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Dietary Laws

10/08/07 7:55AM By Deborah Luskin
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(HOST): Dizzy with all the choices she faced when deciding whether to eat organic, vegetarian or local, Commentator Deborah Luskin recently came up with her own set of dietary laws.

(LUSKIN) Although Jewish by birth, I was raised in and now maintain a devoutly secular household. We subscribe to certain dietary laws, but they're ethnic, not religious, such as overeating at family gatherings and generally equating food with love. While my childhood holidays were special, even weekday dinners were a ritual, where we sat down for a meal that required manners. On Friday nights, we said blessings over bread and wine.

Jews are certainly not alone in adhering to a strict set of dietary laws. Consider vegetarians who eat no meat, and vegans, who eat no animal products at all. Other food-conscious people have created diets according to grams of fat, grams of fiber, grams of carbs and - most recently - the distance food travels.

I grew up in an era when tomatoes tasted like the cellophane they came wrapped in, and I came of age when tofu and tamari entered the food chain. And yes, there was a time when I didn't eat meat; and another, when I raised and slaughtered my own poultry and pigs.There was one grim epoch when I substituted margerine for butter; happily, it didn't last long.

Currently, I'm neither a vegetarian nor a pig-farmer. I eat well from a variety of produce, dairy and meat, gleaned mostly from the fresh-food aisles of the grocery store. So last month - at the height of Vermont's harvest - I participated in the localvore experiment: For one week, I tried to eat food grown within a hundred miles of home. It's well known that the food of the average American meal travels about 1,500 miles.

The experience was delicious and thought provoking, but I don't think living without chocolate or coffee will make me a better person, so I've written my own dietary laws.

First, think "dirt to dinner". Cook food that still resembles how it was grown and comes packaged in its own skin.

Second, as much as possible, eat seasonally for Vermont, not California. This means apples all winter until the rhubarb's ripe. Yes, I eat citrus imported from Florida, but not strawberries in December, unless they come from my freezer.

Third: Avoid packaging. Buy grocery staples in bulk. Use recyclable containers. Pack lunch in a cloth bag.

Fourth, eat only home-baked cookies and other treats.

Fifth: create a menu and a grocery list for the week, reducing trips to the store and saving gas. Less time in the car also means more time at home, maybe even time to bake cookies.

Finally, I think food is sacred, so eat slowly, sitting down with family and friends, because breaking bread with those we love is one of life's great blessings.

Deborah Luskin teaches writing and literature to non-traditional students in hospitals, libraries and prisons throughout Vermont.
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