Orthorexia: The Sickness of Eating Healthy?

Heyya, folks, gather round and I’ll give you a lecture that has as much to do with sociology (one of my other loves) as it does about food.

How can you tell if one is sick or healthy? With many physical diseases, it’s not a difficult task. If one coughs, sneezes and feels awful – they have a cold or a flu. Things get somewhat trickier in the world of mental illnesses. Sure, popular culture is saturated with examples of extreme psychoses, but less serious patterns – neuroses and disorders – raise a lot of issues. And like many other things, defining a certain set of behaviors as an illness is very much a matter of politics.

Mental disorders appear in a special guide called the DSM. The DSM lists a series of symptoms, and clinicians are supposed to see how many of them are manifested in the patient, in order to establish whether or not a disorder is present (here, take a look). Naturally, the disorders don’t just appear in the newest DSM edition by themselves; many professionals have to acknowledge them as such, and there is much controversy about which behaviors and phenomena are and are not included in it. For example, part of the struggle for gay rights recognition had to do with removing homosexuality from the list of disorders in the DSM.

Why am I telling you this? Because in recent years, some controversy has arisen over a certain set of behaviors, which some people would like to see defined as a disorder. They call it “Orthorexia”, which, in literal latin means “correct appetite”.

According to Steven Bratman, who coined the term “orthorexia” and wrote about it in his book, Health Food Junkies, the disorder consists of a pathological obsession with eating healthy food. For an orthorexic, adhering to rigid nutrition disciplines becomes the focus of life. Eating healthfully and “correctly” is seen as a moral, or even spiritual, virtue; the orthorexic might graudally limit his or her consumption of foods, trying to achieve a “purer” state of being. An orthorexic often feels superior to others who eat a less healthy diet. When “falling off the wagon” and eating something unhealthy, the orthorexic experiences a deep sense of guilt and engages in various health-rites of penance such as fasting.

Now, there’s no much sense in defining something as an illness if it doesn’t cause harm or suffering. Bratman argues that, in severe cases, an obsession with health food can lead to severe physical damage and even to death. However, even when things are less tragic, limiting oneself to what one deems to be extremely healthy food can seriously impair one’s life. People who are more attached to their eating regimes than to other aspects of their lives isolate themselves from friends (restrictive eating habits hinder going to lunch together, and so does consistent lecturing about food!), find it difficult to travel and eat out, and become, to a certain extent, slaves of their diet.

Others oppose the medicalization of health food obsession, for various reasons. One of them is that, in general, being a health nut causes no harm. There is no much cause for concern over someone who gets in nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and is interested in wholesome food; that would lead to stigmatizing half of the food blog community, for goodness sake! Cases in which people are taking upon themselves extreme and restrictive dietary regimes could merely be a manifestation of dogmatic, inflexible thinking patterns in general, and not merit a specific disorder title. Moreover, there is no much basis to distinguish between people whose healthy diet is an aspect of their worldview from folks whose dietary restrictions stem from religious decrees (such as kosher or halal diets). What makes one worldview pathological while the other isn’t?

Whether or not you think orthorexia should be medicalized, it’s probably a good opportunity to say here: all in moderation, folks. I’m the last person to recommend polished grains, white sugar and saturated fats, but hey, if you feel like having a good ice cream or a nice bit of delicious chocolate, and it doesn’t hurt you physically, go right ahead and enjoy it. Yes, we should take good care of our bodies, most of the time. Our bodies will reward us by bearing with the occasional treat we have.

To bring this balance to earth, I’ll finish with a short quasi-recipe: Oven fries. As good as, or even better than regular fries. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius. Slice thinly some nice potatoes. Place them on an oiled piece of foil on a baking pan, and sprinkle whatever you like on top. In this house, it’s usually rosemary, garlic and chile peppers, but there’s endless possibilities. Stick in the hot oven for about 35-40 minutes, then munch to your heart’s content. Yeah, it’s carbs. Yeah, it’s not a nutritional powerhouse. But it’s fun. Enjoy.

Missing Meat?

My recent post about TVP yielded several emails and conversations about the place of meat substitutes in a vegetarian diet. The comments that most piqued my curiosity were tose of my old-timer vegetarian pals, who questioned the need to eat anything “resembling meat” at all, merely for the sake of how it looks.

They do have a point, there. We all understand the importance of eating enough protein, iron and B12; every responsible vegetarian (well, every responsible person, for that matter) has to take precautions against deficiencies and consume enough protein-rich grains, beans and seeds. As long as this is quality protein, it’s not important what it looks like. Or, as my grandma says sometimes, “it doesn’t stay pretty in your stomach”.

