Posted by Rob Eshman
Stress. Bad for humans. Bad for chickens.
Dr. Joseph Mercola is a specialist on anti-aging. In his list of the top ten ways to age gracefully, Number 1 is dealing with stress.
Learn how to effectively cope with stress. As discussed earlier, stress has a direct impact on inflammation, which in turn underlies many of the chronic diseases that kill people prematurely every day. Therefore, developing effective coping mechanisms is a great strategy for increasing your longevity.
Meditation, prayer, physical activity and exercise are all viable options that can help you maintain emotional and mental equilibrium. I also strongly believe in using energy psychology tools such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to address deeper, oftentimes hidden emotional scars.
Everyone tells me meditation is good for stress, but I’m bad at meditation. I’m tall and I cramp. Many years ago, I spent a week at the Green Gulch Zen Center near Muir Woods and dreaded the meditation sessions, which were the point of the week. I had gone reluctantly with a friend, but only because a copy of the Tassajara Cookbook accompanied me all through my college cooking, and Green Gulch was affiliated with Tassajara. My friend was seeking stress relief and enlightenment. I wanted to see how they made those bran muffins en masse.
The instructor was a real Japanese monk who circled around the students as we sat in stillness. Each time he got to me, he poked my shoulders, unhappy with my posture. By the end of the week his gentle adjustments to my back became full-fledged jabs. One time he just flicked his hand against my shoulder blades. Yes, the Zen master slapped me. I must have irritated him. Maybe he needed to meditate.
That was my last attempt. Except these days I’ve learned to deal with stress by walking into the backyard and sitting down on the hay bin to watch the chickens and goats. That’s all I do. I sit and watch. They’re relaxed—I mean, they have needs, they want food. The goats want to get out and destroy my vegetable garden and lay waste my fields, but even so, they are straightforward, uncomplicated. The chickens patrol the ground for bugs. They stop at the water dispenser, dip i their beaks, then crane their heads up until I can feel the water slide down their little chicken throats. That’s what I do—I go out and just watch.
That’s my meditation—garden and animal meditation. It’s not original. Walt Whitman wrote a whole poem about it, part of his Song of Myself:
I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
What’s interesting is that as bad as stress is for humans, it’s just as bad for animals. Earlier this month factory-farm produced eggs made 1,470 people sick and prompted an FDA recall of a half billion eggs suspected of salmonella contamination. The food writer Barry Estabrook, at his always-illuminating and thoroughly- reported blog, Politics of the Plate, examines all the reasons his small flock of pastured, backyard chickens is unlikely to poison him with salmonella, while mass-produced eggs from battery-caged hens, produced under FDA guidelines, are lousy with the stuff. Estabrook writes:
Another reason might be that raising chickens under a free-range system makes them less susceptible to salmonella. “I don’t think there is any doubt about it that healthy chickens living in decent surroundings are just going to be a lot more resistant to salmonella,” said John L. Ingraham, emeritus professor of microbiology at the University of California Davis, and author of the book March of the Microbes, recently published by Harvard University Press. “Take any creature, ourselves included, you put them in a terrible stressful conditions and they become susceptible to disease.”
I read Estabrook’s post and thought of my poultry meditation sessions. There’s a connection, I realized, between the stress we inflict on the animals that feed us, and the stress we put on our own bodies. There’s a positive connection, too, between the ease they feel, and our ability to relax and feel at ease around them. I don’t think it’s a shallow or insignificant connection either. Religious people always refer to the Oneness of God, the unity of God’s creation, the connection of all living things. But what does it mean?
On the grand scale, I have no idea. But take something as simple as a chicken, an egg and pretty stressed human, and it begins to make sense. To me, anyway.
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September 20, 2010 | 6:03 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
It’s not just cooking and eating food that brings you closer to God, it’s catching it too. Even when the food is treyf. Sam Kestenbaum, a Jewish lobsterman on Deer Isle in Maine, writes about it in a beautiful essay for The New York Times:
On the island, the name Kestenbaum is often met with this kind of puzzled look, then followed by, “You’re going to have to spell that.” Certain last names fill up pages in the phone book here. The names of old families that have been here for generations, networks of cousins, aunts and uncles — Eaton, Haskell, Hardy, Heanssler and Weed, among others. But you will find only one Kestenbaum family in Hancock County. And you won’t find too many other Jewish lobstermen (perhaps not particularly surprising considering the non-kosher status of the catch).
Despite this, I feel close to my faith when I’m on the water. The work is difficult, but meditative. Fishermen grapple daily with the elements: the wind, the tide, the shifting of the seasons. Jews also keep their eyes on the elements, recognizing the great, sacred powers that are present in the world. And wherever we go, we believe God travels with us.
It is said that when the Jews went into exile, the Shekinah, the divine presence, went into exile, too — hovering over us, around us wherever we were, waiting for us to invite the sacred into our lives. This is one of the great gifts of diaspora: we travel, move, but remain who we are.
