Last night reminded why I love this city so much and how easy it is to be spontaneous here. NYC is constantly buzzing with cool events, exhibits, talks, concerts, and so much more. And while I mostly feel like this city is robbing me at any chance it gets, by doing enough research, I’ve found that some of the best offerings are totally free and a great time.

As I scoured the Internet in search of cool events, I stumbled upon one that sounded right up my alley; A Tenement Talk series about Vegetarian Cooking Past & Present. With no set plans for the night, why not have myself a little NYC summer adventure?

Hosted by the Tenement Museum, on the Lower East Side, Tenement Talks is an evening series of lectures, readings, panel discussions, films and other programs that provide historical and contemporary perspectives on New York City’s rich culture. You do not need to be a member to attend, nor does it cost any money. My only recommendation would be to arrive early so you’re not stuck standing the whole time.

Tenement Talks at the Tenement Museum

This specific talk was about the book The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook written by a pioneer of Jewish vegetarian cooking, Fania Lewando, which was first published in 1938. It’s recently been translated from Yiddish to English by Eve Jochnowitz and a new publication is now available for sale. Eve and restaurateur Amanda Cohen (Dirt Candy) were present and interviewed by culinary historian Jane Ziegelman to compare and contrast vegetarianism of the past to today.

Eve discussed Fania and what kind of woman she was and her inspiration behind the cookbook. Fania did not spend anytime talking about how delicious her recipes were. Instead, she makes it clear that she knew what she was doing and through her instructions she shared how it’s meant to be done. Eve herself translated every single recipe, totaling 400. And she tried making about a fourth of them. The recipes ranged, but a consistent ingredient throughout seemed to be butter. And TONS of it!

Amanda answered a variety of questions, including why she doesn’t actually like the word vegetarian and why she doesn’t refer to her restaurant as such. “I want my restaurant to appeal to all, rather than having a narrow attraction,” explained Amanda. She went on to explain how the reputation for vegetarianism in the US has never been very good. “People have been known to go vegetarian for three motives: religion, health, and ecological/environmental reasons. But what about the actual taste of vegetarian food?” She wants people to realize that vegetarianism is not only good for the world and your health, but it can actually be decadent and pleasurable.

Any similarities between Fania and Amanda? All women worked for her and all women work for Amanda. Who run the word? Girls.

Overall, it was so interesting to hear about Fania and how she was on the forefront of the vegetarian diet that has only recently caught on here in the US. At the end, Sarah Lohman, historic gastronomist, gave us a tasting of a “cabbage cake” dessert from the cookbook. It was actually delicious, despite the strange name. And if it was any indication of the rest of her recipes, then I highly recommend you go grab a copy ASAP.

For more information and for a list of upcoming Tenement Talks, check out their website for updates and more.

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