With the holiday season around us, there’s one thing people dread more than that blabbermouth cousin who likes to brag about their salary and primo choice in political candidate: leftovers.
They last forever, yet somehow always end up in the garbage.
But Hazon Philadelphia’s fourth annual Jewish Food Festival is addressing food waste this year through the theme “Waste Not Want Not,” with more than 30 programs to participate in on Dec. 11 at Congregation Rodeph Shalom from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The festival intends to spread the message of baal tashchit, or minimizing food waste, through cooking and gardening workshops, lectures and panels, kid-friendly programming, book signings from local cookbook authors, yoga, a community market, and, of course, eating.
The main event will kick off in the morning with a panel conversation with Leah Koenig, author ofModern Jewish Cooking; Liz Alpern, co-owner of The Gefilteria; and moderator Nati Passow, executive director of Jewish Farm School.
The community market will feature vendors from local businesses like Essen Bakery, Jewish Veg, KIND Bars and Cafe Ole, to name a few.
Everything will wrap up in the evening with a klezmer dance party led by the West Philadelphia Orchestra.
Rachel Thomas, co-chair of the festival, said they’re expecting about 300 to 400 people again this year.
The panel discussion will focus on “food rescue and distribution: minimizing waste, maximizing resources.”
Rabbi Eli Freedman from Rodeph Shalom and representatives from Philabundance, Rolling Harvest Food Rescue and a local podcast called Local Mouthful will also participate, connecting to the theme of the day and exploring our food options.
Thomas said she tries to minimize her own food waste at home, but it’s proven to be difficult. However, she and her wife often pack up their leftovers and donate them to homeless people in their Center City neighborhood.
“However you find your spirituality or your spirit, being wasteful clogs us all down, whether it’s not recycling or just throwing out leftovers. How can we make those leftovers something else?” she continued. “My goal is how to reinvent things, whether it’s leftovers or different ways of recycling or how to make yourself not be [wasteful] in your life.”
Freedman serves on the local advisory board of Hazon Philadelphia as well and hopes this year’s festival will provide a Jewish outlook on food wastefulness.
“Whether it’s with purchasing or using leftovers — there’s a lot of great sessions this year that are all about thinking about sustainability and also looking at it from a Jewish lens,” he added.
In addition to sitting on the panel, Freedman will also lead a few workshops on another form of consumption.
“I’m going to be doing a session on beer brewing,” he said. “We’ll look at some Jewish texts at beer brewing that relate to not wasting as well as learn a little bit about some breweries around the country that are doing some amazing sustainability with recycled grains and recycled water, and we’ll do a little bit of that ourselves.”
When it comes to not being wasteful, Freedman said it all goes back to the commandment of baal tashchit. In Deuteronomy, it is first discussed by rabbis as follows: “In wartime if you are sieging a city, the commandment says you can chop down any tree to build siege weapons except for fruit-bearing trees,” he recalled.
“The idea is that if you chop down whatever pine tree, you get your pine, but you wouldn’t get much else out of it, whereas a fruit tree, you chop that down you’ve just lost fruit for generations to come,” he explained.
One of his personal favorite variations on that subject: “If one can drink beer but instead chooses to drink wine, they violate baal tashchit,” he said. “Wine required a lot more resources in ancient times because it’s a lot more difficult to grow the grapes and produce it. So if you’re just willy nilly looking for a drink, the rabbis said you should actually be drinking beer — save wine for special occasions because beer is, agriculturally speaking, more sustainable.”
Overall, Freedman hopes attendees will learn about the very tangible changes they can make in their lives to reduce and reuse, as well as learn more about the work Hazon does in Philadelphia, across the nation and in Israel.
He will be taking a modern approach to these workshops as well, taking into account how we can improve a more sustainable life — which, for him, all goes back to mindfulness.
“For me personally, sort of a practice of mindfulness and really a practice of gratitude is something very important in my life,” he said. “That goes hand-in-hand with waste and sustainability and this idea that when I say a blessing before I eat, it’s not because I think God commanded me and I have to say this. It’s not because Jewish law requires it. I do it because I think it’s really important to take that moment of gratitude and mindfulness and really think about what I’m eating. And when you do that, you’re much more thankful for what you have and much less likely to want to waste anything.”
He added that that gratitude also comes from the acknowledgment of the process that food goes through to end up on your plate.
Take the motzi, the blessing over bread. Freedman said the blessing thanks God for bread, but God only created the seed. People had to plant the seed, water it, harvest it, grind it, mill it and make it into bread before it even becomes bread.
“So every time I say that blessing,” he continued, “that’s what our rabbis intended us, to really be thinking about all the processes that went into that. And if we take that spiritual practice and we live a life of gratitude, of mindfulness, of intentionality — especially around eating — that naturally does lead to less waste and being more conscious about our food choices.”
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To register or for more information, visit bit.ly/HazonPhilly2016.