Monday, November 03, 2008

Teach a man to fish and he'll fish for a lifetime...

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a meal.
Teach a man to fish and he will fish for a lifetime.
(Chinese proverb)
The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.
(Maimonides' 8th level of giving tzedakah)

Wonders will never cease. We have decided as a family -- ok, my almost 4 year old didn't get a vote -- that we want to eliminate red meat from our at home diet. We won't buy it or cook it, but will eat it "out". So we're trying to eat more fish.

There is a lovely (and clean) fish shop around the corner from our apartment. I like it, it's a little off the beaten path, and it doesn't stink of old fish. And they keep the kosher fishes separate from those other treif ones. I thought it would be a fun treat for me to take my son over to to our neighborhood fishery to pick out fish for dinner. He adores lox, and knows that salmon is pink, and I hoped that this participation in the shopping might lead to participating in the eating, thereby diversifying his fruit-cheese-yogurt-challah diet.

So we walked in. Not a huge store but he was the lobsters in the tank, of course. We walked by the display case, and he asked all the names of the fish (except for "EMA! That's SALMON!!!"). Loved the idea of a fish called branzini - don't even know if it's kosher - or tilapia, they sound so funny. Each fish seemed more interesting than the next.

Then we got to the whole fish section. Basically, there's a bin, about adult-waist high, filled with ice and dead fish. You don't want me to pull any punches, right? They're dead. Glassy eyed. Ick. And wouldn't you know it, darling boy runs right over, climbs up on a milk crate and starts poking their eyes. Picks one up. Starts swinging it by the tail. I nearly passed out. He picked out his own fish, a whole shiny red snapper, and solemnly handed it to the fish man to be cleaned and gutted. He carried it home, where Abba had frantically spent the last 20 minutes searching for a whole fish recipe that didn't take too long. He even helped prepare it by sprinkling salt and pepper on it and watching while it sat in the pan.

I was expecting that to be IT. But no!
Turns out that he loves red snapper. He ate at least 6-7 bites, which seems like a lot to me. He couldn't stop talking about it and wanted to do it again the next day.

It is apparently true that if you involve your children in the shopping, selection and preparation of food, they'll eat it. I was a complete skeptic, but now I have a kid who eats red snapper. Let's see if it holds for other things; snapping the ends off of asparagus didn't get him to eat that, but it was helpful. I'll keep trying...this made it well worth the effort. It is not just the example of eating it around a table with others who are eating the same thing. I helped to provide my son with a tool (and an appreciation) for enjoying the process of getting food on a plate, and involving him in the process and enabling him to have a voice in the choice empowers him. Participating in the cooking was nice too, although there is still flour on the kitchen floor. It's just as empowering as the choice between the red shirt and the green shirt; it's a false choice (we were having fish for dinner, after all) but he perceived that he had a voice in the decision too.

I wonder what it would be like if we always thought of food preparation for our families like this; how can we involve our children in the process, and how can we ourselves be closer to the process. Maybe all our children will learn to love kale. OK, maybe not, but you might be able to substitute red snapper for a Dr. Prager's Fishy once or twice.


arnie draiman said...

excellent! one minor correction: i think it is maimonides' 1st level, since he starts with that one, and then deliniates each lower one after that. see below.

arnie draiman

There are eight degrees of giving Tzedakah:
1. The highest degree is to strengthen the hand of a Jew who is poor, giving that person a grant or loan or becoming a partner or finding a job for that person, to strengthen the person’s hand, so that the person will not need to ask for assistance from others…

2. A lesser degree, is one who gives Tzedakah to a poor poor and is unaware of the recipient, who, in turn, is unaware of the giver. This is indeed a religious act achieved for its own sake.

Of a similar character is one who contributes to a Tzedakah fund. One should not contribute
to a Tzedakah fund unless he or she knows that the person in charge of the collections is
trustworthy and wise and knows how to manage the money properly…

3. The [third], lesser, degree is when the giver knows the recipient, but the recipient does not know the giver. The great sages used to go secretly and cast the money into the doorway of poor people. Something like this should be done, it being a noble virtue, if the Tzedakah
administrators are behaving properly.

4. The [fourth], still lower, degree is when the recipient knows the giver, but the giver does not know the recipient. The great sages used to tie money in sheets which they threw behind their backs, and poor people would come and get it without being embarrassed.

5. The [fifth], still lower degree is when the giver puts the Tzedakah money into the hands of poor people without being solicited.

6. The [sixth], still lower degree is when he or she puts the money into the hands of a poor person after being solicited.

7. The [seventh], still lower degree is when he or she gives the poor person less than he or she should, but does so cheerfully.

8. The [eighth], still lower degree is when he or she gives the poor person grudgingly/with a feeling of pain/unhappily.

(Mishna Torah, Laws of Gifts to Poor People, 10:7-14)

this is danny siegel's translation ( i prefer to translate #8 as 'giving via sadness/pain'.

we can discuss this more.

Maya said...

Good for you! I'm not brave enough to have my little one go through the whole fish process. She thinks of them as cute pictures in storybooks and she kisses them. But she does love the tomatoes and salad from our community garden plot--she also loves fruit from other people's plots. So I think it probably makes a difference for them to be involved.

Anonymous said...

arnie, thanks for the correction. i was looking at an old text from a textbook on a bookshelf as I posted this, not at the original translation, obviously!