Episode 4 December 23, 2019

Shabbat Dinner with Whitney Fisch

From lighting candles to bringing out big platters of food, the rituals of family meals bring us closer together. For school counselor, mom, and food blogger Whitney Fisch, those rituals also revolve around Judaism. We spend a Friday afternoon with @jewhungry and her extended family as she prepares Shabbat dinner. While the pesto chicken, smashed potatoes, and five other dishes finish cooking, she delves into some of the negative food rituals that bolster diet culture, as well as the warm memories she wants to instill in her kids.

School counselor and mom Whitney Fisch blogs about Jewish food at Jewhungry. She shares Jewish recipes and family life on Instagram at @jewhungry and addresses diet culture and other issues that impact her students at @whitneyfischmsw.


[00:00:05] [cooking montage].

Jen Nathan Orris [00:00:05] This is Skillet, the podcast where we cook together and listen to each other. I’m Jen Nathan Orris.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:00:12] Here on Skillet, we’re all about memories and the ways that food can intertwine with the people and places that make us who we are. Sometimes these food memories mark big moments: a wedding cake or a chef’s first dish on a restaurant menu. But often it’s the everyday acts of cooking and sharing that stick with us – the routines that bring us together through food.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:00:34] What about the times when those routines are big and important and happen every week? For Whitney Fisch, each Friday is a culinary marathon.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:00:43] Whitney juggles a lot. She’s a social worker and school counselor, she raises three kids, and she’s the powerhouse behind the blog Jewhungry. She also cooks a huge meal for her family every Friday afternoon to prepare for Shabbat. This Jewish holiday marks a day of rest and reflection from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday each week. Work like cooking, driving and turning on electricity is not allowed. And instead, families are encouraged to disconnect from technology and reconnect with their spirituality and each other.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:01:16] I’m Jewish and while my family didn’t observe the religious aspects of Shabbat, we did have family dinners on Friday nights with roast chicken, noodle kugel, and rugelach for dessert: the comfort foods that many Jews of European descent enjoy. But other than knowing how to sing a few prayers and light the candles, I really didn’t have much experience with the religious aspects of Shabbat.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:01:37] So I was honored when Whitney invited me to share Shabbat with her and her family. They live in L.A., so I didn’t think we’d be able to make an episode together. But it turns out that Whitney’s extended family lives in North Carolina, near me. So I went over to her mother’s house on a Friday afternoon to share Shabbat with Whitney and her family.

[00:02:04] [foot steps].

Whitney Fisch [00:02:04] Hello! It’s so nice to meet you in real life.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:02:04] Whitney and I have been friends on social media for a while, and I’ve always admired the way that she speaks her mind and shares her values around the positive and the negative ways that food affects us. Today, she talks about the warm memories she wants to instill in her kids and the diet culture that she wants us all to resist.

[00:02:22] It was a full house the day I went over to Whitney’s mom’s home. I got to meet her husband and their three kids, plus her mother and aunt. When I walk in and Adele is reading a story to Eden, who’s three years old.

Aunt Adele [00:02:37] Nice to meet you. We’re reading a story. [whisper]

Whitney Fisch [00:02:39] Oh, okay. What do you need? What can I do?

Jen Nathan Orris [00:02:46] We don’t need anything. It’s all in my bag.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:02:47] Whitney’s daughter, Siona, is hanging out in the kitchen. Amos, their 15-month-old son is with Whitney’s husband, Yonah and Aunt Adele and and are in the living room, cozied up with the book. Their grandma, or BB, as the kids call her, is in the other room. The house is bursting with joy and chaos, especially in the kitchen where the ingredients and utensils are all out on the counter. So let’s go ahead and turn things over to Whitney.

[00:03:11] So I’m Whitney Fisch and this is my daughter Siona Fisch, almost 7, 7-years-old in five days.

[00:03:18] Really?

Siona Fisch [00:03:21] Yeah.

[00:03:21] And today we are making Shabbat dinner. So we are making for Shabbat dinner, we are making roasted pesto chicken. We are making roasted cauliflower, roasted smashed potatoes, garlicy smashed potatoes and eggplant dip, like an eggplant, roasted red pepper dip. Lots of roasting. Also, there will be an avocado cucumber salad. And if there’s time, zucchini fritters because my mom has several quite large farm-fresh from her garden zucchini that she really needs me to do something with before they go bad. And peach cobbler for dessert. How could I forget peach cobbler?

