Over the last 10-11 years we have overhauled our pantry and refrigerator; we did away with most of the processed foods, the polyunsaturated vegetable oils, bottled dressings, soy burgers, white flour, cold breakfast cereals, Betty Crocker, Skippy, and much more. Margarine, which we used sparingly before with meat or pareve foods, now became a dirty word in our house. Instead, we bought cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, sea salt, whole-grain breads and flours, organic cake mixes, omega-3 eggs and free-range eggs, organic vegetables (price permitting), raw milk, organic butter, and many more natural and minimally- or un-processed foods. We started reading labels — if there were too many ingredients, additives, or other stuff that didn’t need to be in there, we put the “food” back on the shelf. While not perfect (we all have our vices) we tried as much as we could to become (thanks to Dr. Harry Schick) adherents of Dr. Weston A. Price‘s nutritional philosophy and practitioners of “Politically Incorrect Nutrition.”
In Highland Park and Lakewood, NJ, where we lived while transforming our diet, we came to know where we could find the foods we wanted – which stores and which aisles. I got my organic butter, eggs, and vegetables in Shoprite (a large supermarket chain); organic grains, palm oil, and coconut oil from the health food stores or NPGS, a kosher supermarket in Lakewood, which also carried a selection of organic and natural foods and was often a little cheaper than Shoprite and the health food stores. I really had it down pat by the time we were ready to make aliyah.
So, it was important to us that wherever we moved to in Israel we would have access to as much unadulterated, natural, and organic foods as possible. Rehovot we were told, had at least 3 health food stores. But moving to a different country, or sometimes just to a different city, means that even though you had shopping down to a science before, you have to start from scratch all over again. I wasn’t quite prepared for that. Or the kashrut issues – mehadrin vs. not mehadrin… private certifications… certifications (most) that require a magnifying glass to read… For Pesach we discovered products with two different types of certification on the same label – one certification indicating that the food was kosher but not Kosher for Passover and the other certification specifically indicating that the item was Kosher for Passover. Huh? *
It’s gotten a lot easier since, but the first time I went to the supermarket I spent an eternity buying very few items. My knowledge of the Hebrew language is more biblical than modern so words like resek or tarkiz referring to (tomato) paste or sauce, respectively, were unfamiliar to me. And, a lot of additives are identified by E-numbers (probably makes it easier to hide chemicals that way). So, besides figuring out what I was looking at on the shelf, I was checking prices, reading ingredients (to the best of my ability) and kashrut certifications (without the benefit of a magnifying glass). By the time I left the store, I had a tremendous headache and much gratitude to my new friend Rochelle who had taken me there and patiently waited while I had my first experience of supermarket shock.
We eventually found many of the items we were looking for. I was very relieved to find yellow butter. Color is a significant indication of the nutritional value of the food; yellow is the color that butter should be, a sign that the cows were grass-fed and the butter contains the vitamins it should. It costs significantly more than the colorless Tnuva butter sold here since it’s imported, but so did the yellow organic butter we were buying in New Jersey, and I prefer nutrition. We were still searching for other items , and with yet others we weren’t sure about the reliability of their private kashrut certifications. It was beginning to become quiet distressing for me all around, until I realized that I had time. I would do what I could now and leave the rest until we were more settled, even if it was next year.
I remembered that the nutritional changes we made in the States took time… time till we absorbed the information we were reading and understood the pros and cons of the different products… time till we were able to incorporate them into our diet. It involved a lot more cooking; no more ready-to-eat blintzes, kugels, cakes and cookies with endless strange ingredients, and other prepared foods that contained ingredients nobody would have on their kitchen shelves, or ingredients I would no longer use, and canned goods were kept to a minimum. Eventually I started sprouting my own beans, soaking grains to remove the anti-nutrient phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors which they contain, and other measures to ensure a more nutritious diet. Some things I found easier to do than others, some were more successful, and some fell by the wayside, to be picked up again at another time. It wasn’t planned this way, it just happened and I was okay with it. It was all part of the process.
Applying this “all part of the process” philosophy while acclimating to Israel, to the different variety of foods and related issues here, the different shopping experiences, and to other cultural and lifestyle differences as well, is helping to make our transition a lot easier and much more pleasant. Kol hatchalot kashot, all beginnings are difficult, the Hebrew saying goes, but there’s no mitzvah in making it even harder by pressuring myself.
* We were told that the first agency, which certifies for the rest of the year, doesn’t certify the food for Passover; however, the second agency does. We are still stymied by this. Since the Passover labels are not used all year round it would be easy to remove the first certification which can only cause confusion.