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Prisoner Fights for Kosher Food and More News

Prisoner Fights for Kosher Food and More News


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In today's Media Mix, Red Lobster targets non-seafood eaters, plus funding problems for the FDA

Arthur Bovino

The Daily Meal brings you the biggest news from the food world.

Jewish Prisoner Fights for Kosher Food: An inmate in Texas says his freedom of religion has been violated because his prison has not given him kosher food. [Reuters]

Red Lobster Goes Turf Over Surf: The Darden Restaurants chain is adding more non-seafood items to the menu. [Bizjournals]

Food Safety Laws Have No Money: The FDA chief says that a lack of funding has made the newest food safety laws nearly impossible to implement. [Chicago Tribune]

Minibar by José Andrés Reopens: After a summer hiatus, minibar will open in a new location in Washington, D.C. [Washington Post]

Marcus Samuelsson and Chefs Join LinkedIn: The new LinkedIn Today lets you follow "food influencers," like Samuelsson, for advice and insight. [Linkedin Today]


Green zone: the US soldiers fighting for vegan food

The DLA, a federal agency that decides what goes in MREs, confirmed that currently no MREs are vegan but declined to explain why or say whether the military would consider changing this. Illustration: Sonny Ross for Guardian US

The DLA, a federal agency that decides what goes in MREs, confirmed that currently no MREs are vegan but declined to explain why or say whether the military would consider changing this. Illustration: Sonny Ross for Guardian US

The US military doesn’t provide plant-based meals, often leaving vegan service members to rely on snacks – but some are seeing a rise in like-minded comrades

Last modified on Wed 5 Jun 2019 14.32 BST

John, a specialist in the US army, went vegan in 2018 while deployed in the Middle East after he started practicing Buddhism.

“I’m living in a world of violence by being in the military but trying to live the most peaceful lifestyle that I can,” John says. “Choosing not to be violent in my everyday life when I don’t have to be is something I wholeheartedly say falls in line with my religious beliefs and military values.”

The military will accommodate a kosher, halal and vegetarian diet for troops, but no meals ready to eat (MREs) – which deployed soldiers rely on for breakfast, lunch and dinner – are totally plant-based. Like other vegan soldiers, John often has to rely on snacks. He once spent a month eating just bread, crackers, peanut butter and canned vegetables.

“It was just a miserable time,” he says. “We were in the field and had one meal a day. I went four days straight eating exclusively green beans.” He was fatigued, an obvious problem for soldiers in combat. “You want soldiers to be at their most capable and their most mentally and physically prepared for any action,” he says.

John prefers not to use his real name because he is worried about further ostracizing himself.

He says he is often told he’s not a man if he doesn’t eat meat. “Someone told me that being vegan is against God and being vegan makes me weak,” he recalls of an exchange while standing in line for a physical. Because the man who said it outranked him, John didn’t argue.

“Part of being vegan in the military is learning that there are some conversations that aren’t even worth having with people,” he says with a sigh. “I get a lot of shit for it.”

While the number of vegans in the military has never been officially determined, John isn’t alone. Anecdotally, vegan service members I spoke with report a rise in like-minded comrades, one that reflects a larger social trend: in 2017, there were five times as many vegans in America as in 2014. Part of the problem in making the case for vegan MREs as well as more plant-based options in military dining facilities is that no hard data on the number of vegans soldiers exists. Both the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and the army public affairs office declined to comment on whether they have plans to evaluate how many service members either require or are interested in plant-based options.

The DLA, a federal agency that decides what goes in MREs, confirmed that currently no MREs are vegan but declined to explain why or say whether the military would consider changing this. “There may have been a vegetarian entree that was also vegan. To date, there has been no military service requirement for vegan MREs,” the DLA commented via email which also verified that four of the 24 MRE options are vegetarian.

A couple of weeks ago, a dining hall in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, became the first to offer a plant-based entree at every meal, thanks to the ongoing advocacy of one vegan soldier.

But at all other dining halls, service members have to put in requests for a plant-based option, though there’s no requirement for those requests to be fulfilled. Junior service members may not know it’s within their rights to make such a request in the first place. If they do know, they may not want to further differentiate themselves by making a special request, instead choosing to get by the occasional plant-based entree or sides of vegetables – though vegan service members say those are often cooked in butter – or the salad bar, if they’re lucky enough to have one.

“Two years ago, if you were to say the word ‘vegan’ to me, I would’ve told you to not bother talking to me about it,” Chief Petty Officer Thomas Shearin, a mechanic in the US Coast Guard stationed in Miami, says. “You weren’t going to recruit me. I didn’t climb to the top of the food chain to eat rabbit food.

“Growing up in Texas, if you ate tofu instead of barbecue chicken, you definitely didn’t grow up playing football,” Shearin says. Now, he no longer equates meat with masculinity and proudly makes his own seitan at home. Most significantly, and to his own surprise, his veganism has become about more than addressing his lack of energy, high blood pressure and fear of reaching the military’s maximum weight limit. In less than two years, he says it has also become an ethical stance for the environment and animals.