Jen Nathan Orris [00:04:04] That’s a lot of different dishes. Is that what you normally make for Shabbat dinner?

Whitney Fisch [00:04:09] Sometimes, yes. Sometimes no. I would say probably one or two less. But there’s always…

Siona Fisch [00:04:16] It’s always a big meal.

Whitney Fisch [00:04:17] Yeah, it’s always a big meal. Always several sides, side dishes are my thing. I love a good side dish. Yeah, preferably my favorite thing to do is do like a DIY like short of chicken shawarma bowl. So you have all the sides and just shove it in one bowl and then you get all the flavors. That’s my favorite thing to do.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:04:37] All right. So the next thing I want to know is why you picked the dishes we’re making tonight for this podcast.

Whitney Fisch [00:04:43] Some of it because we are currently in Asheville and it’s very difficult to get certain items that are kosher, like meats, here in Asheville. So we were going to do a whole roast chicken, but scratch that because you couldn’t get one. But cut up chicken we can get. And my mom is growing some pretty beautiful fresh basil, so wanted to, and my favorite, I love roasted pesto chicken, especially paired with peach cobbler. So I wanted to kind of bring all that together. And roasted smashed potatoes because it’s one of our favorite side dishes. Originally we were going to have a whole roast chicken and then roasted smashed potatoes with a pesto dipping sauce, but we’re taking that same flavor and just putting it on the chicken. We have like a history of the roasted potatoes, my husband and I. One of the very first things he ever (I’m pointing, it’s not TV.) One of the very first things he ever made for me were roasted potatoes, before I knew how to cook. I was like, “It’s so good. What do you do?”

Whitney Fisch [00:05:41] He’s like, “Uh, onion soup mix on potatoes with some oil and then I roast it.” That was magic to me because I really, truly didn’t know how to cook. So whenever we I make roasted potatoes, as I’m always like, taken back to a decade ago in Jerusalem, eating magic onion soup mix roasted potatoes. Now we’ve gotten a little further than onion soup mix in our flavor profile. But it’s not bad, y’all.

Whitney Fisch [00:06:13] Right now, I’m getting everything ready for the eggplant relish. Maybe relish is a better term. Maybe dip, I think relish. So I already pre-roasted eggplant, sliced eggplant yesterday, and salted it just to dry out that extra moisture. And it’s really simple, but super delicious. So all it needs is some sauteed red peppers. I’m going to saute the red peppers, saute the onions with some garlic and so on. Just a little bit more salt because it already has egregious amounts of salt on it. I’m goint to try to fit it in that teeny tiny saute pan.

Whitney Fisch [00:06:47] I feel like every time I try to cook kosher at other locations, it’s like an episode of Top Chef or like Chopped. Like you have 30 minutes to cook for 12 people and one knife go. [laugh]

Siona Fisch [00:07:01] [laugh].

Jen Nathan Orris [00:07:01] Let’s take a minute to talk about some of the ways that Jewish people keep kosher and observe the laws around what foods they eat and how they’re prepared. Over thousands of years and around the globe, keeping kosher has been a hallmark of Jewish identity. Some scholars say that keeping kosher reflects the holiness of the every day. The idea that all of life is a sacred endeavor, even the seemingly mundane acts of eating and cooking. Kosher laws are complex and detailed, but the basic rules are – no mixing meat and dairy in the same meal. No pork or shelfish ever, and there are rules about how other meat is processed. Some Jewish families follow all the laws, some choose the ones that are right for them, and others decide not to keep kosher. Whitney will tell you what keeping kosher means to her, and she’ll also talk about a set of kosher laws that make tonight’s seven-course meal extra difficult. Keeping kosher applies the foods you eat and also the tools you use to cook. Today, Whitney is at her mother’s house who does not keep kosher. So Whitney has one kosher knife, one cutting board and a very small saute pan, plus a few disposable items, to make a kosher meal for nine people.

Whitney Fisch [00:08:12] We keep strict kosher inside the home, but we’ll eat out vegetarian because my family’s not kosher. And our goal is to not make it harder for others. Like we want to make sure that everyone’s welcome to our table, but that when we go to someone else’s table, we’re not creating chaos or frustration or something like that.

Siona Fisch [00:08:33] That’s what I tell my friends.

Whitney Fisch [00:08:35] That’s nice. That’s what you tell your friends.

Siona Fisch [00:08:38] And they say, “Does it have to be kosher?” And then I’m like, “We eat out vegetarian. So if we’re not in our house, we can eat vegetarian, but not like strictly kosher with ‘K’ only.”.

