"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


Guest Post: Cooking Up a Vegan Passover

The following was written by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, cohost of the Post Punk Kitchen. Moskowitz is the author of Vegan With a Vengeance: Over 150 Delicious, Cheap, Animal-Free Recipes That Rock and coauthor of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes for Cupcakes That Rule.

My family has been calling me for a few weeks now, wondering if I am going to show up for Passover. This is my tradition, I like to keep them guessing. My family is precariously Jewish throughout the whole year, it is not uncommon to see shrimp and bacon on their h’ors d’ouvres tray at Hannukah or for them to sneak a little nosh before breaking fast at Yom Kippur. Even though I don’t follow Kosher law it makes me a little bit queasy, not just because I’m vegan but because they are supposed to be Jewish.

But they always get it together for Passover. We all have our little Kiddush pamphlets (could that be the first zine?) and we go around the table in our various degrees of Brooklyn accent asking the four questions.

I love them all dearly but after 18 years of vegetarianism they still don’t get that I won’t eat the matzoh balls even though there is only “A bisel of chicken stock.” So I do what any 7th level vegan would, I bring my own food.

Making a vegan Seder plate is easy and some people on my message boards had great ideas, like using an avocado instead of an egg. Or one person suggested flax seeds since seeds represent the same thing that an egg might, fertility, growth and potential, plus flax seeds make a great egg replacer so it really works. You can replace lamb with a yam (because it rhymes) but beets, I learned, are given the seal of approval by the Talmud itself.

Since the food laws of Passover vary from Ashkenaz and Sephardic, you may or may not want to bring your own Matzoh Ball Soup since it contains tofu and legumes are sometimes a no-no, but my rabbi says it's okay so I place the cooked matzoh balls in one Tupperware container and the broth in a separate one and away we go.

Here are some other Passover friendly recipes that are sure to make Elijah happy if he gets a little munchy after the wine:

Potato Latkes
Makes about 18

Sure, they’re a Hannukah tradition, but they’re Passover friendly so no one will complain!

2 1/2 pounds starchy white potatoes, peeled (russets, idaho, et al)
1 small yellow onion, peeled
1/4 cup potato or corn starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups matzoh meal
Lots of vegetable oil

If using a food processor:
Use the grating blade to shred the potatoes and the onion.

If shredding by hand, use a grater to shred all the potatoes. Dice the onion as finely as possible.

Have ready brown paper shopping bags or paper towels for draining the oil from the latkes. You may also want to have the oven on at 200°F to keep the latkes warm until you're ready to serve. If serving immediately then just have a baking pan covered with tin foil ready to keep the finished ones warm after they've been drained.

In a large mixing bowl, using a wooden spoon or your hands (I use my hands, it's faster) mix the potatoes and onions with the potato starch until the potatoes have released some moisture and the cornstarch is dissolved, about 2 minutes.

Add the salt and pepper to combine. Add the matzoh meal and mix well. Set aside for about 10 minutes. The mixture should get liquid-y but sticky.

In the meantime, preheat a large preferably cast iron but definitely non-stick skillet over medium heat, a little bit on the high side. Add about 1/4 inch layer of vegetable oil to the pan. The oil is hot enough when you throw a bit of batter in and bubbles rapidly form around it. If it immediately smokes then the heat is too high and you should lower it a bit. If the bubbles are really lazy then give it a few more minutes or turn the heat up a bit.

With wet hands (so that the mixture doesn't stick) roll into small golf ball sized balls. Flatten into thin round patties. I do about 4 to six at a time. Fry on one side for about 4 minutes, until golden brown. Flip over and fry for another 3 minutes.

Transfer to the paper towels and proceed with the remaining latkes. Once latkes have drained on both sides, place in a baking pan to keep warm.

Sweet Potato Pear Tzimmes with Pecans and Raisins
Serves 6

2 pounds yams, peed and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
3 firm bartlett pears, cut into 3/4 inch chunks (without the seeds of course)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus spray on a little more if it needs it
2 tablespoons mirin (or any sweet cooking wine)
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup pecan halves
3/4 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 350.

Place yams and pears on a large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with the oil and mirin and mix it all up to make sure everything is coated. I just use my hands for this. I use my hands for everything, actually. Add the maple syrup, cinnamon, salt and pecans and toss to coat.