Shearin went vegan while stationed in Saudi Arabia, where he met Master Chief Petty Officer Eric Gibson, who has been vegan for more than five years – initially to appease his animal rights-minded wife before going “full vegan” to manage his health.

While both Shearin and Gibson say the transition has been doable for them in the Coast Guard, they note that their high rank and not being deployed helps. Unlike John, they don’t have to rely on MREs for food and rank high enough to feel comfortable asking dining facilities to provide a vegan option. They are more likely to be accommodated because of their rank.

Interestingly, the military already has prepackaged vegan meals they’re just not for soldiers. A DLA spokesperson confirmed that while some meals distributed as humanitarian aid to civilians are not classified as vegan, “these meals contain no animal products or by-products, except that minimal amounts of dairy products are permitted.” Having vegan meals as humanitarian aid makes sense – plant-based food is more easily made halal, can be less perishable and may be less expensive.

Indeed, in California, where a new law gave incarcerated people the right to request plant-based meals, legislative analysis found that the vegan options might be cheaper than traditional prison food, saving the state money in the long term. Although the law is new, it means that California inmates, whether they identify as vegan or not, now have more access to plant-based food than US service members.

Financial incentives may be at play in the military as well. Gibson says he thinks a lot of the military’s decisions are linked to industries the government subsidizes, like dairy and meat. This is just one more hurdle, but it seems soldiers continue to look for plant-based alternatives. John says fellow service members now frequently tell him they met another vegan soldier that day – something he almost never heard four years ago.

Shearin has experienced this change too: “It seems like every unit that I go to and visit, I come across people that are vegan, or who want to go vegan and they’re just not sure how to do it.” He encourages them to try a one-month vegan challenge and tells them if he can go plant-based, anyone can.

“My view has changed,” Shearin says. “We have a responsibility to the planet we’re on right now. I tell people if they’re vegan three days a week, that’s three days a week that they’re helping the planet. I would call that a win for them and for me.”


5 recipes for Thanksgivukkah

“What holiday do we have coming up?” Liam, 7, asks his mother, Einat Admony, 42, the Israeli-born chef behind a burgeoning mini-empire of Middle Eastern restaurants that includes Taim, Balaboosta, the soon-to-open Bar Bolonat and a new cookbook. “Hanukkah? Thanksgiving?”

“Both together,” Admony declares, tidying up the kitchen of the sprawling Fort Greene loft she shares with her husband and business partner, Stefan Nafziger, Liam and daughter Mika, 4.

Einat Admony named her restaurant and cookbook “Balaboosta” — Yiddish for “perfect housewife.”

This Thanksgiving will mark the first time in 125 years that Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah fall on the same day, giving Admony a perfect excuse to infuse Thanksgiving classics with some traditional Jewish and Middle Eastern flavors.

“I’ll do some of the stuff that I like and want to eat,” she says, noting plans to do a turkey with pomegranate sauce based on a chicken recipe her mother used to make for Rosh Hashana. But they’ll be spending the holiday with her husband’s relatives in Washington, DC, so she says there will be some more traditional recipes “for the Americans.”

Still, she won’t be cooking pumpkin or pecan pie for her Yankee kin.

“I hate the desserts on Thanksgiving,” says the 5-foot-tall dynamo.

Instead, she plans on serving sufganiyot, an Israeli pastry similar to a donut, for dessert, as a nod to the festival of lights.

“Everything is fried for Hanukkah,” she declares.

The sufganiyot and pomegranate turkey are just a few ideas Admony has for celebrating Thanksgivukkah.

Pumpkin & Saffron Soup

Admony grew up eating a variation of this soup, which can also be made with butternut squash. The saffron and za’atar — a spice mix of sesame seeds, sumac and herbs — give it a Middle Eastern edge. “My mom is Iranian, she always had family sneaking in saffron from Iran,” Admony recalls. “I remember it was like gold.”

Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped, and sauté until golden brown. Don’t be afraid to let the edges turn a deep brown color because this will give the soup an even better flavor. Next, add 1 large leek, white parts only and finely chopped, and 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped. Sauté for another 5 minutes, then add 4 pounds pumpkin, peeled and cut in ½-inch chunks, 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut in ¼–inch chunks, and 5 celery ribs, cut in ¼-inch pieces. Place a cover over the pot and allow the vegetables to cook for 20 minutes.

Next, add ¼ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 2 teaspoons ground white pepper, 10 cups water, 3 sprigs thyme, 1 sprig rosemary and a pinch of saffron. Stir to combine all the seasonings and bring to a boil, then lower heat. Simmer until the vegetables are so soft you can press down on them with a spoon, about 30 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and allow the soup to cool for 10 minutes. Purée the soup directly in the pot using an immersion blender. If you don’t have one of these, allow your soup to cool completely, then purée in small batches in a blender.

Taste and adjust the seasoning. Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls, add a dollop of Greek yogurt on top and a generous sprinkling of za’atar. Serves 4 to 6.

Roasted butternut squash with Asian tahini

“It’s a recipe from one of my best friends from Israel,” says Admony, who takes the beloved gourd in an unexpected direction with this recipe. “Tahini is a very Middle Eastern sauce.”