It is, therefore, quite entertaining to see how food industries insist on producing highly-processed, meticulously-designed products which are supposed to be meat substitutes. Tofurkey can be quite funny; it’s made to look like a real turkey. Lightlife produces a series of soy-made salamis and bolognes and turkey slices that look very much like the original (and, if memory serves me right, taste quite like it, too). A short google of “fake meat” or “mock meat” will take you to quite a bunch of links, including restaurant links, which sport realistic-looking “meat” recipes for vegetarians, such as this picture.

This stuff was most likely made from TVP or from seitan, which is textured wheat gluten. Both of these products happen to contain a good amount of good quality protein, but that’s not why they’re there – they’re there to remind vegetarians of meat. The absurd thing is that not all these substitutes have protein, or even are good for you. For example, Tivall, a wildly successful Israeli food manufacturer, produces “wiener schnitzels” made of corn and broccoli. Yes, it has hydrolized vegetable protein (?!?!) and bread crumbs and “flavoring”, but how much actual good protein is in there? Is it just that we need a patty of something on one corner of our plate to feel as if we’ve eaten?

It’s quite obvious – particularly from the Tofurkey example – that the vegetarian search for fake meat is cultural, not nutritional. We miss meat-based dishes of our omnivorous childhood, and want to recreate them in their cruelty-free form. An important corollary follows: it’s not important whether the protein is actually in the fake meat, as long as we get the protein from somewhere. We can therefore have as much Tivall corn schnitzels as we like, we’ll still need beans, and nuts, and perhaps cheese and eggs. This disconnect between how the food looks and what it actually is, is quite disturbing to anyone who wants to eat as close to nature as possible.

But, but but but, let’s not dis our pals who eat these things too soon. For many people who come to vegetarianism, be it for health or conscience reasons, the move is very difficult. This is particularly true for societies in which meat is considered the centerpiece of the meal. Someone who was raised to think of meat as “the meal”, and of rice, and beans, and vegetables, as “those things that come with the meal”, it is very difficult to get used to meals that seem incomplete. Naturally, thinking beyond the traditional plate is to be encouraged; but there is nothing wrong with a little bit of nostalgia, particularly if you can indulge yourself in a healthy, fun way, and not feel deprived.

I don’t miss meat. Really, I don’t. I have no need to eat meat. Haven’t had it for twelve years. There’s one thing in particular I miss, though: my grandma’s chopped liver. It was rich and creamy and nice, and full of fried onions. As I don’t eat chicken innards anymore, I occasionally look for fun vegetarian pates and spreads, and yesterday I made my own in our kitchen. So, here it is, for your eating pleasure.

Vegetarian Chopped Liver

I don’t know exactly what it is, in mock chopped liver recipes, that recreates the alchemy of actual liver. Is it the eggs and the nuts? Is it the aroma of the fried onions? Surely it can’t be the zuccini, because I’ve looked everywhere for recipes, and found recipes that use mushrooms, green beans, and – an Israeli favorite – eggplants. Alas, I had a surplus of zuccini from Chubeza and absolutely had to use it up. I vaguely remembered having eaten something like this in Passover, but could not find the recipe, and my invented one turned out fine. The only problem was that I didn’t add enough salt. We don’t usually add salt, but this recipe is somewhat of an exception, so be generous with the salt shaker.

4-5 large zuccinis or summer squashes
2 large, white onions
1/3 cup good quality olive or canola oil
4 hard-boiled eggs
3/4 cup walnuts
salt and pepper

In a large pan or a wok, heat up the oil. Chop up the onions and fry them until brown. This requires patience: they absolutely must be dark brown for the flavor alchemy to work properly. Once they are nearly there, add up the chopped-up zuccinis. Keep frying, until the zuccini is golden and soft as well, and the onions emit their lovely fried aroma.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we need to take care of the eggs and nuts. Simply stick’em in your food processor bowl and grind them to dust.

Add the fried stuff to the food processor bowl, and keep grinding, until you get a brown, uniform paste. Keep tasting it (“oh, no, do we have to?”) and add salt and pepper until your grandmother’s presence is strongly felt in the kitchen. If you come from a different ethnic background and your grandma never makes chopped liver, you can channel mine – hers is fantastic. Anyway: remove from bowl and refrigerate. Enjoy with crackers, vegetables, and – for those of you who eat wheat – fresh bread.

The Entire City is Going on a Diet

When I have thoughts of leaving my tiny metropolis and leaving somewhere else, this is exactly the sort of thing that always dissuades me from doing so. Tel Aviv is one of the most entertaining and amusing cities in the world. Every day there are fascinating things going on. Right now, there’s a coffee and theater event close to my house, and several fantastic exhibitions at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

However, the most entertaining occurrence these days is Health and the City – a citywide event, happening mostly on the beaches, and designed to make all of us fitter and healthier. The idea is as follows: there are fitness classes, at almost all hours, right on the beach; health consultants, dieticians, and exercise instructors give free advice to all participants; many restaurants in the city are offering discount salads and whole-grain dishes; there are lots of discounts in fitness clubs; the mayor even spoke on the radio, encouraging all citizens to walk more.