Many years a go I spent a spring break on Deer Isle. My college friend Jonathan had a family compound on the water, and he invited me and our friend Doug to visit. At noon my friend said it was time to get dinner delivered. I assumed we’d call for pizza. Instead he got on a CB radio and spoke to a captain of lobster boat. Around dusk a boat appeared just offshore, and a crew member transfered a couple of live lobsters from the deck to some cages attached by rope to my friend’s dock. We hauled in the cages, and there was dinner.
The end of the story turned out to be fateful: as we plunged the lobsters in a vat of boiling water, I was sure I heard a scream coming from the pot. Even then I knew it was likely steam escaping from their shells. Didn’t matter. Starting the next day, I became a complete vegetarian for 14 years.
Very instructive lobsterman video below…
September 17, 2010 | 2:36 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
On the eve of Yom Kippur I came across Jonathan Gold’s latest feature in L.A. Weekly, in which he answers a reader’s query, “What kind of food would you want served at your wake?”
How appropriate. The central theme of this season is embodied in the Unetanah Tokef prayer, “Who shall live and who shall die?” We’re asked to contemplate our lives in the face of our uncertain mortality. You just never know when your number is up, so it’s never too early or too late to do some serious moral accounting. That’s what the Days of Awe, from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippor, are all about. Is it a coincidence that Jonathan, the country’s preeminent food writer, faces the question in today’s Weekly? Hmm.
His long answer begins with running through the varieties of dim sum and Chinese cold dishes that his loved ones might enjoy over his cold, dead body. But after considering all the possibilities, he concludes:
But who am I kidding? In my family, funerals are occasions to stuff down truly heroic amounts of deli, and when I have to go, I will die as I lived: seen off with Langer’s pastrami.
Maybe it’s just the emotion of the season, but I was actually moved by Jonathan’s answer. At our most vulnerable—and our death pretty much defines us at our most vulnerable—we cling to the foods of our family, our past, our tradition. That alone has the power to truly comfort us, to sustain us, even to see us into the world to come. I mean, Jonathan Gold likely knows every permutation on appropriate wake food. I’m sure he once reviewed some Ouigar cafe that specialized in yak-based mourning dishes. But at the end of the day… the literal end of the day—he returns to the bosom of the deli.
And by the way, when that day comes, after Jonathan reaches 120, the sandwiches won’t be at a wake. They’ll be at a shiva.
Meanwhile, here’s something to enjoy before your Yom Kippur fast:
September 1, 2010 | 6:33 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Yesterday I checked out Takosher, the world’s first kosher taco truck. It was parked on La Brea just north of Third, by the Trader Joes.
I was expecting some guy hoing to score a quick gimmicky buck off the captiv kosher market. Jaded, much? Instead, I found Lowell Bernstein.
Bernstein is a tall, soft-spoken middle aged man who loves taco. He lived in Mexico City, and grew especially fond of the clean, sharp flavors of the small simple tacos there. Back in LA, it occurred to him that Day-effay tacos were perfectly suited to the kosher marketplace: long simmered or grilled meats, dressed with some pickled onion, cilantro, peppers— not covered in a haystack of shredded cheese and white-washed with sour cream.
He developed his recipes over numerous taco tasting parties, then brought it to the streets in a brightly painted blue and white food truck.
Watch the Flip video I took. Bernstein is a guy who has given this new phase in his life a lot of thought. Just deciding whether to spell Takosher witha c or a k was agonizing (I assured him he made the right choice).
Bernstein explained that his motivation behind Takosher wasn’t just tacos—he wanted to create a food truck that would bring new flavors to the kosher-observant community, and something original to the taco loving Anegelenos. He wanted, he said, to bring people in his city together around his truck. It doesn’t happen when we pull into fast food joints, or even in restaurants, when we usually mix just with the people we walked in with. But a food truck? It’s a kind of traveling public table.
“Food has the power to do that,” Bernstein said, “to bring people together. That’s what I wanted to do.”
See: I thought I was going to get a kosher fast food spiel—instead I got a bit of Foodaism. That’s why Bernstein prefers to park in a location like the one outside Trader Joes—it’s a place where people of all backgrounds can mix, and nosh.
How are the tacos? Good. Inexpensive, flavorful and original. The brisketaco combines a traditional Askenazic recipe with traditional taco fixings: it’s the Jewish Kogi. There’s a carne asada with beef, a chicken, a tofu fajita style, an a latkes taco, which reminds me of the potato tacos at La Playita on Lincoln, only more fried.
If you have your heart set on a spicy, oil-licked food truck taco, this isn’t it. The flavors are a bit more subdued—some of Shiloh’s habenero-citrus salsa on the side would take it where it needs to go. But for around $3, you will eat a well-made, filling and kosher taco.
And don’t forget the Dr. Brown’s in the ice bin. Because what says, “Mexico City taco” like Cel-Rey soda?
To find out where the Takosher truck is, go to their web site at http://takosher.com/. Check back at jewishjournal.com in a week when we’ll have a full article on Takosher by Edmond Rodman.