Tell Me Your Food Story

I’ve been into polls lately. I don’t mean the political polls concerning the upcoming election (though I’ve been keeping an eye on those as well). I mean informal polls where a question is posed and open for discussion. It’s empowering to have a forum to express my opinion. I enjoy the opportunity for self-reflection and appreciate the glimpse into the zeitgeist that polls provide. However, in a normal day of paper reading and blog surfing, I rarely come across polls asking questions I find particularly interesting or valuable. “Is Paris too exposed?” “Should Don Imus apologize?” Nope, not relevant to my life.

Last week, at my post as guest editor of Jewcy’s blog, The Daily Shvitz, I asked readers to answer a series of multiple choice questions about how they make food choices, whether or not they eat meat (and whether killing it themselves would impact their decision), and how they relate to kashrut. The answers were fascinating and diverse – just like the Jewish community. Access that survey here.

This week on Lilith, I want to ask something a little more open ended. It almost goes without saying that Jewish women and food have a complicated relationship (weight, cooking, tradition, and commandments – need I say more?)

So, I want to hear from you: As a Jewish woman, what has been your most profound “food moment?” (Men, you are more than welcome to answer the question from your own point of view.) I interested in hearing moments from across the good, bad, and ugly spectrum – anything that was formative for you.

For me, the first time I baked challah was up there. So was the time I dealt with the possibility that my kosher-keeping partner might not be comfortable eating in my non-kosher kitchen.

What’s yours?

–Leah Koenig

17 comments on “Tell Me Your Food Story

  1. Aviva on

    Good and bad food moments. Good would also be the first time I baked challah. Interestingly, the first person I called with the news was my Sicilian grandmother, not my Jewish one. Bad food moment would be an Easter that occured in or around Passover and trying to get my Sicilian relatives to let me know which dishes had pork in them. It was quite difficult and I wasn’t getting straight answers so I gave in and ate, but felt very guilty afterward.

  2. Susan on

    My most profound food moment was the first date I had with my (now) husband – 31 years ago. We went out to a local restaurant & I was able to eat my entire meal without my stomach turning in knots. It was then that I knew this was the man I was going to marry. And I did – barely four months after that first date!

  3. Dawn on

    All holidays involve food – either eating or not eating. Having a birthday that comes in October means that I have had Yom Kippur break-fast birthday cake (let me tell you, it really is sweeter after a full day of not eating anything). Yet I think my two biggest food moments within Judaism both relate to Passover. The first time was when my parents had just moved and they stated that they weren’t going to have a seder…I had 10 people come and eat seder in my less than 500 sq. ft. apartment (by the way, it is scary to realize that your Passover dishes have metal around the rims – sparks in the microwave!). The next huge Passover memory is when my mother died and my sister said – “it’s mine.” She claimed the rites to cooking the seder, and she did everything our mom did, to a T. It’s amazing. Each year she asks me if the Charoset is like mom’s. It always is.

  4. Ruth Z Deming on

    There I was married to the gentile man of my dreams and living in his town of Austin, TX. Was I the only Jew? I sure felt like it after I made my delicious liver pate in the blender: a yummy concoction of chicken livers, vino, hard boiled eggs, homemade mayo, and tiny celery chunks. I missed my Jewish family back East, especially b/c I had to eat the whole thing by myself spread on homemade rye crackers straight out of Tasajara Bread Book. This alienation from my Jewish culture symbolized a deeper alientation between husband and wife. Each of us in later years would find partners more to our liking and best of all, we can break bread together without enmity for the sake of our 2 beautiful liver-lovin’ kids.

  5. Sima Matthes on

    I just had an incredibly profound food moment a few weeks ago, while sitting at a local diner with my cousin.

    A little background: My cousin, from the Sefardi side, has always been a size 2 or smaller. That whole side is skinny, dark haired and stylish. Quite frankly, I’ve always been intimidated by their beauty and confidence.

    She is a nutritionist, and I am bartering my public relations skills for nutritional counseling. Weight has always been an issue for those of us on the Ashkenaz side of the family.

    Anyway, we’re sitting at lunch, and I let her order whatever it is we’re supposed to eat. She orders a salad with chicken for us to share.

    The salad arrives, and it’s huge, but not unlike any other salad or diner portion that is usually a single meal for the fair-haired side.

    We each take a portion, and chatting, we eat. Then we take another portion each, and THERE’S STILL SALAD LEFT, which we have packed up.

    My father and my late husband were both charter members of the clean-plate club, and my mother has decided that she’s not interested in anything that feels like deprivation, even if it would make her feel better in the long run.

    I remark to my cousin that I’ve NEVER experienced that before–two portions each, and still taking home leftovers–and she gasps in disbelief. Why, she often eats for three days on the leftovers! And THAT is why she is a size 2.

