In our Jewish lives, we are surrounded by food. The classic Jewish mother urges her son to “eat, eat, eat!” From seders to simchas, shabbat challah to the latke/hamentaschen debate, food permeates our holidays and celebrations. And even Jews who identify solely as “cultural” Jews have their culinary touchstones – bagels, pastrami, felafel, halva…
Then there is our American cultural landscape – millions of Americans struggle with diseases related to obesity, yet our airwaves are saturated with advertisements to indulge in everything from Doritos to Baconators, Coke and stuffed pizza. For our boys, eating is an important part of their personal and social identity. What influences the choices they make about what, and how, they eat – as a man, and as a Jew?
- Guys will work towards cultivating awareness about the meaning behind their food choices
- Guys will explore the various values that American and Jewish life place on food and eating
- Guys will encounter different ideas about food and masculinity, and different perceptions about what makes certain foods more “manly” than others
#1 Jewish Iron Chef
Lay out an assortment of classic “Jewish” foods (bagels, Hebrew National salami, latkes, hummus, rye break, pickles, felafel, matza, gefilte fish, horseradish, jar of matza balls, etc). Break the boys into teams, and have them assemble the most creative dish they can imagine from some (or all!) of the ingredients. Award points in various categories (appearance, creativity, teamwork, taste [optional!])
#2 Wheelbarrow Munchies
Break boys into pairs for a wheelbarrow race. The catch? The “wheelbarrow” must eat a number of things (placed on the floor on paper plates) along the course (marshmallows, Doritos, jello, m&m, bite of a whole apple, etc). Do it again, but this time blindfold the wheelbarrow guy.
#1 A New Food Pyramid
Print out pictures of various foods, and have the boys arrange them in a “pyramid” with the most Jewish food on top, and the least Jewish ones on the bottom. Then, using the same images, have the boys arrange them in a new pyramid with the most “manly” foods on top, and the last manly on the bottom. Suggestions for images: cheeseburger, broccoli, lobster, pastrami on rye, bagel & lox, block of tofu, steak, matza, horseradish, bacon, diet soda, manishevitz, chocolate gelt, hamentaschen, matza balls, felafel sandwich, sushi
- Why did they arrange them the way they did?
- What qualities made them designate each food as more or less Jewish? More or less manly?
- Could they arrange a third pyramid, with the most Jewish AND manly foods on top? Why or why not?
#2: Manly food on video
What do the following clips say about the way our culture views men and food?
- Burger King, “I Am Man”
- Diet Doctor Pepper
- Epic Mealtime
#3 Whose Food Line Is It?
Each boy will get a piece of paper to put in their pocket, unseen, with a quote from a recent Esquire Magazine issue about “How Men Eat.” (See below) Call them up three at a time to make up a scene (astronauts stuck on the space station, a presidential debate, surgeons operating on a patient, a post-game locker room interview, etc) during which they’ll need to take the slip paper from their pocket and incorporate the quote into the scene at a given moment.
Actual Quotes from Esquire Magazine (for Improv Game)
- “Hunger spurs creativity in a man.”
- “I’ll eat something that fell on the floor without thinking about it. Women seem to have a problem with this.”
- “There is no joy in creamy peanut butter.”
- “I’ll dip just about anything in just about anything. Fried chicken in the guacamole. A slice of pizza in the tub of take-out ranch. Whatever’s in front of me.”
- “If I’m alone, I eat at the bar. I love eating at the bar more than anything.”
- “You can tell a lot about a restaurant by the kind of hot sauce they bring you.”
- “A man doesn’t cut a burger in half.”
- “Men eat as competition. We eat on dares. We eat the hottest pepper to show our strength. It bonds us.”
#4 Conversation starters
Norwegian Company Launches “Eggs for Boys” and “Eggs for Girls”. Click Here for the article.
Macho All-American Men See Meat As Macho All-American Food, Study Suggest. Click Here for the article.
Raw Meat, A Manly Dish In Ethiopia. Click Here for the article.
The Myth That Raw Meat Produces Aggression: Study Claims Cooked Variety Boosts Energy. Click Here for the article
Against Meat. Click Here for the article.
#1 Meal as Ritual
You shall eat it in this way: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste– it is a Pesach for The Eternal One. For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments– I am The Eternal One.…
– Exodus 12:11-12
Questions for this text:
#2 Eat to Live
Eat to live, do not live to eat.
-Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra (12th century Spain)
A man should never eat unless they’re hungry, or drink unless they’re thirsty. Do not eat ravenously, filling the mouth gulp after gulp without breathing space.
-Maimonides (12th century Egypt)
There is no Torah without flour; there is no flour without Torah.
– Pirke Avot 3:21
Questions for these texts:
#3 Live to Eat?
Rabbi Hezkiah said in the name of Rabbi Cohen in the name of Rav, “In the future, a person will have to account for all that his eyes saw and did not eat.”
-Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 48a
Your best valleys are full of enemy chariots, and enemy soldiers on horseback stand ready at the city gates. The Eternal One stripped away the defenses of Judah…You saw that the walls of the City of David were broken through in many places…The Eternal One, Adonai the Almighty, called you on that day to weep and to wail…But see, there is joy and celebration, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! You say, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” The Eternal Almighty One has revealed this in my hearing: “Till your dying day this sin will not be atoned for,” says Adonai, The Almighty Eternal One.
-From Isaiah 22
Questions for these texts:
- How do these two ideas contrast with each other?
- Does Judaism place a value on the physical enjoyment of our food?
You shall eat, and you shall be satisfied, and you shall bless Adonai your God for the good land that God has given you.
Our Rabbis have taught: It is forbidden for a man to enjoy anything of this world without a blessing, and if anyone enjoys anything of this world without a blessing, he has profaned the sacred. What is his remedy? He should consult a wise man. What will the wise man do for him? He has already committed the offence! — Said Raba: What it means is that he should consult a wise man beforehand, so that he should teach him blessings and he should not commit a sacrilege. Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: To enjoy anything of this world without a blessing is like making personal use of things set aside for heaven, since it says, “The earth is The Eternal’s and the fulness there of.” R. Levi contrasted two texts: It is written, ‘The earth is The Eternal’s and the fulness thereof’, yet it is also written, “The heavens are the heavens of The Eternal, but the earth God has given to humankind!” There is no contradiction: in the one case it is before a blessing has been said in the other case after. R. Hanina b. Papa said: To enjoy this world without a blessing is like robbing The Holy One of Blessing and the Jewish people!
– B. Talmud Berachot 35a-b
Questions for these texts:
#5 Eating as a Vision of the World to Come
Judaism recognizes our yetzer hara (impulsive side) and teaches us to harness it. It understands that we crave meat and, instead of saying do not eat it, commands us not to mix death with life, to separate out the blood, which is its life force, and to not mix it with milk, which represents birth and life. To mix them is to accept the world as it is – fragmented, haphazard, where people die suddenly or too slowly, too young, death and life at random. Rather, we separate them, indicating that everything should happen in its proper time. To everything there is a season.
-Rabbi Zoe Klein, The Sacred Table
When you are asked in the world to come, ‘What was your work?’ and you answer: ‘I fed the hungry,’ you will be told: ‘This is the gate of The Eternal, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry'”
-Midrash to Psalm 118:17
Questions for these texts:
#1 Food Diary
Ask participants in advance of the session to keep a food diary (for 24 hours, 1 week, etc), including EVERYTHING they ate and drank. At the session, ask boys to share from their food diary.
- Were there any surprises about their own food choices?
- What commonalities and differences are there between all the boys’ choices?
#2 Topics for conversation
- How do personal choice, Jewish values, and peer pressure factor into choices about what we eat?
- What’s something you would never eat? Why not?
- What’s something you’ve always wanted to eat, but haven’t. Why not?
- Describe an experience where you really connected with someone (or a group of people) over food
If food is served at the beginning of the session, go around the room and have each boy make up a short blessing about something they’re about to eat. The blessing can include something very specific, like the origin of the particular item they’re holding, what they like about how it tastes, a memory connected to it, etc. For example, “Thank you, Source of Deliciousness, for this eggplant parmagiana I am about to devour. May its stringy cheese inspire me to stretch myself to the limit.”
As a concluding ritual, participants could end with a short birkat hamazon: Click here for the prayer.
Practically Jewish: Eco-Kosher and the Art of Conscious Kosher Eating. Click Here for the article.
What is Eco-Kosher? Click Here for the article.
Issues in Jewish Ethics: The Jewish Response to Hunger. Click Here for the article.