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk together 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and a pinch of ground black pepper in a large bowl. Pick the leaves from 1 sprig of thyme and add them to the mixture.

Cut 1½ pounds peeled butternut squash into 1-inch thick cubes and toss them in the bowl along with the honey mixture. Mix well to coat evenly.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the butternut squash side-by-side in a single layer. Use a rubber spatula to scrape any remaining mixture from the bowl and drizzle it on top of the butternut squash.

Bake in the oven until tender and crispy, about 1 hour.

To make the Asian tahini: In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, add 1 cup tahini, 1 clove garlic, finely chopped, ½ tablespoon salt, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 6 tablespoons cold water. Process the mixture for few minutes, then add 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, ¼ cup honey and 2 tablespoons soy sauce. Process the mixture until smooth and creamy.

Serve the roasted butternut squash on a flat plate, drizzle tahini on top and garnish with toasted sesame seeds. Serves 4.

Roasted broccoli with pine nuts and currants

“I have two kids, so I’m trying always to work with vegetables in a way that’s going to be exciting for them,” says Admony. Here, she roasts broccoli to give it an unexpected crispiness, then tosses in pine nuts and currants in a nod to the food she grew up eating. “My mom used pine nuts for her famous Persian rice,” she recalls.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Trim 2 pounds of broccoli into bite-sized florets and place in a mixing bowl. Add 8 to 12 garlic cloves, unpeeled, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, grated zest of 1 lemon and the juice of ½ lemon.

Arrange the broccoli in a single layer on the lined baking sheet. Roast in the oven until crisp-tender and parts of the florets have developed a nice brown color, 20 to 30 minutes. Toss with ¼ cup currant and ¼ cup pine nuts. Serves 4 to 6.

Thanksgiving Turkey with Pomegranate Sauce

“We eat a lot of turkey in Israel, but never whole,” says Admony. Here, she gives a whole bird a sweet and sour pomegranate treatment reminiscent of a chicken dish her mother used to make to celebrate the Jewish New Year. “We used to fight over the walnuts in the sauce,” she recalls. “We didn’t have money and walnuts were very expensive. Today I use 2 pounds of walnuts.”

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Position your oven rack in the lower third of the oven.

Rinse a 12-pound turkey with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Rub the outside and cavity of the bird with 2 tablespoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon ground black pepper and 4 tablespoons olive oil. Place seasoned turkey on a rack in a large roasting pan, breast side up.

Put the pan in the oven and roast the bird for 20-30 minutes until the top starts to brown. Then lower the heat down to 350 degrees and roast for another 2 to 2 ½ hours, until the thickest part of the breast registers 165 degrees and the thickest part of the thigh registers 170 degrees. If the top of the turkey starts to brown too much, cover with aluminum foil.

While the turkey is roasting, make the sauce. In a medium saucepan, whisk together 1 cup pomegranate juice, 1 cup pomegranate molasses, ½ cup honey, 2 teaspoons cumin, 2 teaspoons turmeric, ½ cup toasted walnut, a pinch of saffron (optional) and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

About 10 minutes before the turkey is done (when the breast registers 160 degrees and the thigh registers 165 degrees), remove the aluminum foil and brush the top of the turkey with ½ cup of the sauce, place back in the oven and let it caramelize.

Allow the turkey to sit for 20-30 minutes before carving. Serve with the remaining sauce on the side and garnish with pomegranate seeds. Serves 10.

Sufganiyot

Admony traditionally makes these fried Israeli pastries, which are similar to donuts, every year for Hanukkah. This year, she’ll do them for Thanksgiving, but she has no plans to add a fusion element, like pumpkin pie spice. “Certain things are good the way they are,” she says. “You don’t mess with them.”

Place 3 cups of all-purpose flour in the large mixing bowl of a stand mixer if you don’t have a stand mixer, use a large mixing bowl. Create a large well in the center and pour in ¼ cup of room-temperature whole milk, 2 tablespoons active dry yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Let stand until the yeast mixture becomes foamy, about 10 minutes.

In another sugar bowl, stir the remaining ½ cup milk, the remaining sugar (1/3 cup, less 1 tablespoon), 2 large eggs, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon brandy, 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter at room temperature and the zest of half a lemon.

If using stand mixer: With the dough hook attached, turn the mixer to low speed and mix the yeast mixture into the flour. Then slowly add the milk mixture, beating until just well-combined, about 3 minutes. Crank up the setting to knead the dough for 5 minutes.

If using a mixing bowl: Incorporate the flour with the yeast mixture using your hands. Then slowly pour in the milk mixture with one hand while working the flour into the liquid with the other. You can knead the mixture in the bowl or dump it on your kitchen counter over a lightly floured surface. Knead for 5 minutes.

Shape the dough into a large ball and transfer to another bowl slicked with canola oil. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise in a warm place away from any drafts. After an hour, the dough should double in size.

Lightly flour the surface of your work area and roll the dough to a ¼-inch thickness. Use a 2½-inch round cutter or drinking glass to cut the sufganiyot and place them on a lightly dusted baking sheet. Sprinkle a little flour on top of the sufganiyot to prevent sticking and cover with plastic wrap. Let them rise for another 15 minutes in a warm place.

