Overeating in the Land of the Buffet

by Brian on September 22, 2010

in Jewish Holidays and Culture,Only in Israel

Alon Tavor Field School

What is it about Jews and buffets? We see one and we go hog-wild, pardon the expression. And buffets are big business in Israel.

Our most recent encounter with the ubiquitous Israeli buffet was during a Shabbaton earlier this year with our synagogue at the Alon Tavor Field School. Some explanations first.

Field schools are the cheapest (and therefore a very popular) way for a medium-sized group to get away for a weekend. Run by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), the dozen or so field schools in Israel provide rooms, dining and educational hiking and walking tours.

Accommodations are extremely spartan: a room with bunk beds, a small fridge, and showers that invariably flood and need to be mopped up with a squeegee.

For our weekend away, we had three meals included: dinner, lunch and the traditional Shabbat “third meal.” Dinner and lunch consist of meat – chicken legs, breaded schnitzel (my favorite because the coating keeps the meat hot) and some kind of mystery concoction – while the third meal is always dairy with a cheese platter, salad, hard-boiled eggs and potato burekas.

The food is at best on a par with army fare. Greasy, fatty and over salted. And yet we lap it up. Indeed, I refused to leave the buffet without sampling everything in the heated bins. Judging from what I saw on the plates of many of my fellow congregants, I was not alone.

Why do we do it – pig out when the food is so awful? I recall while growing up there was an all-you-can-eat place near our house. We only ate there once, maybe twice, during my entire childhood. My parents knew that, no matter the quality of the dining, we wouldn’t be able to restrain ourselves – and then would complain about our bulging bellies the next day.

Maybe there’s some sort of Holocaust mentality going on here – eat now because you never know when your next meal will be? But I don’t have any direct connection with the Holocaust, nor do most of my friends.

Fortunately, not every buffet in Israel is bad. Hotel breakfasts in the country are renowned the world over for being delightful and usually healthy (although I have never figured out why anyone would want a green salad to start the morning – bring on the eggs and kosher bacon for me). And five-star hotels do a stellar job with the rest of the meals – one Shabbat dinner we had a choice between gefilte fish and sushi.

It goes without saying that I left our weekend at the field school satiated if not satisfied. I made sure to fit in an extra long exercise session Sunday morning. Now I’m back to normal weight…at least until the next time. Can you say boiled carrots and potatoes swimming in a languid pool of chicken fat? I’m already lining up at the buffet cart.

I originally over-ate at the Israelity blog.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Lisa Friedman October 12, 2010 at 6:39 pm

Here is my husband’s great response to your experience:
I guess I’ve hidden this for long enough. I actually learned to boil rice when I was single:
1. Put rice and water in pot.
2. Turn on stove.
3. Do something else while the rice is cooking.
4. Clean stove.
5. Buy new pot.

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