I know some of the lesser enthusiasts would see this as a nuisance and perhaps even a paternalistic attempt to regulate the citypeople’s behavior (after all, are we less worthy citizens if we don’t exercise, or if we eat junk?). I also dislike the emphasis on weight loss, rather than health (this city needs less, not more, weight-related neurosis). However, you really have to applaud the city for creating what I believe must be the world’s greatest health support group. Going on my daily walk, I saw folks doing pilates on the beach and push ups in the park; it was fun to see how dedicated everyone was, and I can only hope it will lead folks to explore local farming and nutrition, as well.

Most important, these enterprises always make me smile; it’s so much fun to live in such a benevolently crazy place.

Appetite, Nutrition, Feminism

The picture you see in this post comes from the new fashion catalog of an Israeli designer store for women, Comme Il Faut. Comme Il Faut is a fashion store which adopts an interesting and controversial concept: selling expensive, well-tailored, chic clothing – but with a feminist edge. Their catalogues often feature a variety of Israeli women of all sizes, professions, ages and shapes; the glossy pages feature a variety of women in their seventies, lesbian couples, crossdressing men, large women, etc, who are mentioned by name, age and profession. On the store’s shelves, in addition to shirts, dresses and pants, you’ll find basic feminist literature (Simone de Beauvoir, bell hooks, Naomi Wolf) and newer books on women, violence, activism, body image, etc. The store and its image has been the focus of an animated feminist debate. Despite their commitment to fair trade, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, equal pay and fair treatment for women, the store caters to upper-class women, the only ones who can afford their high-priced clothing, and is therefore somewhat of an exclusive space, which makes their radical feminist messages somewhat problematic.

This is, however, a blog about food and nutrition, which is why I want to discuss the store’s latest campaign, titled “Bon Appetit, Honey”. The catalog and motto of the summer season is to encourage women to eat heartily, to indulge themselves in food, to avoid depriving themselves of anything, and to reflect on body image and on food choices they make as a feminist issues. As you can see above, the summer catalogue sports beautiful women of all ilks heartily and happily biting into meat, pasta, cake, ice cream, etc, etc.

The store’s focus on food is not surprising. Next to their flag store at the Tel Aviv Harbor, in a special and pampering compound, they have a fabulous cafe, serving great meals made with wholesome, organic ingredients, blended fruit and vegetable juices, and excellent homey desserts. The connection between womanhood, body, fashion and food is therefore a very immediate one. To make things more obvious, the current campaign is accompanied by a brochure explaining how the confinement of women to dietetic, barely-survival food has been a technique for debilitating and weakening women, and for establishing their place in society as people who primarily nourish others while depriving themselves of the joys of food.

Now, I have a lot of sympathy for messages aimed at liberating women from confining social institutions, and, in particular, the institution of fad dieting and pleasure avoidance. So, notwithstanding my criticism of the campaign which will follow, I am happy to see these messages infiltrate our consciousness and take up space which, otherwise, would have been taken up by anorexic 15-year-olds. The store’s guest book features an entry from a young woman with anorexia, who tells them that she hung the catalogue in the wing where she, and other anorexic girls, are hospitalized, and they get a lot of encouragement out of it. Can’t say this, in itself, is a negative trend. Not only that, but some of my clothes, I confess, were purchased in Comme Il Faut, and these ladies are truly talented, so I can’t really begrudge them too much. However. (of course there’s a “however”; you should know me already).

Comme Il Faut is a fashion house. A fashion house, albeit an idealist, activist one, is all about selling clothes. Clothes are designed to make women look their best, and this “best” can’t be entirely disconnected from social notions of what looks well and what doesn’t. Moreover, Comme Il Faut is a fashion house that, shall we put it bluntly? sells clothes to upper- and middle-class women. Affluent women. Women who have enough social cache, resources and leisure to be concerned in many ways about their looks and grooming. It is very probable that many of the customers are those who engage in several delightful activities, like the botox injections we discussed earlier. It is naive to expect that this population will be genuinely moved, by the store’s message, and order a large dish of ice-cream at the cafe. After all, wouldn’t they want to look their best in their newly purchased gorgeous clothes? Yes, it’s important that Comme Il Faut is talking the talk. But let’s not be illusioned into thinking that their customers are likely to walk the walk.