Meanwhile, heat a deep skillet with 2 inches of oil to 365 degrees. Working in small batches, fry the sufganiyot in the hot oil until golden brown, about 30 seconds on each side. Drain on paper towels.

Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a pointed tip with jam. Make a hole at the top of each doughnut using a toothpick or wooden skewer. Insert the pastry bag into the hole and squeeze about a tablespoon of filling into each sufganiyot. Roll them around in some sugar and watch them disappear in seconds.


Holocaust survivors remember the foods they ate

Desperately poor and often hungry, European Jews showed their ingenuity in the years before World War II by forging ingredients for memorable meals.

Potatoes, salt, flour and eggs: These staples provided the base for rich soups, kugels, stews and puddings that survivors remembered through the Holocaust, and cooked for their children in homes they made across the world after the war.

With survivors reaching old age and dying almost daily, Joanne Caras of Port St. Lucie feared the recipes that connected them with their heritage would be lost if no one wrote them down in a systematic way. She began soliciting family stories and recipes, culminating in the "Holocaust Survivor Cookbook," published in 2007, and a second collection, "Miracles & Meals," to be released next month.

Caras told the story of her cookbooks to women at B'nai Torah Congregation on Thursday as part of a Holocaust Remembrance day commemoration. Congregants prepared some foods from the first cookbook, including potato soup, vegetarian chopped liver, compote and sugar cookies.

"I loved reading the stories that went with the recipes," said Caroline Mizrachi of Boca Raton, who led the B'nai Torah cooking team. "I'm going to take her up on the suggestion to talk to our families about these stories."

A former Jewish preschool teacher and children's entertainer, Caras has sold more than 40,000 cookbooks, mostly through speaking engagements at Jewish events. She shares the proceeds with the groups that host her and Carmei Ha'Ir Open Restaurant, a Jerusalem soup kitchen.

Caras allowed each family to tell its Holocaust story unedited, and to contribute as many recipes as it could recall. Apple cake, beef stew, babka, Czech fruit dumplings, Hungarian cabbage rolls and "Laizer Levy's Polish French toast" — the dishes were designed to fill hungry stomachs, before "low-fat" became trendy.

Elizabeth Stux, of Delray Beach, heard about the cookbook through a survivor support group and offered recipes for mixed fruit tzimmes with brisket, boiled carp and knaidlach (dumplings), all from her mother Lucyna Krupnik Bern, a native of Krakow, Poland.

Stux said writing down the recipes helped detangle her mother's tragic tales of torture in concentration camps and the legacy of guilt Stux has had to endure.

"I suffered with her and cried with her," said Stux, who grew up in Melbourne, Australia. "I imagined it all happened to me. I am trying to get through all of that now."

The cookbook is filled with photos of the families, then and today, as well as recipes in the original handwriting of the cooks. One, for Kaltsonakia — a dough filled with sugar, nuts and spices — shows the original recipe handwritten in Greek.

Many recipes have survived and thrived in contemporary times, including challahs, matzo ball soups, briskets and cheesecakes. But others — such as stuffed chicken necks, calf brains and "cooked tongue sweet and sour" — rarely are made today.

"The recipes provide a little window into their lives," Caras said. "They take the tragedy of their stories and honor them and hopefully do some good by sharing them."


‘Orange is the New Black’ inspires Scottish prisoners to demand kosher food

(JTA) — Inmates at a Sottish prison are believed to have started asking for kosher food after watching “Orange is the New Black,” a Netflix television series set in a women’s prison.

In a 2015 episode of the series, a character known as “Black Cindy” converts to Judaism in order to receive “better quality food.”

Inspectors demanded an investigation into why the HM Prison in Edinburgh is serving kosher meals to more than 100 prisoners when hardly any of its inmates are Jewish, according to The Times of London.

It is thought that hundreds of prisoners across the United Kingdom have applied to change their religion to Judaism since the TV episode aired. The Edinburgh prison is believed to be the “worst hit” by such claims, the prison service report said.

The daily cost of normal prison meals per prisoner is about $2.50, but a report by the Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland said that kosher food was four times as expensive, resulting in an extra annual bill of approximately $313,000, according to The Times.

In 2013-14 there were nine Jewish prisoners in Scotland’s 15 jails, according to The Times. The prison service report said that an urgent investigation was needed into the legitimacy of the claims by the inmates at the prison, whose population is almost entirely “white Scottish.”

“It was noted that a significant number of prisoners had decided to move to a kosher diet, which did not appear to be for wholly faith-based reasons,” it said. “Given the significant additional expenses of providing this diet, the Scottish Prison Service should seek to understand the underlying reasons for this development to address this situation with some degree of urgency.”

Meals should “conform to dietary needs, cultural or religious norms,” but an investigation was needed to find out why 13 percent of inmates at the Edinburgh prison were eating kosher food.

One prison source, who has worked at the jail since 2010, told The Times that the issue was “verging on the ridiculous.”

He added: “The number of Jewish prisoners is negligible. I think we had two in 2014. We’ve seen a huge rise in the number claiming to be Jewish as they saw the meals were better. It’s about time someone saw through this farce and did something about it, but I can see what will come next — we’ll get accused of religious discrimination if we stop their meals.”


