Kindness to Creatures

G Walter HarrisGeorge Walter Harris (1835–1912)

Several years ago, culinary ethnographer Eve Jochnowitz came across a Yiddish vegetarian cookbook from 1938. The book was written by Fania Lewando, a restaurant owner in what was then Poland (it’s now in Lithuania).

“She says it has long been established by the leading medical authorities that the vegetarian diet is the most healthful for the human organism,” Jochnowitz translates. “And then, in the second sentence, she says … our Jewish tradition upholds the principle of tza’ar baalei chaim — kindness to God’s creatures.”
There’s also an exploration of all sorts of dishes and ingredients, like Jerusalem artichokes and chanterelle mushrooms, or red wine soup and radish jam.
Jochnowitz argues about Lewando’s recipes: They’re more than just a historical document of that era. First of all, they’re delicious. But more than that, they capture a Jewish practice that continues to this day — of looking to the spirit of the times, or your own internal compass, and making that a part of tradition. And that can happen in a vegetarian restaurant in Poland in the 1930s or in an American kitchen this Passover.

Jochnowitz says the underlying striving for an ethical, healthy future was very much part of the zeitgeist in the years just before World War II.
“I think there’s very much a feeling that one is really just on the brink, the threshold of a great new world,”
Lewando didn’t survive the war, and neither did those hopes for the future.

Fruit and Creature

apple lizard
Giovanna Garzoni
(1600–1670)

Published in: on September 22, 2014 at 11:39 pm  Comments (4)  
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No One Immune

insectsMatthäus Merian der Ältere  (1593 – 1650)

 

Our Bees, Ourselves
by Mark Winston, Op-ed contributor, The New York Times

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — AROUND the world, honeybee colonies are dying in huge numbers: About one-third of hives collapse each year, a pattern going back a decade.

Honeybee collapse has been particularly vexing because there is no one cause. The main elements include the compounding impact of pesticides applied to fields, as well as pesticides applied directly into hives to control mites; fungal, bacterial and viral pests and diseases; nutritional deficiencies caused by vast acreages of single-crop fields that lack diverse flowering plants; and, in the United States, commercial beekeeping itself, which disrupts colonies by moving most bees around the country multiple times each year to pollinate crops.

The real issue, though, is not the volume of problems, but the interactions among them. Here we find a core lesson from the bees that we ignore at our peril: the concept of synergy. A typical honeybee colony contains residue from more than 120 pesticides; together they form a toxic soup of chemicals whose interplay can substantially reduce the effectiveness of bees’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases.

These findings provide the most sophisticated data set available for any species about synergies among pesticides, and between pesticides and disease. The only human equivalent is research into pharmaceutical interactions, with many prescription drugs showing harmful or fatal side effects when used together, particularly in patients who already are disease-compromised. Pesticides have medical impacts as potent as pharmaceuticals do, yet we know virtually nothing about their synergistic impacts on our health, or their interplay with human diseases.

Observing the tumultuous demise of honeybees should alert us that our own well-being might be similarly threatened. The honeybee is a remarkably resilient species that has thrived for 40 million years, and the widespread collapse of so many colonies presents a clear message: We must demand that our regulatory authorities require studies on how exposure to low dosages of combined chemicals may affect human health before approving compounds.

Bees also provide some clues to how we may build a more collaborative relationship with the services that ecosystems can provide. Beyond honeybees, there are thousands of wild bee species that could offer some of the pollination service needed for agriculture. Yet feral bees — that is, bees not kept by beekeepers — also are threatened by factors similar to those afflicting honeybees: heavy pesticide use, destruction of nesting sites by overly intensive agriculture and a lack of diverse nectar and pollen sources thanks to highly effective weed killers, which decimate the unmanaged plants that bees depend on for nutrition.

Recently, my laboratory at Simon Fraser University conducted a study on farms that produce canola oil that illustrated the profound value of wild bees. We discovered that crop yields, and thus profits, are maximized if considerable acreages of cropland are left uncultivated to support wild pollinators.

Such logic goes against conventional wisdom that fields and bees alike can be uniformly micromanaged. The current challenges faced by managed honeybees and wild bees remind us that we can manage too much. Excessive cultivation, chemical use and habitat destruction eventually destroy the very organisms that could be our partners.

And this insight goes beyond mere agricultural economics. There is a lesson in the decline of bees about how to respond to the most fundamental challenges facing contemporary human societies. We can best meet our own needs if we maintain a balance with nature — a balance that is as important to our health and prosperity as it is to the bees.

Back Garden

menzel back garden
Adolph von Menzel (1815 – 1905)

Published in: on July 6, 2014 at 7:50 pm  Comments (3)  
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A Glass of Beer and a Bread Roll on a Table

denner bread

Balthasar Denner (15 November 1685 – 14 April 1749)

Published in: on November 15, 2013 at 2:54 pm  Comments (4)  
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Apples and Pear

courbet-fruitJean Désiré Gustave Courbet (10 June 1819 – 31 December 1877)

Published in: on November 26, 2012 at 2:20 pm  Comments (6)  
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Damas, Mirabelle

linard 3Jacques Linard (1597–1645)

 

Published in: on October 9, 2012 at 7:05 pm  Comments (1)  
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