Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Little Word About Deprivation

Way back in the dark ages shopping for Pesach was a lot simpler then it is now. Pesach was basically about matzahs, eggs, potatoes, fish, meat, fruits and vegetables and the few items needed to turn these into food to be eaten. Okay, it was not quite that spartan but close enough. And what do we have today? Everything and anything that our heart's desire. And we seem to desire a lot.

99 varieties of cheese, just in case Yankel should feel deprived for the one week that Pesach lasts. And Pesach O's cereal just in case little Frumi should go into a deep funk at being deprived of Cheerios. Then there is the cappuccino in 14 flavors, the BBQ sauces in 12 varieties and the cake mixes and frostings in every flavor ever imagined and some that should have stayed in their creator's mind. And my favorite: the non-gebrokts packaged passover pasta products, with a taste and consistency somewhere between rancid wallpaper paste and baked Elmer's glue.

A neighbor bakes matza meal-based rolls because otherwise what would you make a sandwich with. Recipe books galore are printed with thousands of recipes to spice up Pesach with, all requiring that their sometimes exotic ingredients be readily available.

Have we gone nuts? Are we seriously going to go into a decline if we don't have a mochachino coffee for a week? Are we so enamored of pickled palm hearts that a week without will cause grave medical problems? Are 177 varieties of candy really what you think of first when you think of Pesach? Anyone here who truly thinks that they cannot live without the shape of Cheerios in front of them for a week?

Why are all these items made kosher for Pesach? One obvious answer is the "If you build it they will come" form of consumerism. If the companies make it kosher for Pesach we will flock like sheep to buy what they are selling. Another answer is competitiveness. You know the type--"I made the most divine shitake mushroom saute served over baby greens in a light balsamic dressing. What did you make for dinner last night?"

The third answer is the one that concerns me. The third answer is "Why should I deprive myself of anything that I want when I want it?" Our world is very much into instant gratification, and waiting for anything no longer seems to be in our makeup. We talk as if a week is a lifetime. We demand that our chometzdike kitchens be duplicated with all the ingredients for Pesach.

You know, making Pesach and shopping for Pesach would be a lot easier if there was less to shop for. The fact that there is more can be laid at our own doorsteps.


Critically Observant Jew said...

Great Post. Agree 100%. Love examples, like "And Pesach O's cereal just in case little Frumi should go into a deep funk at being deprived of Cheerios." and analogies like "And my favorite: the non-gebrokts packaged passover pasta products, with a taste and consistency somewhere between rancid wallpaper paste and baked Elmer's glue. " Great blog. Adding to my reading list.

Anonymous said...

At least no one has put those awful imitation kosher crab and shrimp items on the Kosher for Pesach list. Just what Klal Yisroel needs in order to celebrate Pesach correctly, a jar of pickled palm hearts. Don't know how our mothers ever considered themselves balabostas without them. We must have been terribly abused children when we were young. We got fed matza broken into pieces into milk. How barbaric.

concernedjewgirl said...

I think the extras are indicative of the American Mentality that everything needs to be pre-cooked, pre-packaged and ready to serve. I come from a different cultural background, though I did grow up in North America from a very young age. It seems that other Cultures incorporate a lot more home cooked products into their lives. While Americans are the above mentioned example. It seems that even in my own kitchen I cook a lot more from scratch (or partial scratch ex. pie crust bought) than anyone of my Born and raised with American values friends.
It seems that American's either don't want to or can't cook from scratch. When a recipe calls for chicken breast cut up and fried in order to MAKE chicken nuggets I see more often then not chicken nuggets that are bought and then coated with the rest of the ingredients.

Anonymous said...

Those Cheerios are nasty tasting, but what else to do if your kid won't eat anything, but Cheerios?

I remember reading about Spanish Jews and their Pesach celebration around the time of Inquisition. A main course was veal cooked in almond milk. Almond milk sounds pretty fancy to me.

We have a lot of fancy dishes on Pesach, not because we can’t live without it, but because it’s Pesach and we need something special. I make Chinese fried rice. Tastes great, of course rice is made of matzho and no soy sauce, But it does tastes great.

So, I only partially agree with you. We should be making Pesach food from scratch rather than buying unpronounceable ingredience. I don’t agree with you, we should make Pesach special and fancy.

P.S. There was no potato in dark ages. Potatoes came from Americas. Instead people used to boil/cook parsnips and other similar vegetables, which do not taste as good as potato.

ProfK said...

The potato arrived in Europe in 1570, still plenty "dark" enough for me.

It wasn't fancy cooked dishes per se I was arguing against. I make plenty of those "fancy" dishes, or maybe others might consider them fancy. It's the replication of every type of product available for chometz that is duplicated for Pesach that bothers me.

And, as has been mentioned, it's
the cooking from scratch that gets replaced with all those bottles, jars and boxes.

Almond milk sounds pretty fancy to us today but it wasn't back then. It's basically ground almonds mixed well with water. Its advantages were that, unlike cows milk, it didn't spoil. Some lactose intolerant people today still drink it.