Kosher chili brings community together on chilly afternoon

Allan Camhi cheers as a customers enjoys the Aishel House chili during the eighth annual Kosher Chili Cookoff held at Beth Yeshurun Synagogue Sunday, March 3, 2019, in Houston.

Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

Dayan Gross enjoys the Aishel House chili during the eighth annual Kosher Chili Cookoff held at Beth Yeshurun Synagogue Sunday, March 3, 2019, in Houston.

Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

A booth offered Bloody Marys in a bag at the eighth annual Kosher Chili Cookoff at the Beth Yeshurun Synagogue Sunday, March 3, 2019, in Houston.

Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

Members of the Aishel House yell during at the eighth annual Kosher Chili Cookoff, which was held at Beth Yeshurun Synagogue Sunday, March 3, 2019, in Houston.

Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

Bati-Legani members, David Bublil and Saadya Kaufmann dance to music at the eighth annual Kosher Chili Cookoff at the Beth Yeshurun Synagogue Sunday, March 3, 2019, in Houston.

Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

Dannos Kablammos stirs chili during the eighth annual Kosher Chili Cookout held at Beth Yeshurun Synagogue Sunday, March 3, 2019, in Houston.

Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

Aishel House at the eighth annual Kosher Chili Cookoff will be held at Beth Yeshurun Synagogue Sunday, March 3, 2019, in Houston.

Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

Allan Camhi and Dannos Kablammos serve up chilli and beer during the eighth annual Kosher Chili Cookout held at Beth Yeshurun Synagogue Sunday, March 3, 2019, in Houston.

Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Constable Alan Rosenberg talk at the eighth annual Kosher Chili Cookoff, which was held at Beth Yeshurun Synagogue Sunday, March 3, 2019, in Houston.

Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner talks with festival attendees during the eighth annual Kosher Chili Cookoff at Beth Yeshurun Synagogue Sunday, March 3, 2019, in Houston.

Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is greeted by Aaron Wersing with Yeshiva Torat Emet during the eighth annual Kosher Chili Cookoff at Beth Yeshurun Synagogue Sunday, March 3, 2019, in Houston.

Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner gives Levy Donin (left) a thumbs up after sampling HEB's chili during the eighth annual Kosher Chili Cookoff at Beth Yeshurun Synagogue Sunday, March 3, 2019, in Houston.

Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

Levy Donin (left) gives Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner a sample of HEB's chili during the eighth annual Kosher Chili Cookoff at Beth Yeshurun Synagogue Sunday, March 3, 2019, in Houston.

Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

With a chef&rsquos cap perched atop his black, brimmed hat, Dannos Kablammos directed the milling crowd outside Congregation Beth Yeshurun toward steaming pots of kosher chili.

&ldquoWe got it! You want it!&rdquo he bellowed. His t-shirt featured a red oven mitt wearing a yarmulke and wielding a wooden spoon.

Kablammos was captain of one of the 30 teams competing Sunday in the Houston Kosher Chili Cookoff, a competition that stands out from the numerous cook-offs surrounding the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for its requirement that all food meet Jewish regulations, which include eschewing pork and separating dairy from meat.

The 30 teams represented people from various branches of Judaism and other religions Kablammos was competing with the Aishel House, a Jewish nonprofit that provides housing and assistance to patients visiting the Texas Medical Center.

&ldquoIt&rsquos fun telling the patients to come out &mdash it&rsquos a uniquely Texas-Jewish experience,&rdquo he said.

More than 2,000 people showed up on the chilly Sunday afternoon to participate in the festival, which was taking place for the first time since Hurricane Harvey.

&ldquoIt&rsquos the perfect day for a chili cook-off,&rdquo said Mayor Sylvester Turner. &ldquoIt&rsquos a little cool, but the chili helps warm you up.&rdquo

The cooks and organizers began setting up at 6 a.m. Sunday, when Belden&rsquos Food Market delivered 900 pounds of kosher ground beef for contestants to use as the base for their recipes. For the two weeks leading up to the festival, rabbis had been approving the other ingredients chefs were planning to include to make sure they were up to religious standards.

Up until the day of the festival, some contestants were learning about what it meant to prepare kosher food. &ldquoOne of my ingredients today was disallowed,&rdquo said Robert Lane, the chef for Beth Yeshurun Day School. He was part of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo&rsquos Gatekeepers cook team, which prepares meals for the event&rsquos huge team of volunteers, and had won the Cy-Fair Barbecue and Chili Cook-Off just weeks prior.

&ldquoI didn&rsquot have to kosher that recipe,&rdquo Lane said of his award-winning chili. &ldquoBut it&rsquos a challenge that&rsquos worthwhile for any cook worth his salt.&rdquo After learning that he could not use Worcestershire sauce &mdash it contains fish, which cannot be combined with meat &mdash he tweaked his recipe to maintain a balanced flavor profile.

The Houston Kosher Chili Cookoff began in 2010 in an attempt to unify various parts of the Jewish community, said Steven Weiss, one of the event&rsquos founding organizers.

