Posts Tagged ‘Food’

A Vegetarian Pesach

April 19, 2011

Since high school, I have observed some form of vegetarian diet.  At times I was super strict – “No thanks.  I can’t eat that veggie burger because you cooked it on the same grill as your beef burger.”  At other times, I was more flexible – “Miss another year of Grandma Sarah’s infamous chicken soup with matzoh balls?  No thanks.  I think the earth and animals can forgive me just one bowl…”

Passover presents a special challenge to those of us who count grams of protein rather than calories.  Aside from passing over matzoh ball soup in chicken broth, Ashkenazi Jews – those of us who descend from families from Eastern Europe – are expected to pass on legumes as well.  This means no soy (think tofu, soy milk, tempeh), no chick peas, and no lentils.  These are staples of many vegetarian diets.

I found the following recommendation for getting protein during the holiday on a discussion board about vegetarian Pesach meal planning:
“Remember that you want to get protein into your diet, not necessarily into the main course. Cheesecake or a rich chocolate torte (the kind where the recipe begins: separate a dozen eggs) can follow a vegetable main course.”
Cheesecake for dinner?  That doesn’t sound so bad, but it doesn’t sound too healthy either.  Part of the reason I eat a primarily vegetarian diet is to show respect for the body I have been loaned to live in.  Not to mention, what does this offer a vegan??

The Ashkenazi Rabbis expanded the prohibition of eating leavened bread to any food that expands or ferments and any food that might be ground into flour and confused for wheat, rye, barley, spelt, or oats.  As with the inclusion of chicken on the list of meats that should not be eaten with dairy products, they wanted to avoid confusion.  Nevermind that a chicken could never be boiled in its mother’s milk…  They made an exception for potatoes because these were a staple of the Eastern European diet.

Elsewhere, in Spain, Italy, and the Middle East, for example, the Rabbis allowed rice for the same reason.  Vegetarian Jews from these areas, Sephardim, can also enjoy all the legumes they can bear to eat.  My grandfather used to say that his family was expelled from Spain during the inquisition – usually as an explanation for my mother and her brother’s dark skin.  We never heard much more about it, and in all ways my grandpa enacted the role of an Ashkenazi.  But at Passover, I embrace this bit of family history and allow myself a few legumes along with my bowl of matzoh bowl soup made following Grandma Sarah’s recipe.

Beyond the basics – no pork, no milk and meat, no shellfish – a lot of Jewish dietary laws are about traditions of interpretation.  I’m not a Rabbi.  I’m not trying to change the laws of Passover.  I am however devoted to treading lightly on this earth and maintaining my health – especially now that I am breastfeeding and essentially eating for two.  My traditions for Passover no longer mirror those I grew up with – strict Ashkenazi – they are my own.