A colleague and friend of mine who is a rabbi and an accomplished cook once likened the Jewish holiday dinner table to the bimah. Many of the components are the same— a raised surface, a gathering of people with a united purpose, and the sharing of (different forms) of sustenance with reverence and ritual. One way to experience Judaism is through its meals, especially those that happen during the fall harvest. For children especially, food is an accessible way of thinking about their wider worlds.
Basic food literacy is a critical foundation for building cooking skills, and appreciating the symbolism of food, like a beautifully braided round challah on the Rosh Hashanah table. As a writer of a Jewish cookbook for children, I was tasked with creating recipes that were basic enough for children to follow but meaningful enough for some deeper connection. This is why basic food literacy—the ability to identify ingredients—is incredibly important for children.
A few years ago during his TED Talk about the state of food for children, British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver screened a clip from his television show Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. He was in a school classroom of six year olds in Huntington, West Virginia and had brought along different fresh vegetables. The kids were unsuccessful in identifying fresh tomatoes! One would think that any elementary school aged child could easily identify such a common vegetable. And while adults may be able to identify most vegetables, many are not exactly confident about how to cook them.
We can think of cooking like reading. When you think about the act of reading, it seems difficult—recognize letters and groups of letters as sounds, and then combine those into words, and then understand a string of words as sentences. Yet, we do it, and we ask kids to do it from an early age. Cooking can be the same, and can be discovered through reading. Some of my favorite Kar-Ben books develop reading literacy, food literacy and cultural literacy all at the same time, in the most charming ways.
Talia and the Very YUM Kippur and Talia and the Rude Vegetables are clever and funny books that play with words as the title character is helping with preparations for High Holiday meals.
Apple Days tells the story of Katy, who loves making applesauce with her mother. Her enthusiasm will inspire curiosity in any reader. TheApple Tree’s Discovery is another great title for reading during “apple days,” with its message that each of us is a unique individual. The book also reveals a very special feature about apples, which will prompt young eaters to observe the foods they eat more closely.