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Yeshiva food

In another thread on Chowhound, I asserted that it is rare for yeshivas to go a day without serving meat. First of all, I should have said fleishigs rather than meat, because more often than not, it is poultry rather than red meat. This is based upon my sons' experiences over the years at Mesivta of greater Los Angeles (Calabasas), Shvilay Hatalmud (Lakewood), Ner Israel (Baltimore) and the Mir, one son having been in yeshiva for 9 years, another finishing up his fourth. More often than not, the experience has been accompanied by a dearth of natural fibers and green vegetables, and it has been an ongoing complaint of mine- not only do they serve an inherently unhealthy diet, they also limit physical activity. The question is: How widespread is this, and how long has this been going on? Another poster stated that when he was in yeshiva (I am assuming many years ago, but it could be an invalid assumption), it was rare for his yeshivas to serve meat. Is this limited to certain yeshivas, certain types of yeshivas, certain geographic regions, and is this a relatively new phenomenon, or has it long been the standard of yeshivas which provide the sustenance for their talmidim? I note that in days of yore, many yeshivas in the "old country" provided very little for the bachurim, and the standard was to rotate meals with balei batim, so I don't know when yeshivas began providing the bulk of the sustenance for their talmidim.

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  1. The schools that we've visited, admittedly more liberal, have usually alternated milchig and fleishig.

    1. Very interesting. I would have assumed the contrary since meat is usually expensive and when it comes down to it, it is always about cost. Therefore the opposite must be happening, schools are probably getting meats at great discounts or maybe even free. I have always wondered what happens to the left over meats in the meat section of stores at the end of the day. One can put it back into the display the next day, but for only so long. I would therefore surmise that they either donate or sell for cheap, meats that are a few days old, but still fresh to clearing houses that supply the yeshivas.

      Mind you this is all fantasy, but who knows, it may be true.

      3 Replies
      1. re: MartyB

        As I understand it is recommended to eat chicken/meat only on the sabbath and holidays. As this is healthiest for the body and also allows those times to be designated as celebrations by the presence of meat/korban. I find it strange that they would serve it every day as that may be considered not caring for your body.

        1. re: azna29

          we're talking about teens/young adults, their bodies should have no problem with handling meat everyday.

          1. re: berel

            animal products are not good for you at any age.

      2. When I studied in yeshiva in Israel not too long ago, lunch was parve and dinner was fleischig (mostly chicken, but red meat one or two days a week and on shabbat). Regardless, the food was so bad that in general my diet consisted of rice, toast, and hard-boiled eggs.

        3 Replies
        1. re: elmoz

          Yes, that's been an ongoing complaint in every yeshiva, it seems. Can food really be that bad?

          1. re: ganeden

            There is little incentive for yeshivas to provide better food - I don't think anyone has ever factored in the quality of food into their decision of which yeshiva to attend or send their children to.

            1. re: Beerhound

              I think there's also a certain assumption that adolescent or just post-adolescent guys will eat almost anything.

        2. The yeshivish world tends to disregard healthy food or exercise.

          1. the typical Yeshiva diet may be influence by government surplus food staples that are available to any school food program. Yeshiva's also cultivate relationships with area kosher food providers, so they can share bulk order discounts. unfortunately offering healthy well balanced food is less of a priority over filling your kid up on cheaper fats and starches so he's too full to be distracted from his learning. I think you are better off continuing to set a good diet example at home, and being available to teach his future wife healthy cooking, then worrying about what he's eating in Yeshiva.

            13 Replies
            1. re: Joe Berger

              re: being available to teach his future wife healthy cooking

              Am I overly sensitive or is this a bit sexist in this day and age? Even in the frum community.

              1. re: queenscook

                No, I don't think you're being oversensitive re: the expectation that the wife will do all the cooking.

                How much of the bulk government stuff has a hechsher? To me, the iconic government bulk food is a giant block of processed cheese, which I'm sure isn't supervised.

                1. re: GilaB

                  You'd be surprised how much government items are kosher. When I volunteered at a food pantry, they got tons of government canned and boxed items that were kosher.

                  1. re: cheesecake17

                    I am very surprised to hear about the canned and boxed items. Of course, the yeshivas will worry about the hechsherim, but let's assume that they're good. I would very much doubt that most yeshivas even know about such things as government surplus kosher items. Face it, even canned vegies would improve the diets of the bachurim.

                    1. re: ganeden

                      The food pantry got crackers, cookies, chips, regular pasta, whole wheat pasta, dried beans, grains, canned salmon, canned tuna, sardines. Canned veggies- potatoes, green beans, corn, asparagus. I remember once seeing canned pumpkin and sweet potatoes.
                      I wouldn't doubt that the yeshivahs know about surplus items. If it's available and accessible to them, the schools are probably taking it.

