Tu B’Shvat is the best holiday a Jewish environmentalist could ask for. The New Year for the Trees gets us to think about the natural world, and indeed I’ve enjoyed that focus at Hazon’s Tu B’Shvat seders the last couple of years. However, my Tu B’Shvat observance has often been at odds with my general environmental outlook on food. Whereas I normally prioritize locally grown produce from a farmers market, for Tu B’Shvat I adore exotic, varied fruits. Celebrating the full bounty of nature isn’t consistent with limiting your carbon footprint if that oddball fruit had to travel 3,000 miles to get to you.
My love for Tu B’Shvat dates back to my freshman year of college, when a Chabad Shabbat dinner featured 44 different types of fruits and nuts instead of the regular brisket or chicken. Since then I’ve hosted a series of non-seder gatherings in which I tried to present a diverse array of fruits. At the Tu B’Shvat Disorder! ’08, I served coconut, horned melon, persimmons, pineapple, uglifruit, honeydew, cantaloupe, bananas, grapes, apples, peaches, tangerines, olives, starfruit, figs, dates, cherries, blueberries, kiwis, pistachios, almonds, pine nuts, cashews, walnuts, filberts, and Brazil nuts. Let’s just say that it hadn’t all been grown locally in Virginia in January.
This year’s I-can’t-stop-thinking-about-it fruit is the Buddha hand, also known as a fingered citron. (Many readers will be familiar with the etrog, another type of citron, which is used on Sukkot.) I’d seen the Buddha hand at a NYC Whole Foods store a few times before, but I’d never found any legitimate reason to buy this masterpiece of citrus. When I spotted a California-grown Buddha hand that appeared to be giving me the finger on Thursday—so close to Tu B’Shvat—I knew I just had to spend $3.14 for it.
The Buddha hand was a big hit at a Shabbat potluck the following night. We started amputating fingers off the Buddha hand left and right. One guy ate an entire finger (including the rind), and he put a little nub in his wine and called it sangria. Several of us gnawed into the flesh at the base of the fingers instead. We passed around the opened Buddha hand to appreciate the scent. After the night was over, I was able to salvage the base of the hand for some flesh. I cut some of it up and put it in tea, and as of this writing, I’m not sure what I’ll do with the rest.
The Buddha hand was fun, but did this fruit—which we did not even consume to a significant extent—really help us to respect the Earth?
In celebrating Tu B’Shvat, it’s important to have foods that are native to Israel and that represent the different categories of fruits and nuts: those that have edible insides but inedible outsides, those that have edible outsides but inedible insides, and those that are edible throughout. Beyond that, if you have a choice and you truly want this to be a holiday that is good for the Earth, buy local when possible.