A Tomato on the Seder Plate?
Passover is holiday full of symbolism. We eat the bitter herbs to remind us of the bitterness of slavery. We dip parsley in saltwater to recall the tears of our ancestors in Egypt. The charoset is meant to resemble the mortar the Israelites were forced to use while building structures for Pharaoh and their Egyptian oppressors. These traditional symbols have paved the way for contemporary symbolism, allowing modern Jews to use the Seder plate as a place for social or political expression.
In recent years, placing an orange on a Seder plate has become a statement with various interpretations. Introduced by Jewish feminist and scholar, Susannah Heschel, the orange has come to represent the inclusion of women and LGBT people in the Jewish tradition. In general, the orange is meant to symbolize the rejection of the notion that “a woman, [gay person or other historically marginalized person] belongs on the bimah as much as an orange belongs on the seder plate.”
This year, I invite you to include another item on your Seder plate, a symbol of food justice.
Consider the follow items:
A tomato: The tomato has come to represent contemporary slavery, recalling the millions of migrant field workers who are often underpaid and overworked. In Sefer HaChinukh, we read: “It is our pride and our glory that we are kind to those who work for us.” We must be responsible consumers and consider the millions of laborers and food service workers throughout the U.S. and the hard work they do to harvest, ship, sell and cook the food we consume.
A roasted beet: Some choose to replace the roasted shankbone with a beet to support vegetarianism and sustainable farming practices. As stewards of the planet, we must consider how meat consumption has detrimental effects on the environment, contributing to climate change and sometimes resulting in animal abuse and illness.
These symbols can also serve as reminders of the range of injustices in our current food system. They can draw attention to the issue of food safety and security in the U.S. 50 million Americans are considered “food insecure” and the U.S. spends more than $150 billion on obesity-related health care costs each year. During Passover, we are encouraged to invite family and friends to the Seder table – this is the perfect time to draw attention to those in our community who are most in need.
What will your Seder plate display this year?
Picture Courtesy of The Jewish Daily Forward’s “A Statement of Your Seder Plate”