The dishes I planned for Seder would have gone well with rice, were it not Pesach and were I not Ashkenazi. Little potatoes would be okay, too. But upon learning that quinoa is not chametz, I thought, “Perfect. So healthy, so organic, so trendy, and so pretty with its red curls, it could symbolize the Red Sea.”
Standing in the pasta aisle of my currently-being-renovated Key Food Store, where they now keep the quinoa (it used to be with the rice aisle), I studied all of the brands. I found the ones marked OU/P and compared prices, while grooving to “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” on Key’s amazing Mo’town soundtrack. Then it struck me: quinoa may not be the best choice of Passover food. It comes from very far away (not so ecological), from Peru and Bolivia, countries that, I’ve read, have a decline in health because this significant source of protein- quinoa – is being driven up in cost for locals due to its world-wide exportation. What a terrible food to eat for Passover! Exploitative, it causes hunger instead of enabling “all who are hungry to come and eat,” as it’s written in the Haggadah.
I left the pasta aisle and returned to Key’s flashy new veggie department to check out the potatoes. The little red Klondikes cost twice as much as the quinoa for the number of people I was serving and I didn’t have a big enough pot. Disconcerted, I left.
I looked up quinoa on the Internet and found that there exists “Fair Trade” quinoa (carried at Whole Foods, of course). Answer to my food-ethical dilemma: I could buy quinoa from far away, help the local farmers and feel guilt-free on Passover. I made a trip to Whole Foods, whose aisles are so narrow it’s like “Mitzrayim” – the “narrow place” we hope to leave when we escape from slavery – whether Egypt or self-imposed.
My lucky day: fair trade quinoa was in stock. Red, white and mixed– an abundance of riches. I picked up two bags of red and figured, “Great. I did what I came in for, now leave this narrow place.”
Fuggedaboudit! I left the store with the quinoa and two quarts of strawberries, organic whole wheat matzah, Sh’mora matzah, ras-el-hanut (a Moroccan spice), chocolate-covered Pesach macaroons (consumed by the next morning), six four-inch plants, two six-inch plants, and three recycled aluminum foil baking pans…four bags of groceries and I still had to go the butcher.
After six different trips to stores to prepare for the holiday, there was no way I could imagine what it was like to leave Egypt in a rush. Yet, the holiday’s demanding food requirements connected me with my responsibility for others. Given the number of social issues that call for action, applying Passover’s values to the food – and the sources of the food — that I eat may only be a gesture, but it’s no small potatoes.