  6. Rachal Ginsberg on

    I, also, married the gentile man of my dreams, who is now a convert to Judiasm and more serious then I ever dreamed of.
    We now live in Israel and have seven children. When I was pregnant with our secound child we were still in America and I asked him to go to the store and buy me Hagan Daz Vanillia Ice Cream.
    I had a craving. He came back with Breyers Vanillia. I flipped out and cried like a raving lunatic. He had to go back to the store for the Hagan Daz. This memory has had an enormous effect on our marriage. We have extremely different taste buds. He gave up all his treif food and went 100% kosher. For Shabbos I prepare white flour Challote for him and whole wheat challote for me. Most of the children like what Mommy likes.He
    claims these picky eaters were created in Utero. He still prefers Breyers over Hagan Daz. Each of us have remained somewhat stubborn with our taste buds and with this food lesson we teach our children it is OK to be married and like different foods. It just may keep Mommy in the kitchen a little longer and Daddy knows he must behave like a Mench to have his favorite foods prepared.
    If Daddy’s not good he eats it the way MOMMY likes it.

  7. Susie Morgenstern on

    I wrote a book about this (in French) called “Confession d’une grosse patate” (Confession of a fatso), a whole chapter on my mother ! I’ll be doing a one-woman show based on the book in New York, Miami and Washington in October (in French at the Alliance française). Food comments are too long and complex to be put in this little box but I think it all started with the hard boiled eggs my mother served us in the women’s toilets in the synagogue on Yom Kippur when we were children. Everything about food is forbidden and tabou.

  8. Vicki on

    If I dare to eat something on the forbidden list (which pretty much resembles anything with flavor) it must satisfy my mummmm factor. If it does not just make me swoon, I will not eat it. It must be WORTH the calories or it does not make the cut. I also eat it slowly and in small servings. Once the mummm factor quiets and the tastebuds are coated I stop eating it. Works pretty well.

  9. Leah Koenig on

    Thank you Aviva, Susan, Dawn and Ruth for your stories – they show food’s true power to bring us together and connect us to our heritage and family, and also it’s potential to be divisive within our communities.

    Who else has a story to share?

  10. Bob on

    There have been lots of Food Moments in my life, involving Jewish foods that I grew up with, and subsequent non-Jewish foods I’ve enountered (e.g., sushi).

    While searching though my memories, I recalled a magical moment that helped define me as a person, rather than an extension of my father.

    For some reason, my father had a visceral revoltion to any white creamy food. While I was growing up, I never saw (let alone tasted) any cream soup or cream sauce. It was verboden in our house.

    In 9th grade, I went to Maine with a group of friends. In a restaurant, I ordered “Clam Chowder”, expecting to get the tomato-based Manhatten version. The only kind I knew. A big bowl of WHITE appeared on my plate. I sat stunned and confused. After a few moments, I decided to taste it.

    It was wonderful. I had never eaten anything like it before. And it helped me realize that my father’s ways were not necessarily MY ways. New England Clam Chowder was the beginning of my sense of independence.

  11. anita on

    for me it is cookies cookies cookies…i used them when i was a crisis counselor in the er on the graveyard shift to calm down the psych admits..but the best cookie memory—when i was young we all–meaning the aunts uncles cousins and my mother brothers father–went to long island beaches. we would go early in the morn and stay until sundown..while everyone was prepping for dinner, i got to sit by the shore line and eat the leftover cookies from the day, u see no-one wanted them because they were soggy after all day, but to me they were heaven, and i could sit there alone and munch to my heart’s content…to this day, i like to sit by the ocean late in the day and munch (soft) cookies and be alone w/my thoughts, and i am 56! oy vey!

  12. Joyce on

    My food moment is not my own, really — it belongs to my daughter but it is such a family story that I have to share it. One of my favorite foods is smoked tongue, prepared the way my mother did. My family seemed to like it as much as I did. Until the day when I had it defrosting on the drainboard and my daughter realized that it really was a tongue! I had to wait for her to leave home before I could cook it again and 20 years later she is still obsessing about it!

  13. Suzanne on

    For me growing up in a upper middle class reform household, Jewish food was watching our housekeeper grind the chicken liver on the hand grinder attached to the kitchen table and having matzoh ball soup. I got introduced to what I considered to be real Jewish food at the kitchen table in my mother-in-law’s house. Eating her brisket, my first ever, was almost a religious moment. I was introduced to sweet and sour tongue, pickled lox, lox, eggs and onions. The former two recipes died with my in-laws, I am sorry to say.
    I began writing memoirs seven years ago, in a class. The first prompt, was “Are you from a Pot Roast family?” Listening to all of the class members writings about brisket, reminded me of all of the ways that we Jews are similar and of many of the ways in which we all different.
    My children and grandchildren’s connections with Jewish food is different from mine, but much can be traced to what I learned at my mother-n-law’s elbow.

  14. marlene klotz on

    I grew up in a totally secular home. The Jewish holidays meant little more than having a day or two off from school. I never knew how much I missed until I was an adult, married, and raising a large family. My life changed when a darling neighbor down the street became a surrogate grandmother to my children. Rose Karp took me under her wing and taught me about Jewish cooking. My first experience was making chicken soup from scratch. More than the delight of learning to cook traditional dishes from Rose’s own recipes, she stirred my interest in Judaism and what I had probably longed for all along. Thanks to Rose and her Jewish recipes, I began a journey that resulted in a bat-mitzvah at a late age in life. And P.S. I always think of Rose each time I make chicken soup. Marlene Klotz

  15. Persephone on

    Wow! good story, I am also fond of delicious food, generally i prefer to buy my food items on, OmahaSteaks and stores at

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