Its ribs and wings night. I’m with my husband and eight month old son for two weeks at the camp where my husband and I met and fell in love. He’s the rabbi in residence and I’m playing and relaxing for most of the day with the baby. Camp is peaceful and is mostly how I remember it. Except for ribs and wings night.
Campers are exiting the kitchen with trays laden with spicy buffalo wings and what, I must admit, are some of the best barbecue ribs I have ever eaten. Each time a camper reaches his or her table the entire bunk erupts in mad applause and then sets about the task of even more madly devouring the meat as fast as possible, only for the camper-waiter to return to the kitchen and start the process over again. The salad bar, roasted sweet potatoes and crispy fresh cabbage slaw are on the whole being ignored, and by the end of the night the bones strewn about the tables and heaped into trash cans make the dining hall looks somewhat like a very productive archeological dig.
As my son happily plays on the grass after dinner (after all, his tummy is filled with delicious wings and ribs as well) I ask myself: What’s with the meat mania? There is meat almost every day at camp, and while the wings and ribs that the kitchen turns out are truly exceptional, they are no more so that the amazing roasted cauliflower or the Indian quinoa and tofu veggie meal from Friday night (yes, camp food really has improved!). Why does my otherwise peaceful camp go insane every time there are wings and ribs?
Like brisket, potato latkes, homemade birthday cake, fresh matzah brei and turkey with stuffing, the wings and ribs served at camp are delicious, eaten infrequently, and aren’t exactly the healthiest meal around. The combination of these three factors creates the aura of a superfood (different from the kale and blueberry type of superfood) that is the stuff of legends. There is nothing wrong with indulging in a rarely procured, fatty and entirely delicious food, but there is a way to do so that we don’t get carried away.
To take a line from Pirke Avot (The Ethics of our Fathers), “In a place where there are no men [human beings], strive to be a man [human].” (Pirke Avot 2:5) In other words, enjoy the wings and ribs, but try to have some of the sweet potatoes and veggies with them. Check in with yourself every once in a while to see if you really are still hungry, and eat slowly, enjoying each delectable bite. In the end, there’s nothing wrong with applauding the arrival and consumption of a great plate of food, but I encourage you to do so with mindfulness of why and how the food attained such an elevated, important status.
Keep in mind as well that not all meals at camp (or elsewhere, for that matter) are as special as wings and ribs, but that they can be just as delicious and satisfying in their mundane-ity. The “profane” comforting breakfast of unsweetened oatmeal and banana I consume every morning at camp, including the morning after the “sacred” wing and rib night, reminds me to try to appreciate the continuum that is camp food.
The following post is the second in our summer series hearing from the camps that were launched as a result of FJC’s Specialty Camps Incubator.
In an often-told story, Rabbi Hillel was asked to summarize the entire Torah while standing on one foot. His response was, “What is hateful to yourself do not do to your fellow person.” This is the foundation of the most basic rule of Jewish ethics: We should do no harm to other people.
Most of us don’t think of skipping the gym or choosing fries over salad as ethical decisions. These are personal decisions, the rationale goes, because they don’t harm others. But before deciding on your next snack, you might consider a very new perspective on Jewish ethics: Making unhealthy decisions is unethical because of the impact those decisions have on our peers.
Let’s use a brief thought experiment to understand why: If I were to tell you that most of my friends are health-conscious gym members, what would be your most reasonable conclusion about me? If you answered that I am also a health-conscious gym member, then you have successfully learned something about me from a statement about my friends.
Some recent research actually provides scientific backing for this conclusion. Social scientists Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler found a correlation between our personal health choices and the choices made by members of our social circle. Their study, which relied on data from one of the longest health studies of the past 100 years, The Framingham Heart Study, led to the theory that seemingly-personal decisions about health influence the behavior of others. When one person in a community is active and eats healthy foods, everyone around them is more likely to do the same.