What we have here, ladies, is excellent, politically-correct (and I say this in the most positive, irony-free sense of the word), healthy, empowering ideology, at the service of our old pal, capitalism. Indeed, by shopping at Comme Il Faut we are more likely to contribute to fair salaries of female workers who are treated like family, and to donations to various peace organizations. But primarily, we are contributing to the wealth of an extremely successful enterprise for profit. Let’s not forget that (the same can be said about shopping at feel-good, organic, cruelty-free beauty shops: here’s what my thoughtful new pal (hopefully), Carmit, has to say, in Hebrew, about the Body Shop). The empowering messages make this contribution more palatable, but they don’t cancel out its existence. The more extreme radicals might say that, by having these messages supposedly broadcasted by the hegemony, we are numbing women from engaging in ideological battles (why go out to the streets in protest when we can purchase another gorgeous pair of pants and feel good about it?) – but I’m not sure the situation is made so much worse by this campaign. It just isn’t made as better as we’d hope for.

And here’s where I come to the actual issue – the food. The catalogue is encouraging women not to leave the steak, cake and ice cream to the men, and to engage in the world of sensual culinary pleasure. Yay! Yay? I’m not so sure. I’m not sure that feminism is well served by encouraging women to consume red meat, white bread, sugars and sweets. Indeed, dammit, it’s annoying that food is such a gendered field. It’s annoying that social conventions are regulating different food consumption regimes for women and men. The answer is not to clog our collective arteries in a gender blind fashion. Folks, if we want to conquer the world, what’s going to help us do it? What is going to make us stronger and healthier so we have energy for social reform? A sugar crash from a chocolate cake, or a nice bowl of brown rice and beans with steamed vegetables? Depriving outselves of calories is never a good idea; but depriving ourselves of nutrients which make us competent and help our bodies help us isn’t any better.

My argument here isn’t abstract. The personal is political. So here it goes. My health comes from months of making a conscious effort to eat extremely healthy food. Yes, I’ve lost weight, but I also feel a lot better, phsicaly. Making the effort to eat wholesome and organic was one of the best things I ever did for myself and I refuse to be told that it was a weakening, unfeminist thing to do. How, exactly, would a message encouraging the consumption of ice cream be helpful or empowering for my life? And why does health need to be equated with deprivation? Isn’t this message, in itself, unfeminist, by buying into the existing capitalist foodchain which makes sustainable, organic farming, so removed from the reality of working-class family nutrition? Is it only possible to enjoy life by consuming red meat? Is clogging our arteries the best method we can think about for subverting patriarchy?


If we want real feminist power, of course we must oppose any message that we should starve outselves to fit anyone’s image of beauty. But we must equally oppose any half-baked message that tells us to give up our health and livelihood in the name of feminism. You hungry, girl? Spend the time to make yourself a nice bowl of grains and greens. Grab a nice plate of hummus, and wipe it off the plate with whole-grain pita. Eat a hearty vegetable stew, then lick the plate. Enjoy a refreshing drink of cultured yogurt. Support whoever works hard to grow and supply you with the ingredients for healthy, satisfying meals. Go for a nice walk, fill your lungs with fresh air, and think how lucky you are to live where healthy fresh food is readily available for you. The first step for causing postive change in the world is taking good care of ourselves, so that we have the most important resource – our health – at our hands when we do so. The next stage, is to make this health, through local, sustainable food, available to all. Now that’s real power, and surely if we’ve done that, or at least done our share for ourselves and for others, we all (regardless of our income) deserve a nice, comfortable, well-tailored pair of pants.

Papaya vs. Botox

The other day I was saddened to read an article on Bananot, an Israeli girl magazine, about botox injections. The author tells of her experience going to get the injection, her sadness at her lost youth, and finally – despite all the shortcomings of the process – the coveted award: a stranger in the street guessed her age to be five years less than she actually is.

I don’t know where to begin my arguments against this article; one has to applaud the author’s bravery at coming out and saying she got the injection. However, I see the fact that people are feeling comfortable to openly admit they get them as an indicator that these procedures have become more acceptable than before, and it’s quite possible that many women I see in Tel Aviv have gone through this. Which is why I’ll add my non-relenting, sanctimonious voice to the choir, and say things most of you have already heard, or said yourselves, in numerous occasions.

My main argument against botox is quite obvious, and simply involves the nature of the procedure: you’re basically injecting yourself with poison. You’re consciously and deliberatly introducing a dangerous, muscle-paralyzing poison into your very own precious body, for the purpose of, well, being something that some would define “pretty”. Have I already mentioned that botox is poison? The author seems to understand this, and nevertheless, the immediate effects on health somehow fail to register. She playfully tells us how one of her eyebrows “fell down” and was lower than the other, but this menacing occurrence does not trigger any deeper understanding about cause and effect. The fact that one might get sick if one drinks, say, ink, is easily acknowledged; why would introducing harmful substances through other means make you any better?