&ldquoA group of us got together from different synagogues,&rdquo he said. &ldquoWe said, &lsquoWe&rsquore going to put something together that can bring everyone together, from black hats to no hats.&rsquo&rdquo

The group settled on Texas&rsquo state food as the perfect vehicle for bringing people together.

For some at the festival, the chili provided a way to participate in the culture and festivities surrounding the rodeo. &ldquoFor families that keep kosher, this provides a way to be part of the rodeo,&rdquo said Loren Chorn, part of the Robert M. Beren Academy&rsquos chili team.

For others, chili showcased the range of kosher cooking. &ldquoEverything we&rsquove tried so far is phenomenal,&rdquo said Carol Castillo, a culinary school graduate who was attending the cookoff for the first time. &ldquoYou can really taste the quality of the meat and the flavor of the spices. If I had this at a restaurant, I would have no idea it&rsquos kosher.&rdquo

Rich Bonn, who was leading the cook-off efforts for the Cross Country Mortgage team, said chili was the perfect food for bridging differences. &ldquoIt&rsquos really hard to be upset when you&rsquove got a warm cup of chili,&rdquo he said. &ldquoThis is a great event bringing together the community &mdash it&rsquos not about Reform, Conservative or Orthodox, Republican or Democrat. &hellip We&rsquore celebrating the humanity in all of us.&rdquo

Rabbi Gavriel Jacknin, with the Bellaire Jewish Center, said the sense of community is what brought his team back time and time again, even though they had never taken home a trophy. &ldquoIt&rsquos the camaraderie, the unity of all the organizations getting together,&rdquo he said.

So he was shocked when the Bellaire Jewish Center took first place in the blind tasting with his family&rsquos recipe. &ldquoWe were very pleasantly surprised,&rdquo he said. &ldquoIt is a very modest chili.&rdquo


Man Who Murdered Parents Wins Kosher-Diet Appeal

A federal appeals court on Tuesday revived a Florida prisoner's lawsuit against Florida over his right to a kosher diet.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit said Florida's corrections department failed to demonstrate that the government had a compelling interest to deny inmate Bruce Rich kosher meals, overruling a district court, which had dismissed the lawsuit.

Mr. Rich (right) is a lifelong Orthodox Jew who observes the Sabbath and "believes that keeping kosher is fundamental to the Jewish faith and is necessary to conform to God's will as expressed in the Torah," his attorneys stated in an appellate brief. His lawyers argued that denying him pre-packaged kosher meals imposed a substantial burden on his religious exercise.

Mr. Rich in 1999 was found guilty of first-degree murder for shooting to death his parents in a ploy to inherit their money and pay off his debts.

Florida had resisted offering kosher meals to its prisoners on the grounds that they were too expensive and would breed resentment among inmates not receiving them.


This Week on Good Food: Matzoh Ball Gumbo, Kosher Prison Food, Copyrighting Recipes

Can you copyright a recipe? Kal Raustiala says the answer is no, yet creativity in the kitchen remains. Jonathan Gold visits an extraordinary Japanese restaurant in a quirky locale and cookbook author Andrea Nguyen walks us through the many forms of Asian tofu. Rosh Hashanah begins this week. Professor and author Marcie Cohen Ferris balances her Jewish heritage with her Southern roots when she cooks for the Jewish New Year. Rae Bernamoff explains the difference between Montreal and New York style Jewish delicatessens. Rabbi Menachem Katz tells us that a growing number of non-Jewish inmates are requesting Kosher meals in prisons. Plus, Chef Nyesha Arrington and farmer Mike Cirone are exuberant with the bounty that remains at the Santa Monica Farmers Market.

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Preparing for a taste of the 17-year cicada emergence

A cicada nymph sits on the ground, Sunday, May 2, 2021, in Frederick, Md. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Note: For those with an aversion to insects or entomophobia, note that this article focuses on the consumption of bugs across cultures and includes images of dishes with insects.

While the debate over whether pineapple is an acceptable pizza topping continues, entomophagists are adding a different ingredient into the mix.

Bugs have long been on the menu across the world, and with the emergence of trillions of Brood X cicadas beginning in some places and on the horizon in the coming days for others, there are even a few recipes and cookbooks floating around that feature these critters.

From Maryland cicadas, Southern cicada tartlets to banana cicada bread -- or simply roll them in seasoned flower and sauté them until golden brown -- there's something for almost anyone looking to try them. Yes, including as pizza toppings.

When soil temperatures reach roughly 64 degrees Fahrenheit at a depth of about 12 to 18 inches, cicadas across the eastern U.S. will emerge from the ground for the first time since 2004. After spending 17 years underground, this serves as the time for them to begin laying eggs.

While the newly-emerged cicadas are edible before their shells harden and have been deemed safe to consume, experts have warned against eating the bugs that surface and feed in fertilized areas or areas that have been sprayed with pesticides. They've also recommended that people with shellfish allergies first consult a doctor if cicadas are on the menu. People allergic to crustaceans may also be allergic to edible insects, according to the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy.

On more than one occasion, cicadas have been referred to as "shrimp of the dirt," and when salted and boiled, Bon Appetit found they have "the taste and texture of soft-shelled crab, but with overtones of boiled peanuts."