The Talmud teaches that “all of the people of Israel are responsible for one another.” Based on this ideal, we all might do a little more to make good choices and inspire healthy living in our community. This is why my wife and I decided to launch Camp Zeke, the first Jewish camp where kids celebrate healthy, active living.
Our inaugural summer is off to an amazing start. Campers are choosing from action-packed electives like running, yoga, strength training, dance, gymnastics, Krav Maga, and sports. They’re also putting on aprons and cooking healthy, gourmet dishes with a professional chef. In the process of making lifelong memories and forming amazing bonds with new friends, our campers are making very real connections between Judaism, nutrition, and fitness. When they go back home as ambassadors of vibrant good health, they will bring all of us one step closer to a healthier Jewish community.
The Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) launched the second cohort of camps this summer through the Specialty Camps Incubator. We asked all of the specialty camps to tell us about what it looks like to be Jewish at a specialty camp. The following post is the first in our summer series.
Our director, Rabbi Eliav Bock, often says that our most impactful area of camp is not the rock climbing, backpacking trips, kayaking, or anything else—but rather the food choices that we make as a specialty camp. This is one aspect of what sets us apart as an outdoor adventure camp. We really strive to lift the veil on the food preparation process and involve our campers in it.
As a longtime Ramahnik, and recent transplant to Ramah Outdoor Adventure, I have had over 2000 camp meals in my life. While I have many fond memories of camp meals and routines, none have been quite like the dining experience that happens here at Ramah Outdoor Adventure. The first and most easily noted difference is the routine, which begins with a siur haochel (food tour) delivered by one of our tzevet mitbach (kitchen staff) upon entering the chadar ochel (dining hall).
This food tour includes an announcement of the menu and a discussion of what nutritional features or special ingredients the day’s meal might have. Past tours have focused on the anti-inflammatory properties of coriander or how quinoa is a complete protein, just to name a couple. Whatever the fact of the day, it helps everyone present to understand and appreciate the meal.
Our meals are longer than I am used to having in a camp setting, which allows for deeper conversations with tablemates as well as a more leisurely eating pace. Due to the more relaxed nature of the meals, we are able to fully understand the processes the food went through to reach our table, as opposed to simply wolfing down our food.
Perhaps the most surprising part of the meals at Ramah Outdoor Adventure is the lack of red meat or poultry. Tasty and more sustainable alternatives such as quinoa, tofu, seitan, and salmon have frequently graced our tables, however. As a part of Yom Wild Wild West, we brought in a shochet to discuss the ritual slaughtering process with chalutzim (campers/pioneers) who chose to attend. He discussed his process of going from vegan, to vegetarian, to kosher meat eater with everyone, and how his food process informed his Judaism.
These conscious decisions enable everyone to think about the environmental, moral, and social effects of the consumption of such foods. Much of our meat now comes from a kosher farm run by a camper’s family. Also, all of our fish and dairy, and much of our produce, is sourced locally.
Our Jewish values teach us bal tashchit; (do not destroy, coming from the Biblical commandment not to cut down fruit trees in times of war) at Camp Ramah, we take this commandment seriously. We follow the maxim “take what you want, and eat what you take.” Food left on plates is weighed as a part of a competition between age groups to have the least amount of food waste, and we compost as much as we can. Because we are “guardians of the earth,” we do as much as we can to minimize our impact via the choices we make about food consumption.
I have been continually impressed in my time here so far with the quality, intention, and effort that go into providing three daily meals. As I continue to learn my new home here at Ramah in the Rockies, I discover more and more about the camp and food culture here.
Every aspect of our nutrition here at Ramah in the Rockies is geared towards increasing awareness of the process undergone to get food on the table. Our campers leave camp imbued with a strong sense of responsibility with regards to their food and an extensive understanding of the importance of environmentally friendly nutrition. I look forward to seeing how the food education at this camp will transform the lives of all of our chalutzim and their families.