Hazon: You know it’s crunchy when I’m the cleanest dude there

I had the pleasure of attending the Hazon Food Conference this past weekend near Petaluma and I’m sure all of you want to hear about the far left Jewish environmental movement, because it sure was funny, especially when you consider that I was one of the most observant and clean cut people there – which means that I was surrounded by a bunch of super crunchy lefties who would probably would have thrown me under a train had they known I was once a registered Republican and I own several guns (they are sitting in a basement in Monsey)

Hazon is the voice of the Jewish Environmental Movement, did you know such a movement existed? Most people, including myself know about Hazon from their Jewish Bike Rides where you raise money for Jewish environmental causes in order to do a two day bike ride in the NY or SF area.

According to Hazon’s website they are:

The Hazon Food Conference is a unique gathering that will bring together 200 professionals, lay leaders, and foodies to connect, collaborate, and continue to build the New Jewish Food Movement. The Conference will provide indepth sessions that will strengthen and expand participants’ knowledge of Jewish thought on food, agriculture, and consumption, as well as opportunities to build community with regional cohorts and professionals of similar backgrounds.

Programming will include

  • Exploring the rich tradition of Jewish thought on food, agriculture, and consumption
  • Examining the Jewish community’s role to create a socially and economically-just and environmentally-sound food system
  • Networking and regional gatherings for farmers, educators, activists, chefs, entrepreneurs, and other groups of people to collaborate and establish action plans
  • Celebrating a joyous Shabbat

The conference is uber pricey, so I volunteered as mashgiach and kitchen help to get out of it, I am sure a lot of people got breaks, but still many others flew in from far away places (a little hypocritical considering the carbon footprint of flying) but who really cares about carbon footprints when you’re learning the fine art of making kim chi and babka. I should give honorary mention to the babka, by far the best I’ve ever had in my life – the babka was mamish apikorsus, because it contained butter and milk chocolate, if only those bakers in Williamsburg could discover the joy of milchig babka and it wasn’t only me, Friday night dinner had everyone going nuts over the babka and most of these people don’t have much experience with frum babka which is so dry it is traditionally dipped in coffee.

I walked in on Thursday evening on a mission to eat, I had just ridden 40 miles around Napa Valley and was famished, I was so hungry I forgot to sit at one of the silent tables (there are tables devoted to silence, they were not sponsored by heimlich) which I would have if I had noticed, I wasn’t in the mood to socialize, I’m a social guy, but going from an intimate day of sampling covenant wine out of the barrels and then a solo ride puts you in a certian space and the last thing I wanted to do was talk to a bunch of people about food and Jewish ethics.

At least the food was good, it was simple food, easy to make and great tasting. Feta and Kalamata olive focaccia, white bean enchiladas, roast baby turnips, butternut squash and parsnips, some salad and a nice tasting apple cobbler for desert. It was pleasing to the eye and amazing, I love simple food, food that looks good and is real easy to make. I marveled at the simplicity, you didn’t need a pomegranate demi glaze to make something taste great, although I’m down with complication in food, I prefer to do without it.

So I talked with some peeps about food, but it wasn’t talk about food, it was talk about organic food, raw food, healthy food – really boring food talk, so I left and wandered into the kitchen and chatted with my fellow mashgichim and the cooks.  I could already place most of the people at the conference, a bunch of affluent hippies and alternative types who went to good schools, volunteered abroad in poor countries during college, worked at Adamah or Teva and eventually decided they wanted to see how they could combine “farming” and “Jewish” and “money” together. Almost every guy had a beard, almost every yarmulke was a beanie or carelbachian type. The girls seem to favor boots, vests and jeans, the guys seemed to favor fleece and Indian style hippie shirts.

I’m being judgmental, I know, but it’s what I do best and I didn’t even need to do it this past weekend because it was evident. I was probably the most right wing dude there and I’m pretty left wing. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, I met some cool peeps, heard some good stuff and thought about stuff I hadn;t thought about before – oh and I ate some good food and met some cute girls.

On Friday I worked and then instead of going to one of the very interesting sessions going on, I hopped on my bike and rode through some beautiful lush green country to Tomales Bay which is basically the ocean. The conference was located near the awesome city of Petaluma in the North Marin County coastal hills, green tree-less mountains covered in rocky outcroppings and dotted with grazing cows. Amazing views and breathtaking scenery will greet you if you venture there. I did 25 miles on my bike and came back on time for shabbos.

On Friday night there was the keynote panel, there was the head of Magen Tzedek (the conservative movements failed attempt at kosher which has yet to get anyone to use their seal – a failed venture) , Uri L’tzedek (the orthodox ethical seal – 60 restaurants and businesses have gotten the seal, which is free and tells the consumer that the workers are treated fairly and paid proper wages) and the founder of Strauss Dairies (first Dairy in the west to go Organic, they have amazing ice cream, milk and a lot of goat milk products and most of their stuff is under the OU) and Nigel Savage the founder of Hazon.

It was a really interesting panel discussion that I remember little of. I remember wondering what the Strauss guy was thinking about the whole thing, he seemed to be the only real farmer and business dude who was there, who knew the business behind being “ethical” and “environmentally friendly” – in quotes because it’s not so simple, because you debate these subjects forever. The one thing I remember from the panel is when some dude got up and asked Uri L’tzedek founder Shmuly Yanklowitz how his vision was being received by mainstream orthodoxy – he told the group that Avi Shafran of the Agudah had basically told him that they couldn’t care less about this stuff – this stuff being ethical treatment of workers and animals – which I had thought was halacha l’maissa, not chumros, but it got me thinking and I decided to talk with Shumely Yanklowitz about this subject.

