It’s Passover, a time when Jews think more about their food than we usually do, which is a lot. I was raised in a kosher home where we had four sets of dishes, meat and milk each for chametz and Passover. Every year, cupboards were lined, closets were closed, and the house was prepared for Passover. My mother was not obsessive, even allowing my brother and I to eat Easter dinner once at the home of a close friend; I only partially expected lightning to strike when I ate something breaded.
The title of this entry is a pun, because quinoa is pronounced "Kin Wa". That’s appropriate because in Hebrew the word for Passover is also a pun, meaning both "pass over" and "lamb", denoting the sign of the lamb on the doorposts of the Jews designating that the angel of death would pass over their homes on his way to foment the tenth and last plague on the Egyptians. There is a great debate about quinoa, a grain not known in Biblical places in Biblical times. Can we eat quinoa? A New York Times article on Sunday stated the state of the debate. Since I doubt anyone was in a position to take a four-day trek into the Bolivian wilderness to inspect quinoa processing operations in time for a holiday that began Monday night, the decision to eat quinoa or not must be left to the individual conscience. Assuming you know where you can get quinoa anyway.
Which brings up the larger point, as the New York Daily News asks, why do Seders, indeed Passover in general, put the "fun" in dysfunctional? Growing up, I remember Seders with my entire extended family at my great aunt’s house, the only time during the year everyone would be together at once, but I also remember how little I understood of the davening in Ashkenazic Hebew at warp speed (the term hadn’t been invented yet) and how so many of us little kids would end up being disciplined because we couldn’t sit still through the hours of reading the entire Haggadah. The most wonderful Seder I remember was the first one, as an adult and a parent, where we had four children and eight adults (one child per family) and all the children made it through the entire service (much in English, much shortened), each one participating and no one leaving the table. At the end we all agreed to do it again together every year. Which we did until my own son, the eldest of the children, left for college, with additional children, another family, wandering members of extended families and the effects of one divorce bending but not breaking the group. The last time we were all together, the group strained the size of our dining room, but it was a happy strain.
One thing we did every year was read passages from 1001 Questions About Pesach, where we learned that a certain Ashkenazic rabbi believed that someone somewhere would soak fresh garlic in beer, so garlic was not permitted at Passover. And we would talk about these things, adults and children. We resolved the garlic thing against the rabbi’s ruling, by the way.
My mother, like many others, has long sought to find ways to make cakes, breads and rolls in ways that meet the strict Passover requirements. Our family has rebelled against this idea. Many Orthodox families will stress over the preparations for the holiday for a month or more before. Our family has resolved this differently. Our view is that the Jews in Egypt got no notice of the Exodus, that was why they didn’t have time to prepare. So we eat things that can be hastily prepared; our typical Passover meal is a fritata made with fresh vegetables.
Okay, so what’s the "food liability law" angle to this? Well, there was one other key article this week, this from the Wall Street Journal, about the different degrees of preparation certain rabbis insist upon. There are different organizations with different certification standards, each with a different mark. And if you are not someone who accepts a particular mark, it is as though the food contained ham, cheese and, for Passover, French bread. If you invite a particularly observant Jew to your home, and assure him or her that all the food will be Kosher for Passover, do not be surprised if instead of a simple thank you, you are subjected to a cross-examination about every item.
Is there consensus? Yes, it is pretty clear that an unpeeled piece of fruit, which can be washed by the eater himself or herself, wll be acceptable. Better yet, an unpeeled banana, which need not be washed to be eaten.