Whitney Fisch [00:08:52] Right. But on meat, yes.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:08:58] So maybe you could explain for folks who might not be familiar, what it means to make something kosher.

Whitney Fisch [00:09:03] So, Jen.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:09:04] I know.

Whitney Fisch [00:09:05] It’s a tall order. In a very general sense, so there’s no cooking meat and milk together. We have separate everything. So meat dishes, dairy dishes, and then, of course, we have separate everything again for Passover. All our meat is clean. And also killed and cleaned according to kashrut laws and tradition, It’s not about having a Rabbi just like come and bless things. That is a misunderstanding of the laws of kosher. It’s about the most humane way of killing and called shechting the animal and then draining it of its blood. And then the processing of it, making sure that there’s no other dairy items in the processing facility.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:09:53] OK. Yes. So meat can be kosher or not. But it’s also true of other items in the kitchen. Right? Like how did this stove become kosher? Like, how does one make a stove kosher?

Whitney Fisch [00:10:06] So these are easy because their grates come off so you can wash them by hand, dip them in boiling water, or you can just really put up, if you have those kinds, the iron ones, put it up really, really, really high, high. high heat. The highest heat can go for like 10 to 15 minutes. It’s that heat transfer, that’s really what makes something either kosher or not kosher. Real confusing. Yeah. Yeah.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:10:34] How did you learn all these laws?

Whitney Fisch [00:10:37] I learned in school when I was 20 years old and I like sold everything I own, quit my job and move to Israel to attend school to learn stuff, because I just didn’t know. I just didn’t know what I wanted to know. I had Jewish jobs forever, but I always had some kind of outsourced the content of what it was I was doing for programing and I wanted to be my own content provider. So finally I was like, screw this, I just want to learn. So I embedded myself in the yeshiva for year and I learned so much. I can’t say enough about it.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:11:04] I want to share a little more background about Whitney. She was born and raised in Marietta, Georgia, and is the daughter of a Jewish mom and a Christian dad. Her mom, who you’ll meet later in this episode, was very active in the reformed Jewish community. When Whitney got older, she gravitated towards jobs at Jewish organizations, and in 2008, she sold all her belongings and went to Israel to study at a yeshiva, a school that focuses on Jewish studies. While she was there, she met her future husband, Yonah, and when they moved back to the U.S., they had a kosher wedding here in North Carolina. But keeping kosher in the United States was harder than in Israel, where most restaurants and events are kosher. And for Whitney, it took a little adjustment at the beginning.

Whitney Fisch [00:11:47] The first time I was at a wedding, at a friend’s wedding, as a kosher keeping individual, I believe it was 10 years ago, right after I came home, coming back from Israel, freshly kosher. We were at a wedding. And at like 10:00 pm they came around with like Crystals, you know, Crystal cheeseburgers like the mini – White Castle, it’s White Castle. And like non kosher Whit it would be like, let’s do this. Like, chow down. But, you know, I’d stop and think like, A) I’m not hungry. I would have eaten it anyways because like free White Castle mini hamburgers obvs. And B. now I keep kosher. Like you have to think about it. There’s an intention there that I think, that I know wouldn’t really be present if it weren’t for having to take a minute and separate yourself from just kind of blindly taking in and consuming.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:12:35] It sounds like it’s a whole thought process for you. Tell me a little bit about the symbolism that being kosher means to you.

Whitney Fisch [00:12:43] Being kosher, for me, a lot of it is just in memory. So like when my husband and I met, he’s been kosher his whole life. I have not. But when we were Israel, where we met, I was at yeshiva. I was at a co-ed countering yeshiva called Pardes. And I was learning lots of kashrut. So obviously, like, knowledge is key. And it’s so easy to keep kosher in Israel. So some of it is just like going back to the original intention of like how we were going to live our lives, like for the rest of our lives, kids and family and all this. And the other part of it is like, is that intentional separation. Like we are Jews. We are culturally, thoughtfully, like when someone says, someone just asked me, what do you think about Jewish food and I’m like everything is for me, everything is Jewish food. Right. Just happens to be kosher. But I think kosher could be everything. Right. What separates Jewish food from any other food? Nothing. Nothing, except for the fact that Jewish food can be Spanish and Italian and everything. It can be everything. But I do think it’s important to recognize that there is Jewish food and then there’s kosher food. Right. Like not all Jewish food is kosher. And not all kosher food is considered Jewish depending on who you are.