For some reason, this procedure scares me more than that old-timer pal, the facelift. Hideous as going under surgery to tuck in some face may seem, at least it’s expensive, and surgical, and you expect folks to give it careful thought before doing it (though the numbers of women getting plastic surgery, including facelifts, are getting alarmingly big). The botox craze is worse in the sense that it’s less expensive and the process itself is less lengthy. Of course, it is not cheap at all, and involves some readjustment of the face and some recovery, but all in all, the unbearable lightness of poisoning yourself makes everything seem so much more demonic somehow.

And why is that? the Weberian, Protestant-Ethos part of me is upset about the attitude that “easy fixes” are readily available for any inconvenience we encounter. Rather than thoroughly treating our wounds (or realizing they are not wounds at all) we stick cosmetic band-aids on them. Learning to be proud of our faces, which reflect the faces of your mothers, and grandmothers, and ancestors, is too much work. Yes, so much better for all involved if we just inject something. Observing how the corners of our eyes are lined from years of laughing with dear friends, and how our forehead is lined from years of thinking, and concentrating, and worrying about our loved ones, is too much work. Much better for us to erase our past and experiences. The idea that technology will be right next to us, lending us a helping hand whenever life becomes a tad more complicated, propels us to stop our inner search, to stick with the easy solution, to take the proverbial blue pill.

And what is this valuable asset that we wish to recreate by injecting poison into our face? Yes, of course, it’s youth – that wonderful, carefree time, when we were completely helpless in any way that could shape our future. That time when we were cruel to each other, incommunicado with our parents, busy conducting world wars across the social food chain in school, and devoid of any resources for taking control of our lives. Is that the period we wish to relieve? Is this equation of women with teenagers meant at making them as helpless and lost as teenagers? Ladies, do think of your life in your thirties, forties, fifties, sixties; yes, it’s more complex. You have jobs, and families, and dilemmas, and bills, and bureaucracy. But you can take matters into your own hands, and use your wisdom and experience (whose traces are on your wise, beautiful face) to solve your problems. With erasing the signs of your wisdom and experience comes a symbolic, and perhaps more than symbolic, negation of these very experiences and their value to your life. You once again relinquish control and place yourself in the hands of a dangerous chemical, which takes away your control over something which is extremely close to your personality: your facial expressions. You relinquish control of your face muscles, echoing the time when our faces were wrinkle-free and our control over our circumstances, relationships and future was nil.

The ultimate “award” for this dangerous and futile exercise in self-weakening is given in the form of a compliment from a stranger. If we are incomplete and unhappy until some man we don’t know tells us we look thirty-five and not a day older, what does it say about us? What does that say about our relationship with ourselves and with the loved people who have walked all these erased years beside us? What does that tell us about the source and strength of our self esteem? Self esteem, self empowerment, pride in the self, does not come in a plastic container; “for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without”.

What to do, then? The most important thing is to take pride in who you are, in your age, in your experiences. Easier said than done in an era of aggressive advertisements, but important. No one, apparently, will facilitate this for us – we must do it ourselves. When people ask you how old you are, for heavens’ sake, tell them your right age. When you look at your lines in the mirror, acknowledge the joys and sorrows that shaped them, like small symbolic tattoos marking the stations of change and shift in your life.

This does not mean letting your body weaken. If we want to live and love on this planet, we must do whatever we can to be healthy and strong. The work needs to be done; the children need to be raised; the ideals need to be fought. To do that, you’ll need a robust musclo-skeletal system, a strong digestive system, clean and healthy lungs. Eat whole, organic, fresh natural foods. Cook for yourself and your family. Take a walk, or a swim, or a class on a regular basis. Forge a strong relationship of cooperation between your mind and your body.

And finally, want to be pretty? Your food can give you a hand with that. There is a variety of great resources out there on natural, harmless substances that can heal and enrich your skin. Two of the better books I use are Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Healing for Women and Dina Falconi’s Earthly Bodies and Heavenly Hair. This doesn’t have to be a cumbersome regime; you can use some of the vegetables and fruit you cook with to get the benefits.

Two good examples are papaya and lemons, both good for a combination/oily skin complection. Making tchina, vegetable salad, or anything that needs lemon juice? Take a piece of the lemon and slather its pulp over your face. Rinse out in ten minutes. Papaya, which includes the wonderful enzyme Papain, is even better, but be sure to rinse it off in five minutes, as the active ingredients are quite strong. If your skin is sensitive, there’s a variety of organic, hypo-allergenic products out there, and many of them do not experiment on animals (for a great list of cruelty-free products in Israel, see here). The lemon and papaya treatments are tried and true methods for mattifying the skin, cleaning the pores and absorbing excess oils. Naturally (no pun intended), they do not wipe off your laughter or worry lines. Assuming that as a live, vibrant woman, you occasionally worry, and sometimes laugh, we’ll just have to accept you, and your beauty, and your experience – the way you are.

