; and be grown, transported and sold in ways that provide fair compensation for everyone.

Though the movement was started by an Italian chef as a way to combat fast food and preserve cultural cuisine, it has expanded to become a global movement with thousands of practitioners.

“I have been a Slow Food practitioner without knowing it my whole life,” Nathan said. “I love the process of growing food and cooking food.”

Making the food you consume is an important foundation of the slow food movement, Starkman said.

“You don’t have to be slaving over the stove for hours cooking beans — it can be something simple.”

Starkman grew up attending Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek. She has worked as a food policy lawyer, a journalist, an organic farmer and the director of the ethics commission for former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.

She said the customary homemade Rosh Hashanah meal shared with friends and relatives is both an extension of and a precursor to the Slow Food movement.

Even if you don’t do anything other than make and share a Rosh Hashanah dinner, “you are, in a sense, subscribing to the slow food idea of taking time to prepare food and eat together,” said Sarah Rich, the managing editor of the Slow Food Nation blog.

She said it’s a misconception that slow food is considered synonymous with complex, expensive and gourmet food.

“If people don’t think of simplicity, they should,” Rich said.

Here are some ideas to help your food slow down this Jewish New Year.

Host a potluck: Starkman suggests the simplest way to use Rosh Hashanah as a vehicle for slower food is to have a potluck dinner in which the host asks guests to support local farmers when shopping for their ingredients.

Rich said that since some people are “afraid to cook from scratch,” asking guests to make a dish should also be accompanied with a reminder to “keep it simple, and see how few ingredients you can use.”

Added Starkman, “At the very least, talk about these issues at the dinner table as part of your reflection of the holiday. Consider: Where can you contribute to these issues?”

Go on a food tour: Adam Edell, an Oakland resident and a nutrition and garden educator in Hayward, suggests not just having a potluck for Rosh Hashanah, but also taking guests on a “food tour” of the evening’s dishes.

This is something he does often, especially when hosting a “Shabbatluck.”

Essentially, a food tour means that before blessing and eating the food, everyone speaks briefly about their dish.

“When people know there’s going to be a food tour at our house, they look forward to sharing not just what the food is, but how they came by it — if it came from a market they always pass by, if it was growing in their backyard and they picked it that day,” Edell said. “It allows people to voice in their own words what is special about the food they have brought.

“I think it adds another layer of what it means to share a meal communally.”

Subscribe to a CSA: Community-supported agriculture means once a week, Rich gets a box of seasonal produce delivered to her from a local farm. She said that joining a CSA is a great first step in becoming in becoming more food conscious.

“It saves me a lot of money, I go out to eat less, I buy less at the grocery store and therefore avoid processed foods in general, and I always eat healthier,” she said of her CSA.

Edell coordinates a Jewish CSA program through Chochmat HaLev in Berkeley called Tuv Ha’Aretz (the JCC in San Francisco also has a chapter). Each week he gets a box of produce from an organic farm.

Still, he encourages people to not be rigid about incorporating sustainable food into a daily routine.

“When I’m at my parents’ house [in Las Vegas], I’m going to eat my mother’s brisket and not ask if it was sustainably raised,” he said. “Because it came from my mother’s heart, it’s fit to eat.”

Grow your own food: No matter where you live and how much outdoor space you have at your apartment or home, start small, Starkman said, “even if it’s herbs on kitchen sill or tomato plants in pot.”

She said growing your own food will deepen your understanding of and connection to the roots of your sustenance.

If you can’t grow your own, then try buying from farmer’s markets, or selecting locally grown foods at your neighborhood Safeway.

The Jew and the Carrot, a food blog by Hazon, especially recommends not buying the two most traditional holiday foods — honey and apples — from industrial or faraway sources. At small and large markets alike, look for honey produced in small batches, and for apples with “Product of the U.S.A.” stickers, as opposed to fruit grown in New Zealand, for example.

“The ubiquitous honey bear that sits in most of our cabinets tends to be filled with industrially-produced (and not particularly flavorful) honey,” they wrote. “This year dip your apples in raw honey produced by a small-scale apiary.”

Jewish blog runs cooking contest

The Jew and the Carrot, the blog for Hazon, is sponsoring a Green Rosh Hashanah Dinner Challenge.

Contestants are invited to create a locally inspired and environmentally sustainable Rosh Hashanah dinner. To enter, send the Jew and the Carrot a photo and description of your dinner (or dish), along with your recipes. Submissions are due by Oct. 3 and can be sent to

editor@jcarrot.org.

The top three submissions will be featured — with much fanfare — on the blog. First- and second-prize chefs will be awarded free copies of Jewish cookbooks.

For more information, go to www.jcarrot.org.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.