[00:13:58] [sizzle].

Whitney Fisch [00:13:58] We’ll let that brown for a hot minute and then I think when that does it we can start the pesto. So basil that Siona picked from mom’s garden, garlic, pickle, I don’t know if we have almonds yet or walnuts. So we’re going to just go with it. [laugh].

Jen Nathan Orris [00:14:17] So what are we doing?

Whitney Fisch [00:14:23] We are going to, hold on, baby.

Whitney Fisch [00:14:24] We are going to judge up, do an initial judging of the,

Whitney Fisch [00:14:26] Not yet, baby.

Whitney Fisch [00:14:29] Judging is a really technical term. Very technical for pulsing or processing the basil. I’m going to turn this light on because it’s starting to get dark.

Whitney Fisch [00:14:49] You ready?

[00:14:49] [food processor blending].

Whitney Fisch [00:14:49] We’re going to do some oilve oil. All right. Here we go.

[00:15:04] [food processor blending].

Whitney Fisch [00:15:04] Can I snag that spatula, baby?

Siona Fisch [00:15:06] Yep.

Whitney Fisch [00:15:06] Thank you.

Siona Fisch [00:15:09] You want me to go pick some more basil?

Whitney Fisch [00:15:11] Maybe. I gotta taste this.

Siona Fisch [00:15:17] Could I taste?

Whitney Fisch [00:15:25] Uh, huh.

Siona Fisch [00:15:25] Oh, yay.

Whitney Fisch [00:15:25] What do you think? Tell me what you think it needs.

Siona Fisch [00:15:27] Little more salt.

Whitney Fisch [00:15:31] Well, that’s exactly right.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:15:33] That was my guess, too.

Whitney Fisch [00:15:34] Yeah. And since it’s kosher, right? We can’t do parmasean cheese on that.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:15:38] Oh, right. So you live a life without parmesan cheese?

Whitney Fisch [00:15:42] No. Oh, Jen. Curse your tongue.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:15:45] Well, I don’t know.

Whitney Fisch [00:15:45] We eat Parmesan.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:15:47] OK. Just not when you’re also having chicken.

Whitney Fisch [00:15:49] Correct. I said so no spaghetti and meatballs with parmesan.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:15:52] Gotcha.

Whitney Fisch [00:15:53] That was tough. You know, what was the thing that I miss? Hot wings with blue cheese dressing. That was hard to let go. Yeah, but, you know, spiritual connection and all.

[00:16:08] [blending].

Whitney Fisch [00:16:08] And then you want to look in the fridge for the lemon.

Whitney Fisch [00:16:16] Oh! Excellent work, excellent work.

Siona Fisch [00:16:25] Can I taste it now? See if it needs anything else?

Whitney Fisch [00:16:26] Yeah. See it’s getting greener.

Siona Fisch [00:16:39] Are we going to put it on top here?

Whitney Fisch [00:16:40] We’re going to mix it with every Jewish Southerner’s favorite ingredient, mayonaise. And then that’s gonna be our fat that we use for the chicken.

Siona Fisch [00:16:54] Yeah, that little rascal.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:16:59] The rascal lemon seeds.

Whitney Fisch [00:17:04] Sometimes recipese don’t call for lemon, but I just really think,.

Siona Fisch [00:17:07] The lemon can bring out the flavor.

Whitney Fisch [00:17:09] I totally agree. It makes it greener, makes the flavors dance a little and especially if you don’t have that parmesan in there. You get a little bit. Ah! My hands are slipery. You need a little bit of water.

Whitney Fisch [00:17:23] That’s a big taste.

Siona Fisch [00:17:27] Sorry.

Whitney Fisch [00:17:29] What do you think?

Siona Fisch [00:17:31] I definitely get that sourness.

Whitney Fisch [00:17:34] I think that lemon really took it up.

Siona Fisch [00:17:35] Took it up like ten notches.

Whitney Fisch [00:17:38] Right?

Jen Nathan Orris [00:17:41] The cooking has just begun. Right now, Whitney is juggling seven dishes, teaching her daughter how to taste and letting this podcast host follow her around. Then I learned that she’s not only making all of these dishes for tonight, she’s also cooking everything her family will eat for the next 25 hours. It’s Friday afternoon and Shabbat starts when the sun goes down in a couple hours. It begins a day of rest where anything considered work, including cooking, is not allowed. So Whitney is also preparing everything will eat until Shabbat ends tomorrow night.

