Interview: Deanne Kapnik

Deanne and her husband holding heart shaped tofu bake, made for them by their kids for their anniversary.

Deanne and her husband holding heart shaped tofu bake, made for them by their kids for their anniversary.

Working at a Jewish museum means learning a lot of new words. My guest today is a coworker of mine who keeps kosher. I was going to make a joke about how kosher is just a Hebrew word for “not vegan,” but it turns out it’s not a Hebrew word at all. It’s more of a slang term that arose from a strange pronunciation of the word kashér (כָּשֵׁר), meaning “fit.” Thanks for ruining my joke, Wikipedia. You know who happens to love my jokes, as well as having some real zingers of her own?

Meet Deanne Kapnik.

What is your name?
Deanne Kapnik.

How long have you been a non-vegan?
Well, it depends how you measure that. Whenever one of my children is home, I cook and eat vegan, so as of today, it’s been about a week (and before that probably 9 days).

Why have you decided not to be vegan?
I’m weak.

Give us an overview of a kosher diet. What does kosher mean? What are the criteria?
kōSHər (adjective): 1. (of food, or premises in which food is sold, prepared or eaten) satisfying the requirements of Jewish law, as in “a kosher kitchen.” 2. genuine and legitimate, as in “she consulted lawyers to make sure everything was kosher.” (verb) 1. prepare (food) according to the requirements of Jewish law.

Have you ever heard the expression, “Two Jews, three opinions”? Well, consider that when reading the following: those “Jewish Laws” that Wikipedia mentioned above originate in the Torah (Bible). Interpretation has come through community practice and rabbinic sources for what we shouldn’t eat, including shellfish, cloven-hoofed animals that don’t chew their cuds (?), fish that don’t have fins and scales, definitely bugs and many birds and others that don’t come up enough that I remember what they are.

There’s also a directive to not cook a kid in its mother’s milk. That has been interpreted as to not eat milk (products) and meat (products) at one meal. Grilled cheese (if the cheese is certified kosher or only has vegetable rennet) for lunch, and hamburgers (made from an animal that has been certified as having been slaughtered according to Jewish law) for dinner, should be fine – if you’re a non-vegan who goes for that kind of thing.

There’s lots more to say about things like grapes, which have their own laws, but you don’t have the time or space to hear about that. You might think, why doesn’t that person who observes the laws of Kashruth eat salads at restaurants? Some do, and many don’t for many reasons, and it could be because greens like lettuce have to be soaked in water, salt and vinegar to extract the little bugs (see above) that burrow in there, or because the vinegar (remember grapes?) in the dressing isn’t certified kosher, or because the oil, which may be labeled “vegetable oil,” but only has to be 90% pure vegetable oil to be called that in the U.S., can include lard, which is sometimes added to other oils for flavor.

We’ve only covered the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” here, but you probably get the gist. I appreciate that “keeping kosher” is really about being conscious of how and what I eat. Since I started keeping kosher (about 21 years ago) I’ve never felt deprived. I did love lobster and bacon, and I don’t miss either.

What’s your favorite non-vegan meal, if you can even think of one that tastes good?
There’s an adorable little restaurant in Zichron Yaakov, near Haifa in the north of Israel that makes THE BEST hummus with roasted lamb and vegetables. Actually, my mouth is watering thinking about it.

Where do you get your protein?
At the grocery store.

Do you eat fish? You eat fish, right? Jesus did. Nevermind.
Num. Fish is in the category called “pareve,” neither dairy nor meat. Fish can be eaten before a meat meal, and during a dairy meal.

You raised an incredibly ethical (vegan) son. As a non-vegan, how did you manage that?
All three of my children are much further evolved than I. I mostly just stayed out of their way, and tried to accommodate their food requests…

Deanne-dogAre there any animals in your life, such as pets or funny neighborhood squirrels? Tell us a story about them.
When my kids were little, they had a guinea pig that escaped. We didn’t see hide nor hair (fur?) of it for days. Then, one day we started hearing squeaking in the heating vent in our living room. We called to it and put out food to lure it out, to no avail. When a friend visited and heard the sound we had identified as our little friend, she said, “It sounds like your smoke alarm needs a new battery.” We never did find the little guy, but we did replace the battery, and it didn’t make a peep again.
Now, we have Sugar (pictured right). She has a million dollar smile.

What are the most frequent questions you receive about keeping kosher?
Why would you do that to yourself? Do you know how good bacon is?

Do Jews who keep kosher have a snarky Bingo game like we vegans do?
As far as I know, we don’t, but I think we might have to co-opt this.

What do you do for fun besides eating meat and dairy separately?
What could top that?

Do you have any upcoming projects you want to promote?
Yes. Go to mizelmuseum.org to learn more (wink, wink).

Make up a question and answer it.
What is the perfect food?
I would have to say Chocolove 55% chocolate bars with almonds and sea salt. They are vegan, kosher and delicious.

Song: “Hallelujah” By Leonard Cohen
Recipe: Southern Baked Tofu (below)

Given to Deanne by the owners of Green’s, the first “health food store” around, in the early 90s. “The early 1990s, that is,” says Deanne. “It’s been a staple ever since.”
Ingredients: nutritional yeast, tamari, extra-firm tofu
Directions: Oil a baking dish. Preheat oven to 350. Put nutritional yeast in a bowl, tamari in a different bowl. Slice the drained tofu into 3/8” slabs. Dunk each slab in tamari and then dredge in the nutritional yeast so that it’s completely covered with both. Place in oiled baking dish. Bake for about 45 minutes or an hour. I like it a little more baked, where it gets a bit less wet.

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