Cover with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the tin foil and add the raisins. Carefully toss to combine using a thin flexible spatula and being careful not to break up the sweet potatoes. But tzimmes is a forgiving dish, so if some get mushed up that's perfectly acceptable.

Return to the oven uncovered and bake for a 1/2 hour more, tossing every now and again. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Mushroom Walnut Pate (this uses beans, too, so check with your hosts if that is okay)

3 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 cup chopped onions
3 cloves garlic - minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 pound crimini or portobello mushrooms - chopped and any hard stems removed
3/4 teaspoon salt
few shakes of fresh ground pepper

1 cup toasted walnuts
3/4 cup cannelini beans - drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
up to 1/4 cup vegetable broth

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute for 3-5 minutes until translucent. Add garlic, thyme, tarragon, salt and pepper and cook for another minute. Next add mushrooms, and cook for 7-10 minutes until mushrooms are very soft, lowering heat if necessary.

While mushrooms are cooking add walnuts to food processor and process until fine.

Once mushrooms have cooked add the mushroom/onion mixture to the walnuts along with balsamic vinegar, cannelini beans and remaining tablespoon of olive oil and process until very smooth adding vegetable broth as needed. Texture should resemble a thick paste.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.


Gloria Steinem

I went to see feminist icon Gloria Steinem speak tonight. She spoke about some very interesting things, and I don't mean to detract from the important messages that she focused on. Nevertheless, I'd like to dedicate this post to the topics I usually talk about: Judaism and animal rights.

Steinem is Jewish on her father's side, and she has said that "the Jewish tradition encourages your mind to work, includes social justice, is more circular and less hierarchical." My sources tell me that she's a vegetarian, and she has noted that animal rights and feminism go "much more hand in hand than people think." Steinem devoted a chapter to animal issues in her bestselling book Revolution From Within, and she was married to animal advocate David Bale. Here are some pearls of wisdom from Gloria Steinem:

* "There is still slavery in the world. There is still a valuing of human beings according to their race or class or gender or culture or sexuality. Part of the reason for this cutting off of empathy is the anaesthetizing of our senses to the suffering of animals. Once we grow callous, we cannot feel fully for anyone—not even for ourselves." (source)
* “I am adding my voice to others calling for an end to these and other cruel and useless experiments—on behalf of the animals who are being pointlessly made to suffer and die, on behalf of women whose health concerns are starved for funds, and on behalf of taxpayers who are being defrauded.” (source)
* “The reason why the animal rights movement is so disproportionately women is … first of all … we don’t have our masculinity to prove, so nobody is as likely to tell us that we’re supposed to master—or dominate—animals. And also I think we identify with them—there’s that kind of voicelessness and powerlessness and vulnerability that perhaps, though many men identify with it, too, perhaps especially women do.” (source)


Kabbalah of Character

On Tuesday night, I wrapped up an eight-week course called the Kabbalah of Character. It was given at the local Chabad House and was run by The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute.

The class examined all the different sefirot: keter, da'at, chochmah, binah, chesed, gevurah, tiferet, netzach, hod, yesod, and malchut. After weeks of exploring intellectual and emotional sefirot, we looked at malchut as an example of action in the last class. After exploring chracteristics like chesed (lovingkindness) in ourselves, it was time to shift the focus to practical applications. And in that last class (billed as "Think Globally, Act Locally: Translate your vision for the world into personal action"), everything really seemed to come together. All our questions of "What is my role in the world?" and "In what way can I best serve my purpose by helping the world?" seemed to lead to an obvious but important conclusion: by taking action.

What kind of action? Well, that depends on who we are, what we’ve said is important to us in our private journal exercises, and the ways we’re best suited to make a difference. We read a Maimonides quote that said, "A person must view the world as if it were a scale equally balanced. If he chooses to do a negative act, there will be negative repercussions; if he will choose to do a positive act at this particular time, the scale will tilt towards redemption and salvation." The instructor pointed out that performing mitzvot and being kind to others are good ways to "tip the scale" ever so slightly toward the positive side.

