How Shabbat Dinner Can Save America
In the film “Fed Up,” opening May 9, the untenable reality pours down like a mid-summer rain:
In the United States, more people die from obesity than starvation.
87% of food items on supermarket shelves have added sugars.
Teenagers are having gastric bypass surgery.
We’ve become a corpulent nation, which is not news to anyone who has spent a day at the beach and seen 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds overflow their bathing suits.
The documentary, from filmmaker Stephanie Soechtig, is executive produced by Laurie David, a social activist who served similar duties on the global climate change documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” She’s also the co-author with Kirstin Uhrenholdt of two cookbooks: “The Family Dinner,” about the importance of families eating together, and out last month, “The Family Cooks,” which includes over 100 easy-to-prepare recipes for healthy family meals.
David spoke to the Forward about how she came to the documentary, what she thinks it will accomplish, and how her Shabbat meals honor the homemade food ethic.
Curt Schleier: How did you get involved in this project?
Laurie David: Completely out of the blue I got an email from Katie Couric, who I’d only met once in passing at a party. I didn’t know her. She wanted to know if I wanted to get involved in an “Inconvenient Truth” about food. I emailed her back in about three seconds and a week later I was in her apartment sitting on the living room floor with her and Stephanie Soechtig.
Some of the information the film reveals about the food crisis in the U.S. Is mind-blowing. What do you think should happen?
I think that as a society, as a culture, as a country, we have to decide that the health of our kids is more important than making money. I would like to see all the businesses in America move candy displays from cash registers the same way they did with cigarettes. Keep them in the store, but make people look for them. We have to stop marketing unhealthy food and drinks to children.
But what do you think will happen?
I think it’s going to happen. I think there’s a tidal wave coming. I think a lot is going to change in the next five years. It has to. We’re a caring, loving people, and if we know something is addictive and poisonous, we’re not going to let our children keep eating it. We’ve been in a food fog.
You say that, when not really very much has changed since “An Inconvenient Truth.”
I would argue that in the context of when “An Inconvenient Truth” came out, people didn’t even acknowledge that [global climate change] existed. If you ask me has enough been done, then of course not. But I think this issue is very different. It is very personal for people, and it’s very easy to make a difference today. Instead of taking the family out for fast food, get a good cutting board and make dinner tonight. How empowering is that?
It’s not that easy, is it? Healthy food isn’t always available and bad food is cheaper.
Availability is a problem. But it’s not cheaper to make crap. That’s a myth. It’s a myth that it takes too long to cook. You can buy a bag of lentils and a bag of carrots and make enough soup for three days, a healthy meal, in about 12 minutes.
The last time we spoke we spent a lot of time discussing your Shabbat meals. Do you still have them?
My Shabbat dinners are not as frequent as they used to be, because my kids have grown up. I just lit the candles this Friday night. I love the tradition of Shabbat. How brilliant all those years ago that these wise men and women had this idea that we should stop what we’re doing and honor the table and honor each other.
Do you believe your Jewish upbringing impacts what you do now?
I think the importance of the family dinner at the family table is all part of my upbringing.
And you really think we’re going to change?
Honestly, no pun intended, I can taste it.