Whitney Fisch [00:18:13] I also have to make dinner for tomorrow, too. So we have three meals, so I have to make dinner for tonight, for Friday. And then we have to have a meal for lunch. That’s going to be like a tuna fish or like a non-cooking, just throw stuff together and then I got to like pre-bake some pasta or something. So the kids can have leftovers. But yeah, it’s like Thanksgiving every. Friday. Yeah.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:18:37] So you you are making all your meals for all of Shabbat. So through sundown tomorrow.

Whitney Fisch [00:18:42] Right.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:18:44] Wow. Wow. And the idea being because you’re not working on the Sabbath.

Whitney Fisch [00:18:49] So there’s no. Yeah, we’re not using electricity. We’re not really doing anything. We’re not doing anything. We have what’s called in Yiddish like a blech, which is in English, just a hotplate that will put already cooked on to warm up. And that’s what will warm up any leftovers on for tomorrow night or anything like that.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:19:13] So it seems like preparing for Shabbat takes up a good chunk your week.

Whitney Fisch [00:19:19] I mean, it does. You know, you got to get tricks. You got to do, like in the wintertime when Shabbat starts at like 4:30 or 5, you really have to do stuff the night before. So Thursday night, often we’ll just order a pizza because I’m like can’t make dinner and then like, start right again. So that’s why I like I made the dessert yesterday and I did the eggplant yesterday and I did the cauliflower earlier today. It’s like a marathon. [whisper]

Jen Nathan Orris [00:19:49] Did you hear that? Whitney whispered, “It’s like a marathon.” We’ll be by her side for the race to the finish line right after the break. Stay with us.

[00:20:02] [music].

Jen Nathan Orris [00:20:02] Skillet is brought to you by you. I just have to say thank you to everyone who listened to last week’s episode. We really appreciate the donations you sent in, your posts on social media, and the ways you support the people who share their stories on the show. This week’s food sponsor does all that and more. Jose Ibarra not only donated the cost of the ingredients we used in this episode, but he also wrote an Apple Podcast review that made me grin from ear to ear. And I love that he ordered a tres leches cake from last week’s baker. Thanks, Jose, for supporting Skillet and the community.

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Jen Nathan Orris [00:21:06] Welcome back to Skillet – a podcast about food and memory. I’m over at Whitney Fisch’s mother’s house in North Carolina. When Whitney’s not visiting her family, she lives a busy L.A. life. She’s the mother of three and a high school counselor. Plus, she writes and photographs the blog @jewhungry. Today, she’s preparing a seven-course Shabbat meal for her kids, husband, mom and aunt. There’s still a lot to do, so let’s get back in the kitchen for the final stretch.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:21:33] I boiled this part down a little while I was editing the episode. I love reliving these moments, but I have a feeling you don’t have another two hours to hang out in the kitchen. So let’s hear some highlights from the last few dishes, and then Whitney will give us an update on this incredible spread she’s preparing.

[00:21:52] [sizzle].

Jen Nathan Orris [00:21:52] There’s the onions, going in hot.

Whitney Fisch [00:21:57] Going in hot.

Whitney Fisch [00:21:57] Want to wash those for me?

Jen Nathan Orris [00:22:02] You’re just boiling some water for the potatos.

Whitney Fisch [00:22:04] Boiling water for potatoes.

[00:22:13] [aluminum pan].

Whitney Fisch [00:22:13] OK, so we have: potatoes roasting, already roasted the cauliflower, chicken’s prepped, ready to go, and the eggplant side. Well, I think there’s no way I’m going to do some zucchini fritters. So what I am going to do is like a slow roast veggie, just roast them until it’s dinnertime, which should be yummy. Because we need to get rid of some of these zucchinis. And do a salad right before. I think that’s everything.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:22:39] Whew! It’s time for a breather. The potatoes and chicken are in the oven, so it seems like a good time to sit down and talk. We go over to the living room and sit on the couch. Whitney’s daughter, Eden, curls up in her lap to take a little nap or schluff, as my family says in Yiddish. I start by asking Whitney about her blog and Instagram feed @jewhungry

