At Rosh Hashanah, as we celebrate the birth of the world, it is a reminder that we are called to be God’s partners to protect creation. Through mitzvot, we each strive to be as holy as possible in our actions. As Rabbi David Sears explains, “Because man is the central figure in Creation, he is responsible for the rest of the world… Through our emulation of God, we become the instrument of God’s compassion for the world that He created and pronounced ‘good.’”
And as we reflect on our own behaviors of the past year during the High Holidays, we must examine the impacts of our food choices. We are living in a world that is experiencing the effects of climate change (1/5 of all greenhouse gas emissions comes from livestock for meat and dairy consumption), the unprecedented burning of the Amazon for livestock grazing and food along with the horrific treatment and killing of farm animals for food (including for kosher slaughter), dwindling freshwater sources and water pollution.
Though these global issues can seem overwhelming and daunting, we are living also in an incredible moment where we have the resources to help to solve these problems, guided by Jewish values and ethics. Judaism challenges us to live to the highest standards, including how and what we eat; bringing more humane and environmentally sensitive plant-based foods to our tables will reduce climate emissions, cut water consumption and protect animals.
Though eating vegan might seem radical, no one ate meat in the Torah until after the flood in the story of Noah. And Judaism offers myriad texts and teachings about animal welfare and environmental responsibility (see examples here and here) that can guide and inspire us to incorporate more plant-based foods into meals.
Going vegan, or even just eating more plant-based foods, may seem daunting or out of reach. I decided to become vegetarian when I was a little kid, and even then, it was a gradual process, especially because I struggled to give up my beloved tuna melt sandwiches! Five years ago, I went vegan, but it didn’t happen overnight. I slowly removed dairy products and then eggs and updated some beloved recipes, such as challah, to make them vegan.
There are many easy ways to add more plants to your diet. From Rosh Hashanah through Sukkot (the ultimate farm-to-table holiday), you can savor and celebrate the abundance of fruits and vegetables and their symbolism during these holidays.
Here are some tips to get you started:
- Swap out dairy milk, yogurt and ice creams in favor of plant-based ones made from oats, hemp, soy or nuts.
- Don’t panic about protein. We’ve been sold a false idea about how much protein we really need, and that it should come from animals. Seek out and savor plant-based proteins. Starting soon, fresh beans will hit the farmers markets; savor their distinct flavors and textures. Or check out Rancho Gordo’s dried colorful heirloom beans.
- Stock up on fresh produce at local farmers markets now. Wash and freeze them to enjoy throughout the winter—just imagine the joy of putting local blueberries in your oatmeal in December!
- Instead of using chicken eggs, try aquafaba or flax eggs.
- Try a meat replacement, such as Beyond Meat. I have seen omnivores swoon over these burgers.
- Seek out local veg-friendly restaurants and businesses through the Happy Cow app and website.
- More and more it’s believed that the Biblical “dvash” (honey) was actually vegan date syrup, not bee honey. Try some at your Rosh Hashanah meal.
- Use Jewish Veg’s vegan starter guide and ask for vegan meal options at your institution.
- Check out Shamayim’s great list of vegan cookbooks for inspiring recipes.
- Buy vegan challah from Soupergirl (Takoma Park and downtown DC locations).
Have other ideas for changing food habits? Share them with me in the comments. Most importantly, celebrate and enjoy new traditions with family and friends in the new year!