The Clean Cooking Congresswoman
by Jodi Ochstein
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been a dedicated public servant for over 20 years, the last 10 serving in the US House of Representatives. She is the first Jewish woman elected to Congress to represent Florida, where she and her husband are raising their three children, Rebecca, Jake and Shelby.
In 2009, Wasserman Schultz founded, along with a bipartisan group of congresswomen, the Congressional Women’s Softball Game, which helps to raise money for the Young Survival Coalition, an organization benefitting young women affected by breast cancer, after she announced that she was battling the disease. This year, the softball game is scheduled for June 24 at 6 pm. Tickets can be purchased online.
Last year, in an effort to make better food choices for herself and for her family, Wasserman Schultz embarked on a “clean cooking” journey, which involved eliminating processed and refined foods from her diet and from the meals she prepares for her family. She recently shared some thoughts on this new endeavor with me.
Jewish Food Experience: I understand that a little over a year ago you became the “Clean Cooking Congresswoman,” in part due to your 2007 breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Yes, and a desire to be more conscious of what I’m putting in my body.
JFE: The Congressional Women’s Softball Game benefitting the Young Survival Coalition is coming up on June 24. Do you find that your newly acquired eating habits will help your game? Has this change in diet and lifestyle affected you and your family?
DWS: I don’t know that there’s a direct correlation with my healthier eating habits and the game, but I definitely feel a lot better. There has been a noticeable difference in how I feel over the course of the last year, when I started eliminating processed foods from my diet and eating fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. By substituting healthy ingredients for not-so-healthy ones I can adapt recipes so that I can still eat the things that I love, but eat healthier versions. I wouldn’t necessarily say that there is a direct correlation, but I definitely feel better.
JFE: Since you started “clean cooking,” do your husband and kids get involved?
DWS: They get involved in eating it! Sometimes they will help me cook in general. We have a Sunday family dinner with my parents. I cook at least once a week. My New Year’s resolution last year was to eat healthier, and I didn’t want to give up some of my favorite foods, including Jewish soul food. So as we’ve gone through all our holidays, and given the almost spiritual relationship we Jews have with food, I’ve set out to adapt some of our favorite traditional Jewish recipes to a clean cooking version. My son specifically said that one of his favorite things that he’s enjoyed that I’ve made is a matzah farfel pizza.
JFE: So are your kids becoming more aware about healthy eating, too?
DWS: Yes, they definitely are. I talk about it a lot. They follow my Instagram activities. They understand why I made this decision, and I try as much as I can to make healthier food choices. My husband does most of the food shopping because I’m in Washington during the week. Then I come home and buy the ingredients that I’ll need for the food I’m preparing for the weekend. We’re all a lot more conscious about the food that we eat. It’s really important.
JFE: Has this had any impact or effect on the way you view social justice or food justice issues?
DWS: You know, it really has. I’m on the Appropriations Committee, and I sit on the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee, which funds foreign aid. I’ve been involved in child nutrition and hunger issues and in making sure that we focus on the earliest stages of life and nutritional intake. So, having focused more on all of those issues myself, I definitely have both my policy work and personal choices coming together. In fact, I just got back from a congressional delegation trip to Africa so that I could focus more on the issue of child nutrition and women’s empowerment to make sure that no matter what family you were born into, anywhere in the world, hunger is not going to be a challenge for you. That’s part of the whole tradition that I was raised in: tikkun olam (repairing the world). It is a responsibility of ours, and part of my involvement in these issues stems from my commitment to repairing the world.
JFE: Have you discovered or been inspired by recipes, maybe Israeli or Middle Eastern recipes, or are there any you’d like to try?
DWS: A lot of how I eat now is very Mediterranean. Middle Eastern and Israeli influences are a large part of the choices that I make regarding what to prepare for my family and myself. It’s a very healthy way to eat, and I enjoy it, so that’s an added bonus.
JFE: South Florida is a melting pot of many cultures. In addition to being home to a sizable Jewish community, there is also a large Latino, primarily Cuban, community. Has that influenced any of your recipes?
DWS: I don’t make choices about what I eat or what my family eats so much culturally, as I’m looking for the most interesting and healthy foods that my family will embrace. I have some picky eaters in my family, so I try to make sure that I can make food that everyone is going to enjoy and that has as broad appeal as possible. We have a lot of those ingredients available, particularly from Cuban, Colombian and other Hispanic cultures, and they often find their way into what I make.
JFE: Is there any chance of a Clean Cooking Congressional Cook-off?
DWS: Not at the moment. I hosted an event for other women members in which we did a clean cooking lesson. We had about 12 women come, and we learned how to prepare a clean meal as well as a lot of cooking techniques. Afterwards, we all ate together, so it was a nice opportunity to get women together and talk about health and keeping our families healthy as well.
Top photo: Members of Congress participate in the Congressional Women’s Softball Game.
Originally published at jewishfoodexperience.com on June 21, 2015.