Whitney Fisch [00:23:00] So I started Jew Hungry – Siona is seven, so seven and half years ago, which I can’t believe. It started with my beloved friend Jeremy, who lives in Chicago, as like a way for us to actually keeping contact. He’d write a post. I’d write a post like we did not know what we were doing. We’re not cooks at all. And he didn’t keep kosher, but I did. We were just like two Jews wanting to chat and that was it. And then it kind of turned into this, like people started responding and I was like, oh, this is cool. Still didn’t know what I was doing. Didn’t feel comfortable enough to, like, devise my own recipes. So I just kind of like, oh, here’s like Ina Garten’s roast chicken. Like, here’s a salad. Right. And then I asked Jeremy one day I was like, do you mind if I kind of take this and run with it? And he was like, yeah, girl, I don’t cook. [laugh] So then I kind of took it over. And it’s really, I feel like, I started picking up steam when I got asked by three incredible foodies. Amy Kritzer of What Jew Wanna Eat. Sarah Lasry, she used to be The Patchke Princess. Now she’s just kind of killing it on Instagram and she’s like a pretty observant Orthodox woman. So she’s killing an Orthodox Instagram, which is definitely a thing. There’s definitely, a whole of the world, Orthodox Instagram. And then this woman, Liz Rueven, who is the blogger behind Kosher Like Me. Four very different women, including me, and then they asked me if I would contribute to this self-published Passover cookbook, which was a lot of work, but I did it. And that kind of was that kind of like got me out there a little bit more in the kosher food world, which is funny, but it exists. And then just started realizing that Instagram is like a really good modality of connecting to people and getting people connected to Jewhungry nd the blog, my goal for it, once I kind of took it over from Jeremy, was really to get folks to understand that like kosher is everything. Kosher can fit all dietary needs. And it’s not really niche. It is everything can be Indian, it can be Italian, it can be Spanish, it can be gluten free. It can be vegan. Its Whole30. Kosher can be everything, but not everything can be kosher. I get a lot of folks interested who are converting to Judaism, a lot of folks who are interested in maybe starting to keep kosher in their home, which I really love. I try really hard not to be an exclusive, one size fits all in that way, that one size is my way kind of Jewish. I really want to be very inclusive and explain like here’s where we sit with this, right? Like our level of kashrut isn’t necessarily someone else’s level of kashrut. Either way. End of the spectrum. But I really want Jewhungry to be a place for people to understand and learn about Jewish life, culture, being a family in a kosher household and a Jewish family, but also a place where people can exchange ideas and recipes and connect culturally and religiously and ethnically and racially with their Jewish community and their Jewish being.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:26:32] So your blog is one way that you express your relationship with food and Judaism. Are there other kind of more personal things you do at home to express that, too?

Whitney Fisch [00:26:43] I think I mean, just every time we eat, I mean Shabbat for sure, every holiday. I mean, we have a holiday every week, Shabbat every week. I definitely try so hard to make Challah, every week with the kids and sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t. But definitely in the practice of ritual, you know, I know that one day, like 10, 20, 30 years, the kids are going to grow up and they’re going to smell Challah baking or they’re going to taste matzo ball soup or they’re gonna taste roasted cauliflower and they’re gonna be transported back, right? Like that hopefully that is, that’s the dream. You know, they may not keep kosher as they’re adults. The like may not be religiously observant. It’s their life. They get to choose. But at some point, I hope that when they have they have strong positive sense memory around Jewish food.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:27:34] So you have three kids who have met today and a husband. Can you talk a little bit about your family and their relationship with Jewish food?

Whitney Fisch [00:27:43] Yes. So we have an almost seven year old Siona, three and a half year old Eden.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:27:49] Who is sleeping on your lap right now.

Whitney Fisch [00:27:51] She is. She is doing that like deep sleep jolt, you know, like a puppy in her sleep. And we have a 15 month old named Amos. With Amos, I mean, it’s so very much tied to their development stage, though, right? Amos eats everything right now. This one is on that classic three and a half year old hunger strike where if it’s not like hot dog or Challah, she’s not really interested. And my seven year old is really venturing out and like really interested in food and cooking in challah braiding. And so for her, it’s becoming more an active participation beyond just the activity of eating at this point.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:28:35] I want to talk to Whitney about another aspect of her life, her work as a school counselor. It’s really important to us that the folks who share their stories on Skillet have a chance to talk about the issues that they’re most passionate about. And over the past year, Whitney has become really vocal about an issue related to food that a lot of people struggle with – diet culture.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:28:54] Something that you speak out about is diet culture. And it’s interesting because you blog about food and then you’re also a social worker and a school counselor. So I’m wondering if you could help us understand what is diet culture?