Save the Internet

Whoa, two days in a row without writing about food… but this is important, folks. Apparently, large corporations have been putting pressure on the government to make the internet work for large businesses so that they have access to faster speed, and individuals with websites will have to pay them astronomical fees in order for their sites to load at a reasonable speed. This could mean the end of blogs, personal websites, and much of the personal communication and joy we get out of the internet.

Read all about this here, and let your friends know.

But while we still have the rights to use this wonderful democratic tool, the Internet, we’ll still be talking about organic, healthy, delicious food. Tomorrow, we’ll be back on our scheduled program; expect zuccini.

Some Angry Words about Basic Behavioral Rules

I was planning to post something today about zuccini. But this morning I encountered something that enraged me to no end, and just had to say something about it.

Well, I went on my morning walk by the Tel Aviv beach, and could not believe my eyes. The entire beach – all the way from Tel Aviv to Jaffa – was full of unbelievable amounts of trash. Food, disposable plates and cups, utensils, bags and wrappers. You could barely see the grass. Of course, this must be the aftermath of Lag Ba’Omer, the bonfire holiday. Folks went to the beach, had their bonfires, roasted meat and potatoes and onions, and simply went home, leaving all their crap behind and not even thinking of picking it up.

This kind of behavior drives me nuts.

You know, when we came back to Tel Aviv from Berkeley, it took us a while to realize there was no infrastructure for recycling, save for a few areas for plastic bottles. No easy way to compost in the city, either. We don’t live well with that, and when we complain, we’re seen as a couple of whinebags. But throwing away your trash, rather than putting it in a plastic bag and disposing of it using the garbage cans is a violation of the most basic rules of behavior each and every one of the beach partyers was taught in kindergarten. It’s amazing to think of all these folks who bothered to shower, shave and put on some fragrant skin lotion before going to the party, then ate and drank and littered around like total pigs and couldn’t even see the irony of what they were doing.

Some folks might make an argument along the multicultural lines; this is, after all, the Middle East. But I would think that not littering, and using a garbage can, is such a basic norm. I mean, if those folks were presented with an array of the stuff they threw around, they’d be disgusted. I know, because I spent half of my morning walk picking after them. Bottles and bottles of corporate soft drinks. Half eaten nasty looking sausages. Packets of cigarrettes (do smokers realize how vile these things look and smell? surely they don’t, otherwise why would they do it?). And pools of vomit everywhere. Overdrinking and vomiting has to be one of the least classy forms of human self-expression. Nevertheless, folks overdrink and vomit. Everyone would agree that the aftermath of the bonfire craziness is hideous and gross. Nevertheless, it is us, humans, Tel Aviv residents, who created it. It is our waste that we now deem gross. Am I the only person who’s reflecting on that this morning?

I expect that, if folks gave any thought at all to what they were doing, they thought that the city somehow “owes” them something, and that the garbage workers will zealously pick after them in the morning, whistling a cheerful tune. Well, newsflash, littering filthy people: I talked to the garbage people this morning, and they were not amused by all the crap you left around. Nor were they paid extra this morning for clearing your hideous mess. How nice that we can dehumanize folks working to keep our city clean and just assume that, like androids, they will shovel away, without feeling, all the disgusting crap we leave behind. Yes, the city employs people to clean it. It’s great. It does not absolve any of us from the personal responsibilities of cleaning up after ourselves, same as we do in our homes.

The amazing thing was that the usual morning crowd – the folks walking and jogging on the beach – just went on as normal. Our city is defiled, our sea is filthy, but let that not stop our smug yuppie selves from working on our physique this morning. Does no one understand that, on a filthy planet, a neat trim body is completely meaningless?

Because, and here’s where this is somehow related to food, everything is connected, folks. Not in the New Agey, cosmic sense of the word. In the most daily and obvious way. The gross plastic plates and bags you leave behind find their way to the shore, where they are eaten by fish, who get sick, and then you eat them, and get sick too. They are eaten by birds who fly above the shore. They emit a smell of decay which influences the animal population on the beach, as well as the air we breathe. You are directly influenced by everything you did last night to rape Mother Earth, and the small strip of Her flesh which we call our city’s beach. Funny, tonight the city is planning to hold a giant fireworks event on the beach. We’ll all be sitting there, soaking in yesterday’s filth, and enjoying the lights on the giant skies, which will numb our brains and hearts and help us forget our disregard for the small piece of Earth we live on. Dammit, shame on us. Shame on us.

What should you do then?

1) If you walk on the Tel Aviv beach this morning, or anywhere, actually, any morning – for heaven’s sake, pick up a plastic bag (the littering people left plenty of those lying around) and clean some. You don’t have to leave the place sparkling clean. But help a bit. If everyone did that this morning, the beach would be clean in no time.

