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Food, Fat, and Feminism: Navigating the Contradictions of Judaism and Food

We’re all familiar with the stereotype of the zaftig Jewish bubbe, stuffing her offspring with chicken soup and brisket, shouting, “Eat! Eat! You’re skin and bones.” We love to talk about these mythical kitchens of our childhoods—tables overflowing with kugels and babkas, tsimmus and kneidlach. But for many Jewish women, there was another, more painful, side to this abundance. Our bubbes didn’t just say, “Eat! Eat!” they also said “Why are you eating so much? You’re getting fat!” I don’t think this contradiction is unique to Judaism, but I do think there’s a distinctive cultural spin to this schizophrenic relationship to food. And considering the prevalence of eating disorders, if there are cultural roots, we need to weed them out.

How Poverty Became a Women’s Issue

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty, a government response to a national poverty rate around 19%. Back then, the face of poverty in the States was those living in inner-city projects or Appalachian shacks. Today the face of poverty is women.

According to Maria Shriver (on the Atlantic), of the more 100 million Americans living close to or under the poverty line, nearly 70% are women and children. Forget having it all; these women just want to be able to feed their kids and pay their electric bill.

Alix Kates Shulman

Alix Kates Shulman was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1932. At age 20, she moved to New York City to study philosophy and mathematics. In the 1960s, she became a political activist and writer.

Marge Piercy

Marge Piercy is the author of 17 novels including the New York Times Bestseller Gone To Soldiers, the national bestseller The Longings of Women, and the classic Woman on the Edge of Time; 17 volumes of poetry; and the critically acclaimed memoir Sleeping with Cats.

Nicole Hollander

Nicole Hollander is the creator and writer of the syndicated cartoon strip Sylvia, which appears in over 40 newspapers nationwide. Hollander’s cartoons have been collected and published in 16 books. In addition to writing and illustrating, she currently teaches a course in conceptual illustration at Columbia College in Chicago.

Rivka Haut

Rivka Haut is an Orthodox feminist activist. She has co-edited, with Rabbi Susan Grossman, Daughters of the King: Women and the Synagogue (JPS, 1992) and, with Phyllis Chesler, Women of the Wall: Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism’s Holy Site (Jewish Lights, 2003).

Tamara Cohen

Tamara Cohen is a Jewish feminist writer, activist and educator. She currently works as the Director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs at the University of Florida and the once-a-month Spiritual Leader of the Greater Washington Connecticut Coalition for Jewish Life.

Feminism: Being Free to Make Your Own Decisions

Today we welcome our first post from Marissa Harrington-Verb, one of our Rising Voices Fellows. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from one of our fellows—and check out the great educational resources provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.

My mother, Elisa Harrington-Verb, loves feminism. But more importantly, my mother loves motherhood. She is the most devoted and loving mother that my little brother Sawyer and I could have wished for. When we were young, she stayed home with us all day. She slept next to us at night, and she breastfed us until we decided for ourselves it was time to wean. I love her more than anything, and if you had tried to tell me back then that she was raising me wrong, I would have looked at you like you were crazy.

I had no idea that my mother’s relationship with us was something she had to defend.

The Women Before Me: Stories from my Past

Today we welcome our first post from Miriasha Borsykowsky, one of our Rising Voices Fellows. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from one of our fellows—and check out the great educational resources provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.

I don’t think about it a lot, but I am descended from a line of strong, resourceful women. I’ve heard their stories all through growing up, and although I have endless respect for them, I have always had trouble relating.

I was born in 1996, lived in Vermont my whole life, speak only English at home, and have never had to worry about having enough to eat. My great- (and great-great) grandmothers lived in Binghamton, New York, spoke Yiddish, and had to really work to survive. I’m blessed to have two parents who are still living together, while the women I am descended from dealt with tragic losses of a father or a husband. While the struggles they went through are very different from what I struggle with, I still turn to their stories sometimes for guidance.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Family." (Viewed on December 21, 2014) <http://jwa.org/topics/family>.

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