                      In my opinon the problem is laziness. It's easier to prepare meat and potatoes than it is to prepare fresh veggie side and main dishes. Also, so many adults think that kids/young adults do not eat or enjoy vegetables. If the food is tasty and presented in a nice way, it will be enjoyed. I'm not saying everything should be purely made of vegetables, but there's nothing wrong with serving grilled chicken, rice, and stir fried or roasted vegetables.

                      Another vegetable issue- checking the vegetables. Who will check them? To what standards? Who decides if a vegetable should be checked or if it should be just written off the list. All things to consider...

                      You mentioned below that your son was not allowed to exercise. Why not? I do not see the reasoning behind that. A healthy, active student is better than a chubby, lazy student. Why not have basketball games several times a week? Or baseball.. or volleyball.. or swimming..

                      1. re: cheesecake17

                        Because anything that takes the guys away from learning is considered bittul zman (wasting time.) It's why in year-in-Israel programs, the boys get all the meals provided to them (and their laundry done, for that matter), while the girls are expected to cook themselves dinner, do laundry, and make arrangements for many Shabboses.

                        1. re: cheesecake17

                          I'm sure the reason that would be given would be "bittul torah." Does it make sense? Is it short-sighted? Is it clearly disregarding the mishna in Avos that speaks about foresight ("ha'ro'eh es ha'nolad") being the best quality to which one should cling (i.e. that poor eating habits will lead to health issues later)? No, yes, yes. But that's the yeshivish world (as I see it from the outside, not being a part of it myself).

                        2. re: ganeden

                          <I would very much doubt that most yeshivas even know about such things as government surplus kosher items.>

                          Orthodox institutions not knowing about free government money? You're kidding, of course, aren't you?

                          1. re: ganeden

                            "I would very much doubt that most yeshivas even know about such things as government surplus kosher items. Face it, even canned vegies would improve the diets of the bachurim."

                            In the mid 1990s I owned a small kosher catering business. My partner and I volunteered three days a week as the cooks at a local 300+ student Chabad Day School. We prepared all 5 days meals in those three days...

                            This school was well aware of the available Government surplus and used plenty of it. There was Pasta, canned vegetables, Peanut Butter, all with reliable supervision. As to the blocks of cheese, there was plenty of 5 lb blocks of Orange colored American Cheese which was Cholov Yisroel and with good supervision.

                            The most surprising item: Cases of frozen chicken parts with both UO and KAJ supervision and additional stamps on the box from assorted Chassidische Rabbis.

                            No Cholov Yisroel Butter. We took the butter that was UO stam and traded it to another institution for more Pasta and vegetables. (Technically that was not allowed, but as both institutions qualified for the USDA surplus, why not?)

                            The biggest problem we had in providing a balanced diet to the children: The choicest items disappeared and were served on the tables of the underpaid rebbeim.

                            1. re: bagelman01

                              Wow. I am truly surprised. Government surplus cholov Yisroel cheese and kosher chicken-- wonder how I can get on this program. I have a large family, and for free food, I'll be happy to cook for others as well.

                              1. re: ganeden

                                The program was for institutions, at the same time the cheese giveaways for individual low income people were not Kosher.

                                Remember, this was during the Clinton administration, I have no ideas what happened when the republican got into power (I no longer was in the business), but thier great leader -Reagan- declared that Ketchup was a vegetable-when it came to school lunch programs.

                                1. re: bagelman01

                                  1. No, he didn't. He never said or even hinted at any such thing.
                                  2. When they discovered that tomato sauce has more lycopene than do fresh tomatoes, my first reaction was to shoult "Yes! Ketchup IS a vegetable!"

                    2. re: Joe Berger

                      Joe, I think you're off the mark on this one, though I wish things were as you say. The yeshiva world, if it ever serves milchigs. serves cholov yisroel, so it cannot benefit from government surplus. Cheese must be cholov Yisroel and gevinas Yisroel as well, so none of the surplus cheese. Kosher meat and even poultry is expensive even at the wholesale level, as is cheese and milk. Most even hold butter to need cholov Yisroel. Maybe they get surplus macaroni, but what other government surplus products could they use? And they're not really filling kids up on starch except maybe at lunchtime. What they're offering is probably a starch based lunch and a meat based dinner. And for those places which offer breakfast, typically eggs or cold cereal. Maybe the eggs are surplus. I think they srve meat/poultry for dinner because they feel that meat is the proper dinner for a ben torah, and not because they get it at a good price. If that's the reason, then why did they adopt that idea? Meat and starch without fiber and vegetables, in the absence of exercise, is anything but healthy. I know that at my son's former yeshiva in Lakewood, they allowed Basketball (the exercise if choice) only erev Shabbos. My son had to take long walks at night after night seder in order to get any exercise, and buy his own supplementary food.

                    3. This is a marked difference from the days of my youth (late 60's-early 70's) when the menus were starch-based. We had a Hungarian cook so everything was heavy and starchy. Meat was served sparingly and usually in a stew-like concoction.