2) Write a letter to your city, or mine, about the salaries for garbage disposal folks. Their important services are not appreciated as much as they should be, and they don’t get extra bonuses for days when the city is filthy. This is no excuse for the citizens’ behavior, of course, but it’s annoying and should be rectified.

3) If you see folks littering around, don’t be afraid that someone will think you a sanctimonious fart if you say something. Speak up. It’s your city they’re raping and degrading. You have a right and an obligation to say something.

4) Organize some friends and go clean a trail, or a section of your city. You don’t have to be a bleeding heart left-wing yuppie to do this. You just need to have a bit of care about where you live.

Mostly, though, you should think. You should let those neurons work and give the minimum amount of thought to where your stuff ends up and what happens to it. Of course, if we all did this, we’d have the infrastructure for recycling, and many well-paid city workers to help us do it efficiently. But even if not, in the very least, our beach would not be a huge junkyard, and we wouldn’t put the beautiful words of Nathan Alterman, the “white city” poet, to shame.

University Food Court: A Microcosm of the Restaurant Industry?

Most of our days are spent at the Tel Aviv University campus. Which means we eat there. Often, we bring our own lunches – after having organic vegetables at home, nothing else tastes quite the same – but sometimes we don’t, and we’re presented with quite a dazzling array of choices.

Campus food has developed quite a bit since when I was a student. I remember the law school cafeteria had cheese, egg and tuna sandwiches; the central restaurant had cheap homelike food (meat, various carb options, and some cooked vegetables). In my later days there, there were coffee carts everywhere in addition to the restaurants, and one of the restaurants, in the education department building, served antipasti and couscous. In Berkeley, we were surrounded by a lot of inexpensive restaurants, some of which were very healthy and very tasty.

Tel Aviv University offers quite a lot of different food stalls. The central food court is a microcosm of the food industry, and, accordingly, it ; McDonalds have a restaurant there which, regrettably, has become quite a favorite with the students. It’s quick, and it offers something it calls “California salad” which is basically lifeless iceberg lettuce with some chicken on top. Next door to McDonalds is a local pseudo-Thai chain called Lemon Grass. Calling it Thai is almost a capital offense. It actually offers hideous sushi and other pan-Asian, fake, industrialized things.

Some chains are not that evil. The old Tel Aviv cafe, Alexander, started a new venture called Green Leaves, a salad bar on campus. Each person chooses which vegetables, whole grains, antipasti, cheeses and other fun ingredients go in the salad. Obviously, this option isn’t perfect, either; the vegetables are pre-cut, and the plastic containers can’t be recycled anywhere. But it’s a viable option.

The cafeteria also offers the usual fare of fish, carbs and cooked vegetables, as well as fresh pasta. The students’ metabolism never ceases to amaze me; having pasta with cream sauce day after day is something I can no longer deal with.

Coffee culture in Israel is pretty big, and each of the cafeterias will serve you a very decent cup of coffee, or a nice selection of herbal teas. Two places offer blended/squeezed juices, also a good breakfast option.

Finally, there is the price. A meal in the cafeteria costs an average of 20 to 30 NIS – between 5 and 7 dollars (equivalent to UC Berkeley prices, but with the salaries here so much lower, certainly something to consider). While we’re happy to visit the salad man once in a while, this is certainly not something that a student household can deal with on a daily basis. Nevertheless, I don’t see students with brown sandwich bags or containers from home; In a culture with such culinary savvy, it’s surprising that students don’t take time to relax from their books and cook for themselves.

The Veg Count Too: Rant and Recipe

Have you noticed how, for some meat eaters, the meal doesn’t count unless it contains meat?

Fear not, gentle reader. I’m not about to launch into another one of those vegetarian-carnivore debates. I have no beef (ha!) with meat eaters; becoming vegetarian is a highly personal choice, and I’ve heard, countless times, all the arguments and counterarguments. What I do want to rant about, is the way some carnivores make meat into the focus of their culinary experience, completely ignoring the rest of the food.

Now, with homemade food, for many folks here, the idea is that there’s an “entree” – namely, some sort of a dead animal – and then there are the “additions”, the things that meat is “served with”, which, in classy restaurants, are not even mentioned in the outset. You read that you’ll be served a steak or a leg of lamb, and then, in small print, it’ll say “with potatoes and asparagus”. Sometimes they don’t bother at all. This practice bothers me to no end, because it completely ignores the quality of ingredients, creativity and nutritional planning that goes into making a truly wonderful vegetarian dish. This tendency to ignore anything on your plate that isn’t meat, by the way, is a common accompaniment to the unwillingness to understand that one’s meat has come from animals – an absurdity on which my dear friend Barbara Fisher has written an award-winning post.

