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Sustainable Simchas

I spent 5 days of the last 7 talking about, thinking about, creating, and eating FOOD. How did I accomplish such a luxurious feat? By attending (or, rather, helping to organize and run) Hazon’s 2nd Annual Food Conference: Planting the Seeds for the New Jewish Food Movement.

The conference included a mix of hands-on cooking demonstrations and challah baking, as well as panels and sessions on topics related to health and body image, sustainable agriculture, kashrut, Jewish cultural foods, brachot (blessings), food policy, and the ethics of eating. The greatest upside was meeting the 240+ rabbis, farmers, chefs, gardeners, nutritionists, and food enthusiasts who attended the conference. The downside was that, at any given moment, there was just so much going on…participants joked about cloning themselves to experience everything the conference had to offer.

One session that I was especially sorry to miss was “Sustainable Simchas.” Most simchas (weddings, b’nai mitzvot, Shabbat onegs, etc.) generate a
significant amount of waste, whether held at a synagogue (styrofoam hot cups and unseasonal fruit platters featuring watermelon in the dead of
winter), a wedding hall (does one really need a sushi station, hamburger station, and a mashed potato bar?), or in one’s home (cases of plastic soda bottles and a mountain of paper plates.) The panelists offered suggestions and resources to create thoughtful, joyous celebrations (weddings, b’nai mitzvot, Shabbat onegs etc.) without the environmentally unfriendly baggage.

One particularly fascinating aspect of the panel – aside from just being interesting and useful – was that all the panelists were women. (Even despite the general predominance of male presenters at the conference.) One woman, Edith Stevenson, ran a kosher catering service out of her synagogue. Another, Dasee Berkowitz, is currently developing a service called JLife Consulting, which helps young couples and families plan Jewish simchas. A third, Barbara Lerman-Golomb, helped create the “green synagogues” program with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL).

Noticing this helped me realize just how much throwing simchas and party-planning in general continues to be “women’s work” in the Jewish community. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing – on the contrary, it puts these women in a position of influence to make a positive environmental difference with their family and community celebrations. Still, as I and my mostly-female co-workers ran around the Food Conference setting up chairs and making sure snacks were in the right place at the right time, it seemed like important “food for thought.”

For more resources, check out the “Sustainable Kiddush” resource list at The Jew & The Carrot.

–Leah Koenig