An adult cicada sheds its nymphal skin on the bark on an oak tree, Tuesday, May 4, 2021, on the University of Maryland campus in College Park, Md. Trillions of cicadas are about to emerge from 15 states in the U.S. East. Scientists say Brood X is one of the biggest for these bugs which come out only once every 17 years. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

After finding a safe location to harvest cicadas, the cookbook CICADA-LICIOUS recommends catching newly-hatched cicadas during the early hours of the morning right after they emerge but before they have time to climb up trees and out of reach. A paper bag will be sufficient to catch the critters.

After bringing them into the kitchen, they should be boiled for 4 to 5 minutes -- a process called blanching -- which will make their insides solidify and get rid of any soil bacteria, according to the cookbook. Afterwards, you're set to cook them for a recipe or freeze them to prepare later.

One thing to note is that cicadas are not considered kosher or halal, though certain types of locust are considered kosher in the Torah. Locusts are also regarded as halal, as they were eaten during the time of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad.

Since they don't feed on wheat, cicadas would also be considered gluten free, Gene Kritsky, a biologist and cicada expert at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio, told National Geographic. They are also high in protein and low in fat and carbohydrates.

Cicadas account for 10% of the insects eaten around the world, so turning these bugs into a snack or even incorporating them into a meal is not too far-fetched an idea.

The consumption of bugs, or entomophagy, is not a new or even archaic practice, but something that has persisted throughout human evolution, Dr. Julie Lesnik, an associate professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, told AccuWeather in an interview. A biological anthropologist with a background in paleoanthropology, Lesnik has studied human evolution and wrote her dissertation around reconstructing the diet of people from 2 million years ago.

In studying the past and delving into the details of which insects our ancestors ate, Lesnik began to recognize a modern bias against insects as food and how that impacted future thinking around a more sustainable food source for a growing global population.

Lesnik has dubbed her sub-discipline of the human past, present and future of bug-based cuisine as entomophagy anthropology and has written a book on it, titled Edible Insects and Human Evolution.

Insects play a role in the diets of more than 2 billion people, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), with more than 1,900 insect species reportedly used as food.

For parts of the U.S., Europe and Canada, however, eating insects isn't too widespread, and there are a few reasons as to why.

According to Lesnik, disgust is a learned emotion, and one that is consistently associated with entomophagy in regions like Europe and parts of North America. One way to address it? Acknowledge your own negative perceptions of bugs and teach future generations that insects aren't gross but just tiny animals.

Dr. Julie Lesnik, an associate professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, spoke with AccuWeather on the history of humans and entomophagy. (Julie Lesnik)

Lesnik traced the learned disgust of insects from certain current food cultures down to a few factors, the first of which focused on availability by region.

"Insects are largely a tropical resource," Lesnik said, adding that due to the diversity of insect species in the tropics, insects would be one of the more reliable food sources. "You can build a food culture around them when they're available all year round."

Insects are more widely reliable for food in tropical climates, leading to the incorporation of them into diets. (Julie Lesnik)

Insects are consumed more in the tropics in comparison to temperate areas of the world, according to the FOA. This is in part due to insects in the tropics being larger, congregating in significant numbers and a large variety of edible insect species being available year-round.

With that said, a handful of regions in northern latitudes have a notable history with entomophagy. Eating insects in China dates back more than 3,000 years with over 178 insect species commonly eaten. Entomophagy can also be found in the history of Japan, Mexico and Indigenous groups across North America.

A woman sells deep-fried insects in the town of Skun, Kampong Cham province, northeast of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. The town is well-known place for selling deep-fried tarantula, scorpion, cricket, and silkworm to travelers who stop by on their way to and from the country's northern and northeastern provinces. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A key difference lies in the fact that insect species are less diverse, and colder winters would have prevented people from using insects as a reliable food source.

The FAO notes that the domestication of a wide variety of plants and animals in the Fertile Crescent -- or the boomerang-shaped region spanning from the western fringe of modern-day Iran to Egypt to the southeastern region of Turkey -- and later Europe led to a boom in agriculture productivity and efficiency. It's possible that farming became a more reliable food source than looking to the areas' unreliable seasonality of insects.

While eating bugs wasn't unheard of in Europe specifically, and even Aristotle was documented to have enjoyed cicadas and Pliny the Elder was known to have preferred beetle larvae, availability was limited. Europe is home to a mere 2% of the world's edible insects, which hardly grow as large as their tropical counterparts, making them less ideal for gathering.

In this Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, photo, spaghetti with silkworm and cricket at Insects in the Backyard restaurant, in Bangkok, Thailand. Tucking into insects is nothing new in Thailand, where street vendors pushing carts of fried crickets and buttery silkworms have long fed locals and adventurous tourists alike. But bugs are now fine-dining at the Bangkok bistro aiming to revolutionize views of nature's least-loved creatures and what you can do with them. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

However, availability isn't Lesnik's only theory as to why people from places like Europe, the U.S. and Canada are hesitant to bite into some bugs.