Why, you ask, have I launched into this rant? Well, Wednesday was Independence Day in Israel. While Americans tend to celebrate all their national dates of importance by, well, shopping, Israelis do so by eating. A lot. Of Meat.

All national parks, forests, patches of green, and often traffic circles, I kid you not, are invaded, since morning, by folks carrying dozens of kilograms of meat and a barbecue, or as it’s called here, a mangal. Gender roles are very specific, and very reminscent of Jean Auel books: only the men are allowed to directly deal with the fire, while the women hunt-gather for pita bread and condiments, and the children mainly eat and make noise. This in itself is quite fine, though the lust for such huge amounts of meat certainly does not agree with everyone’s arteries. In fact, Chad and I attended an event like this.

So, whaddwe do when we go to a barbecue? Do we sit and stare longingly at the meat, or stuff our face with meatless bread? Hell no. We bring Vegetable Skewers. We put them in a delicious, aromatic marinade. We include all sorts of exotic veg. And we eat with great pleasure. So this time, we brought in skewers with celery roots, beets, fennel, and other amazing organic veg. Oh, and we stuck on them the occasional cube of tofu. While our veg were top quality, the tofu, this time, was a tad mediocre, so we didn’t put much of it on.

And when we took them out, folks looked at them and said “heh, tofu skewers”.

Now that was really ridiculous. All these fabulous vegetables were there, but the folks around us zoomed in on the sole tofu cube, not even registering the rest of the skewer as “food”. But of course, we’re vegetarians, so given the fact that anything beyond meet is not considered “food”, then we must eat tofu all day.

Wrong, folks. We love our veg. And we never go hungry. And while protein is very important, so are vitamins, and minerals, and carbs, and other nutrients. Vegetables are food.

And then, one person asked to try one. And another. And another. And eventually they all ate, and were happy, and said it was very good.

So here’s the recipe, for your barbecuing pleasure:

Vegetable Skewers

3 carrots
3 beets
1 large fennel bulb
1 celery root, cleaned
4 tomatoes
10 forest mushrooms of any kind
1 large onion

4 cups vegetable stock
2-3 cups soy sauce
1 one-inch diameter ginger chunk, chopped or grated
6-7 garlic cloves
3 handfuls of fresh herbs: we like parsley and cilantro
1/2 tablespoon of cornstarch (optional but helps consistency).

This can be done with any vegetables. Really. It’s just that the aboce combo worked so well. The trick is to skewer a variety of ingredients that work well together and take about the same time to cook. Alas, this is tricky; because the tomato cooks almost instantly, while, say, the carrots take a long time.

Which is why you steam the “hard” vegetables first.

“Peel” the celery root, that is, cut of its external rougher surface. Then, dice all the vegetables, so the pieces are about 1/2 inch wide and no more than 1 inch in other directions. It’s best if they are about the same size. Now, take the carrot cubes, the beets, the celeries, and the fennels, and steam them for about 30 minutes or until they are firm but easily pierced with a skewer. We use a bamboo steamer (easily purchased for very, very cheap in your local Asian houseware store), but a collander over a large pot of water would work just as fine. Just let the water work its magic.

Then, mix all ingredients for the marinade in a very large bowl, and put all vegetable cubes, including tomatoes and mushrooms and onions, into the marinade, and let them sit there for at least three hours.

Then, grap a bunch of skewers and get creative. One of the best ways to do this, is to place a large bowl in your sink, hang a collander over it, and pour the contents of your marinade bowl into the collander. Thus, you get all the veg ready for skewering, and you save the marinade for future use. Yay! Another recommendation is to split the different kinds of veg between several bowls, so you see how many of each you’ve got, and you don’t end up with a bunch of skewers that only have, say, carrots on them. In this, I beg to differ from Alton Brown: I understand the rationale behind skewering the same vegetables on the same skewer (uniform cooking time), but since folks will usually have no more than two of these, why not give them something that offers more fun and variety?

You can do whatever you want in terms of the order of skewering, but I really recommend having one of the firmer, tougher vegetables on each end. Also, a good idea is to stick bits of the onion and fennel between vegetable cubes, as they infuse their “neighbors” on the skewer with their magnificent aroma.

The best way we’ve found to carry the skewers to the barbecue is taking a very big plastic bag and putting a bowl inside it, with the skewers “standing” in the bowl. Also, be sure to carry a little container with marinade with you, so you can sprinkle it on the vegetables should they become dry.

Then, at the event itself, once you’ve fought off the meat eaters for some space on the barbecue, you simply place them out there,on the barbecue, and give them a little turn every couple of minutes. They’ll be done in five or seven minutes, depending on the size of veg you’ve picked. They’re very good with fresh tchina, or in a hummus sandwich. Enjoy!