At Jewish conferences, it’s food, glorious food

Jewish conferences are not generally known for their fine dining.

Nonetheless, food — the topic, if not the actual edibles — is taking center stage at a number of gatherings this winter.

At this week’s Union for Reform Judaism biennial in San Diego, speakers include New York Times food writer Mark Bittman and Zingerman’s Deli founder Ari Weinzweig. Weinzweig, a Jewish day school grad whose activities include organizing an annual bacon festival in Ann Arbor, Mich., where his more-than-20-year-old deli is located, won’t actually be talking about food at the biennial, but about customer service. Nonetheless, some of his audience members may be drawn by fond memories of Zingerman’s overstuffed sandwiches. The biennial also includes a session discussing the “intersection of Jewish tradition, sustainable agriculture and contemporary food justice issues,” along with cooking demonstrations and lectures conducted by Tina Wasserman, food editor of ReformJudaism.org and author of “Entrée to Judaism for Families: Jewish Cooking and Kitchen Conversations with Children.”

Not to be outdone, Limmud NY, a Jewish learning retreat, recently promoted its Presidents Day weekend gathering with an e-mail highlighting its roster of food-related presenters:  Michael W. Twitty, a culinary historian and Jewish educator focusing on both African-American and Jewish food; Jewish food blogger Shannon Sarna and Rabbi  Mary Zamore, the “first Reform mashgiach,” or kosher supervisor.

Perhaps both were inspired by the sold-out “Food Conference” that the Jewish environmental group Hazon is sponsoring at the end of this month. An annual event since 2006, this year the conference includes big-name food writers like Joan Nathan and sessions on “Do-It-Yourself Food,” food justice, Jewish agriculture and Jewish food traditions. And the food is not just for thought: all meals there will apparently be kosher, seasonal, local and organic. “You will be fed with nothing but the tastiest foods!” the website promises.

So eat darling, eat!

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