Pouring over reports, letters and journals from the time of Columbus's voyages, Lesnik found mentions of Europeans encountering Indigenous people who ate insects. Columbus and others would then go on to use these narratives to attempt to justify his dehumanizing treatment of the Indigenous people.

While these events are a part of history, Lesnik added that negative sentiments around eating bugs, at least in the U.S., persist today.

"Because we are this colonial settlement, our culture is based on this idea of civilization, and so insects as food is very much this narrative of 'only uncivilized people would eat them,'" Lesnik said. "You see it in media and you don't realize where it came from until you really take the time to research it."

Over the past few years, insects have been slowly reintroduced back into diets across cultures that have previously opposed seeing bugs as a food source.

In this Nov. 30, 2016, photo, Stephen Swanson of Tomorrow's Harvest cricket farm in Williston, Vt., holds a bag of cricket protein powder he is now selling online. Farmers are raising the alternative livestock they claim is more ecologically sound than meat, but is sure to bug some people out: crickets. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

In the U.S., crickets that have stolen the spotlight with mealworms following as a second common food source. Since these two insects are also commonly farmed for pet food, we have the infrastructural knowledge that we can make the adjustments needed to meet human food regulations, Lesnik said.

"One of the great thing of insects as food is that they are an animal-based food, just like our traditionally raised livestock," Lesnik explained. "And if you look at what goes into farming animals, everything scales down by size."

The least-efficient meat source, Lesnik said, is beef, followed by pork and then chicken. And while these meats might be the first stop for protein, insects can easily be incorporated into someone's diet as a protein source.

For those looking to ease their way into a diet that incorporates insects, there are companies that create products such as cricket pasta and cricket flour. The latter has been described to have an almost nutty taste, and there are a few recipes available for making muffins, pastries and other meals with the flour.


Explainer: Why is Gaza almost always mired in conflict?

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Gaza Strip was pounded this week by hundreds of Israeli strikes from sea, land and air, while the enclave’s militant Hamas rulers fired hundreds of rockets into Israel.

It’s the fourth round of major conflict between Israel and Hamas since 2008, with the tiny enclave’s more than 2 million Palestinian residents bearing the brunt of the deaths and the destruction.

The latest eruption of violence has raised the specter of another devastating war and once again drawn international attention to the impoverished, densely populated strip.

Here’s a look at the Gaza Strip and its place in the Middle East conflict.

A NARROW COASTAL STRIP

Gaza, sandwiched between Israel and Egypt, is just 25 miles (40 kilometers) long and six miles (10 kilometers) wide. It was part of the British-ruled Palestine Mandate before the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation, when it came under Egypt’s control.

Large numbers of Palestinians who fled or were driven from what is now Israel ended up in Gaza, and the refugees and their descendants now number 1.4 million, accounting for more than half of Gaza’s population.

Israel captured Gaza, along with the West Bank and east Jerusalem, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians want all three territories to form their future state.

The first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, erupted in Gaza in 1987 — the same year Hamas was founded — and later spread to the other occupied territories. The Oslo peace process in the 1990s established the Palestinian Authority and gave it limited autonomy in Gaza and parts of the occupied West Bank.

THE HAMAS TAKEOVER

Israel withdrew its troops and Jewish settlements from Gaza in 2005, after a second and far more violent intifada.

The following year, Hamas won a landslide victory in Palestinian elections. That triggered a power struggle with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, culminating in a week of clashes in 2007 that left Hamas in control of Gaza.

Hamas has done little in the way of imposing Islamic law on Gaza, which was already very conservative. But it has shown no tolerance for dissent, arresting political opponents and violently suppressing rare protests against its rule.

The militant group has remained firmly in power through three wars and a 14-year blockade.

THE BLOCKADE

Israel and Egypt imposed the crippling blockade after the Hamas takeover. Israel says it’s needed to keep Hamas and other militant groups from importing arms. Rights groups say the blockade is a form of collective punishment.

The closures, along with years of misrule and Hamas’ long-running feud with the Palestinian Authority, have devastated Gaza’s economy. Unemployment hovers at around 50%, power outages are frequent and the tap water is badly polluted.

Palestinians face heavy movement restrictions that make it difficult to travel abroad for work, study or to visit family, and often refer to Gaza as the world’s largest open-air prison.

THE WARS

Hamas and Israel have fought three wars and several smaller battles. The worst so far was the 2014 war, which lasted for 50 days and killed some 2,200 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians. Seventy-three people were killed on the Israeli side.

Israel’s airstrikes and incursions into Gaza have left vast swaths of destruction, with entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble and thousands forced to shelter in U.N. schools and other facilities. Israel says it makes every effort to avoid civilian casualties and accuses Hamas of using Gazans as human shields.

Palestinian militants have fired thousands of rockets into Israel. The vast majority are intercepted by Israeli missile defenses or land in open areas, but they sow widespread fear and can bring life to a standstill. Their range has steadily increased in recent years, with some striking as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, major metropolitan areas.

Earlier this year, the International Criminal Court launched an investigation into possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories. It is expected to scrutinize the actions of both Israel and Palestinian militants in the 2014 war.


Watch the video: What Is Kosher Food And How Is It Made? (May 2022).