I don't suppose poking a whole into the middle of a matzah and telling your daughter it's a giant Pesach Cheerio would work? Kids always seem to be the exception to every rule.

Scraps said...

Ichsah--Pesach cereal is truly an abomination, as I learned the hard way as a child when I begged my mother to buy the "Pesach Honey Stars" cereal one year. And honestly, I'm not even that old, and I still remember days gone by when there wasn't nearly the proliferation of products you see on the shelves these days. Sometimes I appreciate the extras, but that's what they are--extras. There's just so much junk out there that no one really needs.

Commenter Abbi said...

As usual, it's pretty different here in Israel. Since our diet is mostly salads, roasted veggies, soups, dairy and chicken/turkey, not a whole lot changes over pesach. And since all the normal dairy products become KP, you don't feel a huge difference. There are things like Pesach potato starch noodles that I always buy a token package of, but that's about it.

Because of the large sephardi population, most of the regular breakfast cereals do a variation on cornflakes. Also all cold cuts can be found kp, no kitniot. So I don't know, I really don't find that I radically change my cooking or feel totally deprived on Pesach, more so when living here.

I remember it being a much bigger deal in the states.

Commenter Abbi said...

This one confuses me: "I made the most divine shitake mushroom saute served over baby greens in a light balsamic dressing. What did you make for dinner last night?"

Nothing chometzdik about any of those ingredients (maybe mushrooms, for people who are really chumradik about them). They're also fresh and healthy. I still miss shitake mushrooms, they're hard to find in Israel.

Are you just against ingredients that have only become popular in the last 10-15 years? Also, something hearts of palms also isn't something innately chometzdik, like Cheerios. The manufacturer probably thought it was worth it to get a hechsher, so he did.

To be honest, same thing with dairy products. The factories are probably KP all year round, so why wouldn't you get a hechser? I can see your point with pesach noodles and pesach cheerios. But even Pesach rolls- some people enjoy them, they're homemade, so why not? Would you approve if your neighbor fried them and called them chremslach instead?

ProfK said...

Re the rolls, I suppose I also consider it a question of "maaris eyin." Unless the men are taking vacation days, the ones in our neighborhood go to work chol hamoed. And if they take a roll for lunch? And if someone walks by and sees them eating that roll and says "Hmmm, that person says he is a religious Jew and they don't eat bread on Passover but he is eating a roll so I guess he is a big faker." Or that person, perhaps Jewish but not frum, sees the frum man eating a roll and then goes out and buys a regular bread roll in the bakery that night because it must be okay because the frum guy did it. Frankly, most men wouldn't go over and start a conversation about a roll they saw someone eat--they'd just make assumptions. And it holds for the women who have to go to work as well.

I admit to not knowing the "loshen" applying to gebrokts foods because we don't brok, but in our home chremzlach refers strictly to either raw or cooked potato patties, otherwise known as latkes on Chanukah. First time I am hearing it used to refer to fried matza meal patties.

Commenter Abbi said...

My bubby made chremshlach during the year with matza meal, as they also didn't eat gebrochts, most of the chag. The last day they did.

Maarit ayin? Most pesach rolls i've seen are pretty obviously pesachdik. I've really never seen any that look like huge kaiser rolls.

I think the issue boils down to your question : "Why are all these items made kosher for Pesach?" My point in the previous comment was really that many things you described as having been "made kosher for pesach" were probably kosher all along. They just paid for the hechsher, because it was worth it to the manufacturer economically. If you feel that this is somehow harming the community, then this is an issue to bring up with the hasgacha orgs, though I'm sure they would just respond "It's a free country, you can choose to buy or not".

You seem to have a very specific idea about what Pesach should and shouldn't be about. I'm sure you would be pretty shocked to come to Israel and find that most people's Pesach kitchens look pretty similar to a chometz kitchen, right down tot he kashered granite counter tops that don't need to be covered.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be shocked at the kitchens in Israel at all--lived there for a few years. Granite is not just in Israel. has been a big thing here for years and when people replace counters they usually replace with granite. I was kind of shocked with people kashering all their chometz pots. Not done here at all. Maybe it's just because there is not so much room to store things for Pesach in the Israeli apartments and pots need a lot of storage room.

Anonymous said...

I think ConcernedJewGirl is right that people aren't cooking from scratch too much any more. Maybe having everything ready made available is part of the problem. To people who have only used packaged or canned chicken soup I guess it tastes fine to them. It's just not soup to those who cook their own from scratch. It doesn't taste the same and the ingredients sure aren't the same. Just what is hydrolized vegetable protein anyway?

Commenter Abbi said...

Leahle- I LOVE the mass hagala here. It's so convenient, especially for the stuff I messed up over the year and it's true, I really don't have enough storage space, so if I want to make soup, i have to do my big soup pots.

When i first came here, granite was not big, and it was so wierd to me to see uncovered countertops on pesach in a frum home. My grandmother had special formica pesach countertops that she plopped on her regular ones, my parents always covered ours, my bubby covered her stainless steel sinks with tinfoil (!). Everyone in my family had there shticks. 8 years later, I'm used it it.