“Passover is a hard holiday,” my mother has always said. And also: “It’s Passover, you have to suffer a little.”
When you’re a vegan who observes the already formidable food restrictions of Passover, you suffer more than a little. Particularly if your cooking skills are very limited. My only saving grace is my wonderful wife who humors me and is a wiz with a grocery list.
During the week of Passover, we are not permitted to eat any hametz (leavened bread or any other product that contains or may contain leavening) or kitniyot (leguminous vegetables and most grains). This is how it pans out: No hametz means no bread, cake, muffins, bagels, cookies, pizza dough, pasta, mustard, grain-based alcohol or vinegar. No kitniyot means no beans, peas, corn, peanuts or peanut butter, rice, quinoa or oats. In other words, most commercial products that come in a can, box, bag or jar are out. For one thing, almost everything contains corn syrup or corn starch or vinegar these days. That crosses off most items you would find on a supermarket shelf, including soda pop, tomato sauce, soup, pickles, olives, salad dressings, jelly, candy, pretzels, yogurt, ice cream — you name it.
One coping mechanism that is tried and true among observant Jews is the purchase of specially made Passover products that don’t include any forbidden ingredients. There are Passover cookies and cakes, Passover ice cream, Passover jam, Passover pickles and olives, Passover ketchup, Passover mayonnaise and on and on. I used to buy these things with alacrity, and at premium prices too, back when I lived in the New York City metropolitan area. But just try finding this stuff in a rural area of the western United States. You can’t! Some compensate by making the sixteen hour round trip to Los Angeles to pick up Passover specialties. Others order Passover items online and have them shipped to their homes. However, these tactics are out for me at present due to unemployment and its attendant budgetary restrictions.
Baked eggplant with mushrooms, onions and tomatoes.
So what exactly do we eat during the eight days of Passover? In Hebrew, Passover is known as hag ha’matzot, the festival of matzo, but man does not live by this dry, crispy cracker alone. Traditionally, we eat meat, fish, dairy products, vegetables and fruit, purchasing these items fresh and avoiding canned and prepared products that may have impermissible additives. As a vegan, however, the first three items are crossed off that list, leaving me with vegetables and fruit.
The most difficult part of observing Passover for a vegan is that soybeans are considered kitniyot and hence, no soy products are allowed. As I do little cooking beyond what I can throw in the microwave, this restriction eliminates most sources of protein from my diet. Veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs, tofu, soy milk, hummus, nondairy “cheese,” nondairy margarine — all go right out the window. My other primary source of protein is beans, lovely chick peas, black beans, pintos, white northern beans. All of these are legumes and hence prohibited. Even my old standby, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, is forbidden.
So what’s a vegan to do for protein during Passover? Some cope by ignoring the kitniyot restriction and eating soy products, justifying this on the grounds that Sephardic Jews (those whose ancestors hail from Spain) traditionally do so. This is fine (I suppose) if you happen to be Sephardic. If, like me, however, you’re of eastern European heritage and definitely not Sephardic, this justification for eating soy during Passover is really nothing but a bit of self-delusional folly for one’s own convenience. And yet, there are plenty who play “let’s pretend” and do just that. I think this is a bit like me pretending to be a Christian so that I can indulge in the Easter ham. It makes no sense whatsoever.
Those of us who wish to be honest are left to eke out whatever protein we can find in non-leguminous vegetables. Some say that spinach is an excellent source of protein, while others dispute this assertion. This article claims that spinach contains 13 grams of protein per serving, while this article claims that it contains only one gram of protein. Broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus and even potatoes also contain some protein, although nothing like what you get from beans.
Carrots and yams, Vitamin A à l’orange
The answer for a vegan who observes Passover is that you do the best you can. I double down on spinach, broccoli and potatoes, along with my usual salad greens and fruit. I eat lots of orange stuff, like yams and carrots, to get plenty of Vitamin A. Dry matzo is made more palatable by spreading guacamole on it.
However, with avocadoes going for 88 cents apiece around here, I’m glad that Passover is only eight days long. And that Tuesday at sundown it will be just a memory.
That is, until next April rolls around.