By Marlo Dublin
Quality nutrition education knows no bounds, so as a nutritionist it felt like second nature for me to start a kosher Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables (JSY) workshop series earlier this year at Young Israel of Forest Hills Senior League, a vibrant Jewish senior center in the heart of Queens.
Providing kosher nutrition education is very similar to any nutrition workshop I've conducted. The participants may speak different languages--Russian, Farsi, Polish, Yiddish and German--but they have a basic grasp of English, and are full of questions and enthusiasm. They ask about diet, love trying recipe samples, and often stay after the session ends to continue the conversation.
One important difference, however, is that kosher regulations shape the workshops' recipe preparations. A unique equipment kit is designated for use at a kosher site (and all of its metal utensils are typically blessed in a mikvah, or ritual pool, before first use). Recipe ingredients must carry specific kosher label markings, and recipes prepared should contain only basic fruit and/or vegetable ingredients since kosher law prohibits combining dairy and meat ingredients. It has been eye-opening to see that these rules do not affect the success of a workshop; they simply inform where and how I shop for it.
My experience teaching kosher nutrition has also taught me that every population, no matter their religion or perspective on life, can benefit from a workshop environment. When the right tone is set, a nutrition workshop becomes a think tank where assumptions and myths about health are challenged. An open-minded conversation takes place, and I lead the experience as much as the group does. Their questions and insight inform our activities and conclusions, and most leave changed--by what they learned and by the views of others. My group's positive reaction to very simple fruit or vegetable-based recipes, such as Cranberry Fruit Salad, Succotash Salad, and Greens and Grapes Salad has been rewarding to see. Similarly, participants seem to appreciate attending a session devoted to a health topic that they might not ordinarily think about during the course of a week.
Susan Rabinowicz, director of Young Israel of Forest Hills Senior League, has told me several times since the workshop series started that she is thrilled to see her clients' excitement about JSY. She is thankful for the program's positive impact, and is already eager to book future workshops for 2015. It is my hope that this momentum leads to JSY workshops at other kosher agencies throughout the city.
Marlo Dublin is a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetable Nutritionist at Food Bank For New York City.