But are there ways to tip the scale more than slightly? Shouldn't we aim for more? Of course, I don't mean to imply that Maimonides or the instructor would say "No" to these questions. But I think they are important questions to ask. I'm reminded of a quote from Quaker leader Stephen Grellet that I frequently come across: "I expect to pass through the world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness I can show to any creature, let me do it now." I suppose we aren’t required to try to tip the scale a massive amount, but in the face of horrible conditions for animals (or any other worthwhile cause, for that matter), shouldn’t we aspire to tip the scale as much as we can? It’s food for thought, and there’s no one right answer.

The final quote in the final chapter of our textbook—also from Maimonides—struck me:
Just as the wisdom of a wise person is recognizable in his intellectual pursuits ... so too should it be recognizable in his actions, the way he eats, and so forth ....
"The way he eats"? Maimonides is almost certainly referring to kashrut, but I still read into it in my own way.


Chag Purim!

I hosted a small Purim get-together last night, but there were a few mishaps along the way! I tried making Hain Superfruit (think vegan Jello) and vegan hamantaschen. The no-expiration-date Hain Superfruit seemed unusually hard a few years after purchase, so I threw it out. As for the hamantaschen, my smoke detector went off shortly after I turned on the oven, so I decided not to use the oven until I clean it thoroughly. I haven't used the oven since moving in to a new apartment a few weeks ago, and it appears that grease from all the meat made by the former tenant set off the smoke detector. Oh, meat, you remind me of Haman: You tried to ruin everything for the Jews on Purim! I shall take my noisemaker and wave it around whenever I hear thine name!

But overall, the night was fun. A friend and I went to the family service at my shul instead of the "adult" one, and I don't see any reason to go back to the other! My Loch Ness Monster costume was a big hit. The young boy in a duck costume in front of me seemed to greatly enjoy it; I couldn't help but feel gratified after all my tireless efforts in behalf of ducks. Afterward, a few friends came over to watch For Your Consideration (the Home for Purim movie). If only we had hamantaschen!

To read a wonderful article about how kosher pork (i.e., vegan mock-pork products) are perfect for Purim, click here.


Questionable Rituals Involving Chickens

Rituals are a funny thing. I once heard a lecturer on Hinduism explain rituals in the following way. Suppose you were an alien who came to this planet and attended a football game. Thousands of screaming people were standing up and singing along to the national anthem. You and I might find this commonplace, but to someone not familiar with the custom, it would seem very bizarre.

There are two lessons to be learned here. On the one hand, if you’re observing someone else’s ritual, be respectful of what seems strange and don't be too quick to judge. On the other hand, if you’ve become too close to your own ritual to be able to evaluate it objectively, bear in mind the words of Peter Singer: "It's easy for us to criticize the prejudices of our grandfathers, from which our fathers freed themselves. It is more difficult to distance ourselves from our own views, so that we can dispassionately search for prejudices among the beliefs and values we hold."

Last month, Kansas State fans threw three chickens onto a basketball court at a game against archrival Kansas. The ritual is supposedly a way of poking fun at Kansas' "Jayhawk" mascot. I'm sure the chicken throwers didn't think much about the animals' welfare and were just out to have fun, but that's the problem: They didn't consider the chickens' interests. Kansas State has taken an admirable stance condemning the "likely illegal" throwing of chickens.

Every year leading up to Yom Kippur, some Jews participate in the custom of kapparot by waving around chickens in the air. The ritual is supposedly a way of transferring their sins to the birds. I'm sure the chicken wavers don't think much about the animals' welfare and are just looking to follow a Jewish tradition, but that's the problem: They don't adequately consider the chickens' interests. The local SPCA in New York has taken an admirable stand cracking down on the likely illegal conditions in which the chickens are kept, and a complaint was filed after one recent episode left three dozen abandoned chickens dead.

Both of these rituals probably seem quite harmless and worthwhile to their participants. But to outsiders, they seem like unnecessary animal exploitation and, in some cases, abuse. We shouldn't form judgments about these rituals based on whether they're longstanding traditions for us or whether they seem foreign. We should distance ourselves from our own views and objectively evaluate these rituals' use of animals. Only then can we reach a fair conclusion that takes the best interests of everyone—both the practitioners and the victims—into account.