Whitney Fisch [00:29:10] Ah, girl. What is diet culture? Diet culture is the culture around us that is constantly telling us that fat is bad and to fear it. And it’s telling us that there is one method, there’s one way to be happy and that happiness is is cultivated through the shrinking of your body. And however means necessary, we should shrink it, but we should shrink it. It is enmeshed in a standard of beauty that’s pretty much like, you know, white and privileged, blond, thin, tall. It’s very exclusive. It is very unhealthy. It makes, it banks on our vulnerabilities and creates those vulnerabilities.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:29:55] So what are some ways that people might experience diet culture, but like not even know it?

Whitney Fisch [00:30:00] Girl, so many ways. For example, congratulating someone on losing weight, especially if they had a baby recently. “And oh, you look great. You lost so much weight.” Also, I had a baby. Are you going to ask me how that is or how I’m feeling or something like that? Or, you know, I see a lot of students of mine getting into ritual diets with their mothers, for example, you know, or feeling like at 39, I should look exactly like I did when I was 25. Right. I’m getting an e-mail from a gym that says, are you getting ready for your summer body? Every body is a summer body, right? So it’s everywhere.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:30:45] Yeah, it seems like it has so much to do with marketing and trying to sell us products. But then it’s also a way that we’ve internalized these ideals and and kind of present them and throw them back on each other.

Whitney Fisch [00:30:59] Correct. And mostly women. It’s not only women, of course, Diet culture knows no bounds when it comes to who’s vulnerabilities it wants to exploit for your money. But its most certainly its biggest target is women, girls. Every age, every age, every stage of life for sure. And now it’s being, the horrifying thing is now it’s being masked as wellness. Right. Well, I just I want you to be healthy. I want you to feel well. But what we know about health is that weight only accounts for 30 percent of total health, you know, and what do we know about diets that it creates a life where you’re only thinking about restriction and your only, you have anxiety over, you know, what can I eat? And you’re hungry and you’re starving. And that’s not healthy. Right. That creates a really depressive restrictive mindset. And it’s not including your mental health and your emotional health. And it really restricts your social health. Right. If you are deciding to go on, I have legit students on juice diets with their parents, with their mothers. Right. You can’t go out to eat and enjoy a Shabbat meal at someone’s house. Because you can’t eat anything there. Right. So it hits all those. So you’re not well if you’re on a diet. That’s the irony of the whole thing. Yeah.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:32:19] Though the wellness industry and the food blogging industry have kind of intertwined in different ways in certain situations. Do you see that?

Whitney Fisch [00:32:27] I do. I do. I have definitely. It’s it’s definitely cut off some relationships I had with some folks, some folks that I knew in the kosher food blogging world who started selling things like Optiva, you know multi-level marketing. I believe it’s like a shake, but it’s for weight loss. So, you know, you sell it, and you buy 500 hundred dollars worth of it that you upsell to your friend. But also like I can’t. If your blog name is Skinny Taste like I’m out, you know? I mean, I’m I’m out. It’s it’s. Yeah, it’s a problem.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:33:08] Has diet culture affected you in your own life?

Whitney Fisch [00:33:11] Well, sure. 39 years old and I’ve had three kids. And the expectation is they should want to shrink back down to the way I looked before I had my first kid. And if I’m not actively involved in a diet, what, you know, like I’m supposed to be getting up at 5:00 a.m. and exercising, right? No, I mean, I’m tired. So it’s affected me in a way that’s, I definitely have a new size like, this is the largest my body’s ever been. But with a shift in mindset, really, when I started investigating diet culture and now Health at Every Size, I’ve really been able to shift my own mindset of how I look at myself. Right. Which has been helpful. Very helpful.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:34:03] How do you speak out about diet culture? How do you talk about this?

Jen Nathan Orris [00:34:07] Yeah, actually, because I run, I oversee the health curriculum at our school, at the high school I work at. Actually, this year I decided to take out kind of your traditional nutrition unit. And now we’re only talking about Healthy at Every Size, intuitive eating, and diet culture. And that’s hard. 13, 14, 15 year olds talking about that. I mean, you’re talking about trying to reframe the narrative that they have been told their whole life and they build rituals around with their moms. Right. Let’s go a diet together. Let’s do Whole30 together and do the 21 Day Fix. You know, well Beyonce did. Let’s do it. And that’s it’s hard. People are just they don’t want to let go of it. They don’t want to let go of it.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:34:50] It’s interesting because Skillet podcast is very much about celebrating food as a way to talk about culture and identity and community. But we don’t talk about all the negative messages that come around food. We just don’t talk about it very often, which is why I’m glad, one of the many reasons I’m glad to have this conversation with you. But what would you like people to know about how to have a healthier relationship with food and their bodies?

