On Vegetating

On Vegetating

I like food, plant food, that is — I like to plant, grow and eat it. I like to serve it to others and recycle it to contribute to next year’s harvest. I like working and being outdoors, walking and hiking (and am not a fan of health clubs). I like to study Hebrew Bible, Tanakh, especially the first five books, the Torah. Most of all, I like to think about all these things and what they have to say about the meaning of life. I started my blog when I decided to explore veganism, and it has led not just to recipes and farming but to a reexamination of the biblical text from a different perspective and to thoughts about ethics, ecology, evolution, animal rights, the human place in creation and more. I explore and refresh my own spirituality through these projects.

Tea or Coffee?

Tea with Nana (Mint)

The Japanese Tea Ceremony or “Way of Tea” is a well-known ritual.  Not so well-known are the requirements for preparing tea and coffee on the Sabbath if you are an Orthodox Jew.

A number of years ago I lived in an Orthodox Jewish community.  I often had people to my home for Sabbath dinners on Friday evening or lunches on Saturday afternoon after synagogue.

The food for these meals all had to be prepared before the Sabbath began since cooking is prohibited on the Sabbath.  Hot drinks such as tea must be prepared according to the following:

“One may not pour the hot water from the kettle directly onto an uncooked solid or liquid since this would be considered cooking. Coffee, tea, and cocoa fall into this category. Therefore, to make tea or coffee on Shabbat, use the following method:

  • pour the hot water from the kettle into a clean, dry cup;
  • pour the water from this cup into another cup; and
  • then add teabag, tea essence, coffee, sugar or milk. If using a teabag, do not squeeze it.
  • If using a teabag, do not remove the bag from the drink.

“Some authorities recommend that instead of using teabags, a special concentrated “tea essence” be prepared before Shabbat. One cup of tea essence is prepared by allowing six teabags to steep in a cup of boiling water. Use one tablespoon of this concentrate to make a cup of tea.” – http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/95914/jewish/Food-Preparation-on-Shabbat.htm

At first glance, it appears that the simple act of brewing a cup of tea has been made complicated.  Still, hot tea is a possibility, and observant Jews regularly enjoy it on the Sabbath.  

Coffee always seemed a little different . . . until the advent of coffee bags.  Generally coffee is brewed in advance of the Sabbath and held warm in an urn.   An alternative is instant coffee with water heated in advance of the Sabbath and held warm.  Some of my friends prepared a coffee essence and diluted it with pre-heated water.  As coffee lovers can imagine, these techniques don’t result in the best coffee.

And then one day, much to my delight, I discovered coffee bags in the store, which worked just like teabags.  At one of my luncheons after synagogue when the time came for us to enjoy our tea, I brought out the coffee bags as well.  I asked if they could be used in the same way as tea bags on the Sabbath.

An hour later we were still debating the possibility of making coffee with bags on the Sabbath just the way we made our tea — and the techniques that would make it allowable!  I confess I experienced some impatience.  I now realize that my impatience closed the window on an opportunity for a profound spiritual experience.

It occurs to me that this particular way of engaging in a joyful activity, drinking tea (or coffee) with friends on the Sabbath while paying attention to the rules and regulations that shape the Sabbath, is a ritual event.  Considering in detail how to conduct the ritual, as my friends were doing that day, centered consciousness.

Ritual is a way of sanctifying the mundane, of setting a moment apart from all other moments and calling upon us to stop and be aware.  Only awareness and intentionality separate ritual from routine and habit.

The choice to enjoy tea and coffee with friends in this place, in this time and in this way was fully intentional.  The ritual of  tea and coffee drinking on the Sabbath in a particular way made a mundane act into a sacred event, offering an opportunity for full awareness in the moment.

Although I love good coffee, I still prefer Tea with Nana (mint) in these special moments.  Be sure to check out my recipe!

A Starting Thought

food chain

My Masters thesis started out as an exploration of meals in the Bible.  As often happens with beginning researchers, the topic was vast and needed a lot of refining.  Finally I settled on “Meals in Genesis” and conducted a structural analysis of that book.  I discovered that the deep structures of the Genesis narrative were chiasms with “meals” at their center.  I wondered why meals are at such pivotal points in the narrative?

At a later time in another degree program, my interests focused on ritual.  Again I wondered why meals are the center point of so much religious ritual?

And then there is my life, where being thoughtful about food and preparing and enjoying meals with family and friends and customers has had such an important role.  Why was I intuitively drawn so strongly to meals as a center point of meaning in my own life?

This thought occurs to me about meals: as we gather raw ingredients, prepare food and eat, we embrace the central moral paradox of human existence, that it requires taking life to sustain life.  How we respond to that paradox defines us as human beings.

As we journey through our lives, we both eat and nourish, destroy and enrich.  The great gift we have as human beings is that we can make conscious decisions about the balance of eating and nourishing, taking and giving, in our own lives.  The challenge is to remain fully aware, making conscious choices on each step of our journey.

My own journey has been the work of a lifetime, and it’s a journey that continues today. I’m still learning and growing and changing.

Thinking about food from different perspectives has been a central part of my journey. It has taught me so much about life, given a practical dimension to an academic pursuit, inspired me to clarify my own values and motivated me to put those values to work in the world. I’d like to share with you some ways to think about food and how that process can shape your life.

Along the way, I’ll also share recipes and information about projects and products I like and have found meaningful.