Lauren Baldel has her maple ginger-glazed carrots, roasted kabocha squash and grazer’s pie figured out. It’s the matzah balls that may be most problematic, as finding a kosher-for-Passover vegan binder is a bit of a sticky situation.
Many recipes call for flax seed, but the protein-packed source of healthy fat, antioxidants and fiber is kitniyot — a catchall term for foods prohibited by many Ashkenazi rabbis on Passover — so the Squirrel Hill resident is trying to develop a recipe with chia seeds.
“It is something I will have to troubleshoot before Pesach,” Baldel said.
The difficulties of achieving a kosher-for-Passover vegan experience might seem like a contemporary problem, but the holiday has long been the setting of gastronomic and intellectual inquiry.
Rabbi Shimon Silver of Young Israel of Greater Pittsburgh presented the case of an Ashkenazic Jew who, due to serious health concerns, was placed on a gluten-free vegan diet. The prescribed menu required the patient to consume vegetable proteins, which fall under the kitniyot label, on Passover.
In determining what course to follow, Silver, who authors the weekly publication Halochoscope, explored the historical bifurcation of Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities during the past 1,500 years, as most Sephardic rabbis permit the eating of kitniyot on Passover. He asked himself, “Does he have a dispensation due to his health? Should he keep his food and utensils separate from those of the rest of the household? Does he need hataras nedarim (absolvement of a vow)?”
Even apart from a kitniyot analysis, Jewish literature offers a heaping of food-related scrutiny and no shortage of rabbinic advice. The Babylonian Talmud in tractate Berakhot counts the eating of bulrush leaves, grape leaves, grapevine tendrils, the palate and tongue of an animal and the spine of a fish (among other edibles) as causes of hemorrhoids. Rabbi Yehuda bar Ezekiel, a third-century sage, claimed the extension of one’s mealtime at the table will prolong a person’s days and years. There’s much more.
These days, more people than ever before are avoiding animal products, with increased interest in veganism over the past 15 years. Google tracks users’ interest by scoring each word on a scale up to 100. In 2004, “veganism” ranked 34. As of last week, it was up to 98.
As a natural response to demand, Passover vegan options have increased. In Philadelphia, tickets are available for a community vegan seder. Hosted by Jewish Veg, a national nonprofit, the seder will allow guests to “learn how the themes of the holiday relate to animal agriculture.”
Jeffrey Spitz Cohan, a Pittsburgh resident and executive director of Jewish Veg, expects between 50 and 100 people to attend.
“A large percentage of the people who come are vegan Jews who are looking for a Passover seder where their food choices will be respected,” he said. But a fair amount will be simply curious eaters.
Jewish Veg is also hosting seders in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle.
“San Francisco is already sold out and it’s not for two weeks,” Cohan said.
Canadians have a similar option, as on April 27 zunroyz zoymen (sunflower seed chopped liver), crispy yuba gribenes and black radish eigmacht (chutney) are available for a $60 entry to Emily Zimmerman’s vegan seder through the Rusholme Park Supper Club in Toronto.
Apart from newfound appeal, there is an age-old connection between veganism and Passover, explained Cohan.
“Passover is about a retelling of how we escaped with God’s help from an oppressive situation and achieved freedom. In retelling the story, we’re supposed to think about the oppression that is around today and that oppression is particularly acute in animal agriculture for both the animals and the workers,” he said.
Aiding such narrative is Jewish Veg’s Passover haggadah. The material, which will be available in print and online in the coming days, should complement information on the organization’s website, and will explain “how to veganize your seder plate in a halachic way according to Jewish law” and include “a drasha on the freedom of oppression for both the animals and the workers in animal agriculture,” Cohan said. It will provide all the elements of a Passover seder, he added.
Although the upcoming holiday is ripe for discussion and reflection, Baldel advised a gradual transition for those adopting certain practices.
“It took us three years to reach this process,” she said.
Becoming vegan and kosher for Passover “never has to be all or nothing. We can always be conscientious in our food choices and everything makes a difference,” she added. “When you choose to eat more vegetables and less meat, that makes a difference in the world we live in.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.