Whitney Fisch [00:35:14] I think first and foremost, there has to be a little bit of a compassion with yourself for understanding that this is new language, the whole, you know, investigation and dismanteling diet culture that’s new. It’s in it’s baby stage, you know. And to really start dismantling it, I think that you have to take on some, you have to own some of your own behaviors. And just like if you’re trying to dismantle anything that has kind of really large social and racial implications, just like diet culture does, you have to kind of give in a little bit to where you are buying into this and where you’ve perpetuated it. But I think it’s it’s about like food is not to be feared. It is to be enjoyed. But it’s really about like watching the baby eat like that is, the baby he eats when he’s hungry and he stops when he’s full. And we want to get back to that.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:36:15] We’re about to eat Shabbat dinner with you and your family. What do you want to pass down to your kids about food?

Whitney Fisch [00:36:22] I really hope that they enjoy the ritual of it. I hope that I create an environment when I’m cooking that they feel comfortable coming in and like helping me and that I’m not overly stressed or, you know. No, no, no. I hope that I’m creating and cultivating that environment so they can create a love of food. And maybe as they grow up and grow older, when they’re in their early 20s, they have, you know, potlucks and, you know, create their own ritual around food. It would be wonderful if they keep kosher and keep Shabbat, but if they don’t. OK, you know, I just hope they have a thoughtful relationship with it.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:37:05] Well, let me thank you so much, Whitney.

Whitney Fisch [00:37:06] Thank you, Jen.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:37:06] Great talking to you.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:37:15] Thanks again to social worker, blogger, and mom Whitney Fisch. I really appreciated our conversation about diet culture and how multifaceted people’s relationships with food can be. It made me reflect on my own experiences and I hope it made you think too.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:37:30] After such a serious conversation, it was great to kick back and enjoy Shabbat together. I was really grateful to stay for dinner and be there while they lit the candles and said prayers. Whitney asked that I not record those parts and of course I respected that. So I’ll keep the rest of Shabbat with Whitney and her family as a memory of my own. Something fun I can share with you is the work of a budding young journalist. You probably remember Siona, Whitney’s 7 year old daughter with the excellent tasting skills. She was pretty fascinated by my microphone and the idea that if you held it in your hand, you could ask people pretty much anything. I gave her the microphone. She put on my headphones and got to work on some serious reporting.

Siona Fisch [00:38:13] Let’s try this. BB could I talk to you?

Grandma BB [00:38:16] I would love that.

Siona Fisch [00:38:18] Tell us about your life story. This short portion of it.

Grandma BB [00:38:23] The short portion of it. I was born. I lived. I’m here in Asheville.

Grandma BB [00:38:29] Not like that. Oh, you want more than that?

Siona Fisch [00:38:34] Where were you born? What time were you born?

Jen Nathan Orris [00:38:39] You could be a radio reporter. Oh, you want to interview me?

Siona Fisch [00:38:42] Okay. So how is your life story?

Jen Nathan Orris [00:38:45] My life story is pretty good. It was great today. I met a bunch of really nice people and had a good time cooking with some new friends.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:38:57] Watch out, world. Young journalist Siona Fisch is on the rise. I bet she’ll be America’s Next Top Podcast Star in about 15 years.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:39:06] Speaking of podcast stars, I want to shout out the people who helped me make this show. C.A. Carlson is our story editor and Rich Orris is our digital producer and photographer. You can see the photos he took during our afternoon with Whitney Fisch and her family on our website. There’s also a transcript, a link to Whitney’s blog, www.Jewhungrytheblog.com, and a link to donate at SkilletPodcast.com If you’d like this episode, tell your friends and share on social media. Where @SkilletPodcast on Facebook and Instagram. We’d also love it if you wrote a review or rated us an Apple Podcast or your favorite podcast app. It all helps more people find the show.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:39:45] Coming up next time on Skillet,

Clarence Robinson [00:40:03] [singing].

Jen Nathan Orris [00:40:03] We’ll take you to our live show at Chow Chow culinary festival and introduce you to Clarence Robinson, a chef who can sing, dance, and make you laugh all while cooking up some really tasty food.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:40:14] Hit subscribe in your podcast app so you don’t miss it.

Jen Nathan Orris [00:40:16] We’ll be back in two weeks with the next episode of Skillet.