What I started thinking about was how it was funny that frummies would be so opposed to this, they are so into chumros with regards to everything else, mamish chumras that have been created in the last 50 years, but treating people and animals with dignity and respect has been around for thousands of years, it’s not even a chumra, yet since it sounds “liberal” and “nice” I feel like frummies are instantly opposed to even talking about it.  have spoken to numerous right wing folks who quite eating Rubashkins meat after the PETA videos came out, my morals aren’t that high.

Anyway I went up to Shmuely and told him I was behind Frum Satire and his response was “oh you write for them huh?” which was such an honor, someone thinking that I have this whole situation with writers and stuff, anyway we had a good chat about what he’s trying to do. I understand the pressure against it, people don’t want others thinking that a Tav Hayosher seal means something is kosher, because it’s just an added thing and most importantly it’s free. Rabbi Iris from Magen Tzedek instantly made me opposed to her project when she said the list of things a business must pay for in order to even apply, I knew it would be a failure anyway, because anyone who knows the kosher industry would know that it’s full of money and politics, so if you make something easy and simple then you’re cool. Either way, I’m all for the ethical treatment of workers and why not award someone with some added free marketing who does such a thing.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the conference was the fact I was anonymous, a total of maybe 10 people saw my name tag and said “are you THE Heshy Fried?” and I haven’t attended any Jewish event in years where I have been anonymous and it was such a pleasure to be anonymous and observe freely without watching my back for fans or critics. I spoke with a lot of people, one guy expressed that the event invites this “?crunchy granola” crowd and that he has loads of friends interested in furthering Jewish organic farming, synagogue CSA’s and ethical kashrut standards – but they would feel strange with all these “hippies” and I agree – the hippie air of the event takes away some of the seriousness in my mind – I wanted to scream that running a 3 acre CSA doesn’t really qualify you as a farmer, or does it? I’m just throwing my realism out there.

I also wondered how many of these people pushing for “eco kashrut” actually kept kosher? Did they understand how kosher worked and how much it cost to keep kosher in the first place? Did they understand the frum communities take on such issues – since they are the one’s keeping fully kosher in the first place. There was no talk of God at the conference, it was all “Jewish” but it lacked this God component that I found a little disquieting – I think is common at many not necessarily orthodox Jewish events.

But the Hazon Food conference isn’t just about furthering the cause of the “New Jewish Food Movement” as they call themselves, I had no idea there was an old Jewish food movement – maybe they are referring to the violence and meatiness of kiddush. It’s about making friends, getting laid, eating good food, making cheese, singing songs and telling baal shem tov stories.

The traditional davening service was anything but. It was egal, a big mixed section with ridiculously tall cubicle pieces as mechitzas as if to tell everyone that those sitting behind the mechitzas really don’t approve, I mean the mechitzas were frummer than anything in the Bay Area. A woman with a beautiful Israeli accented voice did kabalas shabbos – don’t worry her beautiful voice did not turn me on one bit, in fact, I started debating my entire belief system based on the fact I did not want to maul her during lecha dodi – thereby dispelling the entire concept of kol isha in the first place.

I reversed my regular practice of BT spotting to FFB spotting, I found that the one guy wearing a suit, was also the only guy who pronounced things words with a Suf, I was a little taken aback since he sounded quite frummy, but was in the mixed section – after he led bentching with Chavorai Mir Vellin Bentchin I found out he was a rabbinical student at AJU – I was a little shocked that a Conservative Rabbinical student would be so yeshivish. As far as I could tell, no other FFB’s were present, although there was one guy from Yeshiva of Flatbush, so we could day traditional sort of orthodox from birth.

Many of the foljs in attendance at Hazon were not of the food back round, some of them liked food and many of them just came to show their support, but if the conference lost money and I heard it did, wouldn’t it have been better to have local conference like Limud does and take everyone’s money and use it for some of their causes? With all that talk of people who don’t have what to live on, they could have fed a whole country with the amount of food they had, or money they spent, but I kind of hate those people who tell you not to take a vacation and donate the money instead.

On Friday night they had a Tisch which had some great singing and a bunch of people telling Baal Shem Tov stories and it struck me how the only exposure to orthodoxy that most Jews have is chabad and that’s pretty cool, this one conservative rabbi kept telling Chabad Rebbe stories and the only other Rabbis mentioned were Rabbi Bunim and The Maharal.

It was pouring when I woke up early on Shabbos Morning, 6 am to work in the kitchen, then off to shul and then off with my rain gear to the top of one of the surrounding mountains, I hiked up to the top of this dirt trail and then just meandered along the ridge looking at fog shrouded hills and marveling at how lush everything was, by the time I got back to my room I was soaked. One of the cool things about Hazon is that most of the stuff we ate was donated, much of the produce, Odwalla Juices and eco teas were donations, Strauss donated ice cream and some mighty fine milk and yogurt as well.

I was told that at last years Hazon Food conference there was a shechitah demonstration (not a protest) of a goat and they ate it afterward, this years conference was milchigs, because of USDA issues with the meat being used at a county education site.

I feel bad that I didn’t get to really enjoy the conference to the fullest, I had to work some and then on Saturday night after a lively hippie havdallah I had to bust out to SF and do a comedy show, maybe next year, although I definitely want to hit up the bike ride May 6th-9th (as soon as I sign up I will try and raise the funds they require to go)- I am a cyclist and any event that gets Jews to ride bikes is my kind of event. So while I am critical, overall it seems to be a pretty good thing, a bunch of hippies getting together to talk about food, environment and Judaism can’t be a bad thing can it?

Link to the West Coast Hazon Food Conference programming