The Shoresh Socialite: Leah Koenig

We caught up with Leah Koenig, food writer and cookbook author to talk about the evolution of the New Jewish Food Movement, why Jewish foodies need to become environmentalists and why food justice is a Jewish idea.
You were a pioneer in the Jewish food movement having started the first Jewish CSAs AND the first Jewish food conference. In your opinion, how has the movement changed over the last 16 years?
In the early 2000s, the focus of the food movement as a whole, and Jewish food movement more specifically, was all about “what’s on my plate?” People wanted to make sure they were consuming food that was healthy and sustainable. There was a lot of emphasis on eating locally, supporting the farmer, and voting with one’s fork. Those are all awesome and worthy things, of course. But they are only part of the story. More recently, I think more attention has been paid to the questions, “What is on other people’s plates, and what can I do to support a fair food system?” More people are starting to understand that you can eat all the locally-grown kabocha squash in the field, but there’s no such thing as a healthy food system without food justice. It’s a very Jewish idea, of course, to have justice be a central focal point, and I’m thrilled to see it taking more of a center stage in the Jewish food movement.
What do you think the next five years will look like in the “nouveau Jewish food scene?” What do you think will be the future trends?
I think bread is on the rise (pun intended) – not just new ways to make challah, but looking to heritage flours and methods like baking old fashioned rye breads.Also, as climate change continues to shake up the agricultural systems we are currently familiar with, I think there’s a good chance food as a whole will become less and less stable. My hope is that faith based organizations, like Shoresh, can help inspire people to keep fighting to make change, while transitioning with grace into this less certain future.How can Jewish foodies who aren’t necessarily environmentalists help to create a more sustainable food system?
I’m going to be tough on this one: they need to become environmentalists – at least a little bit more. We need them.What is the quintessential Jewish food?
There are as many answers to this question as there are people who enjoy Jewish food. For me, it doesn’t get much better than a sweet and very dairy-filled noodle kugel. Or a perfect bowl of matzo ball soup.

Now that you are a mom and full-time writer, what is your go-to meal when you are in a pinch for time?
We make a lot of soups and sews – Grow & Behold chicken soup, pureed butternut squash with chickpeas, or lentil and tomato. They reheat quickly on the stove, and are nourishing, filling, and tasty, not to mention toddler-friendly.

Where can your Canadian friends purchase your awesome cookbook?
You can find Modern Jewish Cooking in many bookstores or online at your favorite book retailer.

What excites you about Shoresh?
I admire Shoresh for continually pushing at the boundaries of the Jewish Food Movement, and finding ways to expand people’s understanding of what’s possible. I’m inspired by how creative, innovative, and inexhaustibly passionate about its work an organization can be!

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