Bal Tashchit: Do Not Destroy
The commandment of Bal Tashchit is given in Deuteronomy 20:19 – 20. It can be understood to mean that our actions should protect the environment, and that wasteful or destructive behaviors are ethically wrong. This instruction can speak to us now, as we adjust to the new global reality of living during a pandemic.
While we are in home quarantine to protect ourselves and other humans, we can simultaneously eat in a way that protects animals and our planet.
Food Thoughts and Actions
Life has changed dramatically in a short amount of time. Food is a significant feature of people’s experience of the COVID-19 outbreak, with people eating at home more than before, and reports from several countries about panic-buying and stock shortages in supermarkets. Those choosing to practice home quarantine have to think about food in a new way.
Before quarantine, my most common preferences about food were (mostly) about me and my family:
- Eat food that makes me and my family feel good – gives us stable energy throughout the day
- Eat food that allows us to maintain a healthy body weight
- Eat food that is pleasurable and sometimes also entertaining
Preparing for quarantine, my priorities shifted:
- Choosing food that will not perish quickly
- Finding a balance between food which will keep us well and treats which will bring us comfort
- Limiting our shopping excursions, without bulk buying in a way which leaves others without
And now, at home in quarantine, I find myself thinking about food in more family-focused ways:
- Mealtimes and cooking/baking add much needed structure to our days at home. I use this printable meal planning template to create our weekly meal plan
- Cooking and baking feels more therapeutic
- Refraining from eating in reaction to boredom, stress, worry and anxiety (As a psychotherapist, I believe that expressing emotions is more effective than feeding them)
Food for Thought
I am also thinking about our food choices and how they directly link to this pandemic. It is imperative for us to understand how our endless human hunger for resources and food is disrupting nature.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic (and Ebola, Sars, and bird flu), mainstream media is starting to report scientific research which reveals how our encroachment on nature is destroying our planet’s biodiversity and creates the conditions for viruses to cross-over from animals to humans. Our food consumption impacts animals and the environment. It is not common knowledge that land use and emissions from large-scale meat and dairy production contribute to climate change.
David Quammen, the author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic, published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times to this point right after the COVID-19 infection started in Wuhan in late January 2020. His piece is entitled, “We Made the Coronavirus Epidemic” and he writes “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”
In everyday life it is hard to realize that our individual food habits and preferences make any difference. But they do. Food production methods, daily eating choices, and food waste habits have a powerful impact on our environment, for better or for worse.
Food Choices for a Healthy Us and Healthy Planet
Now is a perfect time to get back to the basics with food — eating minimally processed fruits, vegetables, starchy vegetables, roots/tubers, intact whole grains and legumes. These should make up most if not all of our daily calories during quarantine. For all of us (including meat and dairy lovers), including more non-animal foods in our regular diet can only bring good to our personal and environmental health.
Eating well and mindfully during quarantine is practice for all of us to eat in more environmentally and socially responsible ways when the pandemic is over and “normal” life begins again. Dietary choices that are better for the environment are conveniently also those which allow us to achieve optimal human health. Overconsumption of meat, fish, dairy and processed foods is destructive for our environment and our personal health. It is motivating to think that we can positively impact the environment with our food choices every day we are living in quarantine, and that these same food choices help our physical health too.
Vegan Recipes for Us and Our Planet
Here are some vegan recipes that are delicious and healthier for our bodies and our planet.
Vegan Challah: This vegan recipe is a make-over for the iconic Jewish bread. This oil-free recipe hits all the Challah taste and appearance boxes – it smells like Challah, tastes like challah and pulls apart like challah. Best of all, it is healthier for our bodies and our planet. You can download the vegan challah recipe card here and print it at home.
Mushroom and Walnut Gardener’s Pie with Butternut Squash Topping Recipe: This recipe is featured in the Jewish Food Hero community cookbook project, Feeding Women of the Bible, Feeding Ourselves cookbook. This plant-based recipe is a healthy take on a shepherd’s or cottage pie. This hearty and nourishing pie is filled with a bounty of vegetables. Even carnivores will be happy to eat this dish because it is full of bold flavor and plant-based protein. Better yet, it takes just fifteen minutes to prepare the ingredients. There is a kosher-for-passover alternative given in this recipe so you can make it all year around and for the holiday too.
Vegan Nutty Chocolate Chip Cookies (Kosher-for-Passover): These cookies are pesach friendly and you can make them with either white beans or sweet potatoes depending on if you eat kitniyot or not during Passover. You can use matzo meal or kosher fine almond flour (for a gluten-free version) to make these cookies.
The recipe below yields a dozen cookies — which I can tell you from experience will go quickly.
Nutty Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: One dozen cookies
Measuring cups and spoons
Two baking sheets
1 ¼ cup cooked white beans or cooked sweet potato purée (depending on which you eat during the holiday)
¼ cup natural almond butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup honey or 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup matzo meal (can use almond flour)
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (use a dairy, nut, and soy-free version)
Preheat the oven to 350 F
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper
Rinse white beans multiple times in the colander.
Put white beans or sweet potato purée, almond butter, vanilla, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a food processor
Mix until very smooth, scraping down the sides of the container when necessary
Transfer the dough into a mixing bowl and fold in the matzo meal or almond flour and chocolate chips
Place rounded tablespoons of the dough evenly spaced 2” apart on the baking sheets
Bake for approximately 20 – 24 minutes, or until they turn golden brown
Remove the cookies from the baking sheet and allow them to cool before serving or storing.
Kenden Alfond is a psychotherapist and 99% vegan. She has a BA from Brown University, an MA in Counseling Psychology and a certificate in plant-based nutrition from Cornell University. Kenden’s work for the United Nations and various NGOs has seen her living in India, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Switzerland and Cambodia. Kenden started Jewish Food Hero to get healthier plant-based food onto Jewish tables around the world. She is the author of The Jewish Food Hero Cookbook and Feeding Women of the Bible, Feeding Ourselves.