Jul 20, 2011

Passionate About Food?!

I'm seeing one new Kosher Cooking magazine debuting after another (three so far, in addition to the recipe pages in the frum magazines and newspapers) and the comments I read hail this innovation as utterly marvelous.  Is it really all that marvelous though from either a spiritual or material perspective?

Obesity is skyrocketing so I'm not convinced that magazines devoted to FOOD is the best thing for us.  A recipe column in a magazine is a nice thing; an entire magazine devoted to food is another thing entirely! It is particularly irksome when the word "inspired" is used in one of the magazine titles.  Food is as "inspiring" as the latest hit song is "awesome".  The devaluation of the meaning of words is not doing us any good.

From a spiritual perspective, I fail to see how a title like "Dairy Decadence!" belongs in a publication targeting frum readers.  Nor "Unlimited Ways to Create the Ultimate Grill Fest." Should a frum publication be advertising itself as a "Gourmet Food Magazine for the Kosher Epicure"? Should a kosher magazine with a website describe itself as being "for people with good taste who are passionate about food"? Passionate about food?! Does this fit with anything we've learned in our Jewish studies? I think not.

R' Avraham David of Botshash, a posek and a Chasid of R' Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, ate very little.  He would often say, "Eating makes a man unspiritual.  Adam sinned through eating; the angels maintain their lofty spiritual heights because they don't need to eat."

We need to eat, and Shabbos and Yom Tov are days that we honor and celebrate with special food.  Seudos mitzva are also occasions for special food.  However, it seems that our preoccupation with food and its presentation has gotten out of hand.  Special occasions like an upsheren, bar mitzva etc. are not reason enough to celebrate and a theme is sought.  I thought the upsheren, bar mitzva etc. are the theme!

I read an interview with a woman who has produced some popular cookbooks which I found quite distasteful (ha).  Her mission is to put gourmet, high-class kosher cooking into the hands of every cook, in an attempt to spark a renaissance in kosher cooking.   To me, this is Artscroll promoting "naval b'reshus ha'Torah."  As far as I know, neither the Chofetz Chaim nor any other gadol sees promoting gourmet kosher cooking as a way to bring Moshiach.

In terms of recipe hunting, this particular author says she leaves no stone unturned. Having mined the best of friends and family members' repertoires, she now works with seasoned chefs to develop novel and creative formulas. She's an avid reader of menus from kosher and non-kosher upscale restaurants. The chefs she invites to her home help her cook up exciting new recipes as she observes and takes notes.

Why are frum publishers glorifying this? Are we so lacking in recipes for good food that we need to "develop novel and creative" new ones? Or is it more likely that this is about making money and without new and exciting recipes (what's an exciting recipe?) there are no new cookbooks and no sales.  And this also explains the outrageous recent advertisement by a "gourmet kosher supermarket" that was in such poor taste (ha).  We can sustain gourmet kosher supermarkets because we buy the cookbooks that present us with recipes with gourmet ingredients.  Then we sustain the gastric bypass industry, nutritionists, the eating disorder programs, personal trainers, and weight loss programs ... and wonder why we feel spiritually empty.

I'm in favor of good cooking. I'm in favor of making special things for Shabbos and Yom Tov.  I'm in favor of showing not-yet religious Jews that kosher cooking is delicious.  But I don't think we need a renaissance in our cooking or an entire aisle of kosher snack food and another aisle of kosher cookies, and I do think we, as a frum society, need to put food in perspective and use it in positive ways, in our service of Hashem.


  1. I agree all the way but even more so. There are gas stations in frum neighborhoods that sell cholent on Thursday nights. Boy are they selling gas (ha)!
    I am against anything that makes any part of frumkeit either more expensive, more competitive or more work.
    There are some people whose every conversation must revolve around food and what restaurants that they went to lately and who served what, where. At least it isn't lashon hara but to me it is not that interesting. If I have a few extra dollars, I eat cheap and buy TOYS (for the grandkids). I just had a great time at the toy shop.
    All kidding aside, new gimmicks to get people to feel inadequate if they do not spend what the neighbors are spending are invented every day. A rabbi told me that if people can't afford Shabbos without going into debt, they should eat a weekday meal on Shabbos. He said that the fish could be sardines.

  2. I find it interesting that we have different reasons for our opposition.

    Yours: expense, competition, more work.

    Mine: it contradicts our Jewish values and it's ekeldig!

    A frum magazine had Shabbos recipes in its weekly column. One recipe was weirder than the next and none of them were appealing to me. Seemed the author was desperate to prsent something "different" and I guess "exciting," and this is what she came up with.