Kenden Alfond is as hardcore as she is stylish. The Maine-born, Cambodia-based entrepreneur, writer, and altruist spent a decade working with the United Nations and like-minded organizations on projects aimed at HIV prevention and other humanitarian causes, in such far-flung places as India, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. She survived malaria six times, and she credits adopting a plant-based diet with helping restore her vitality.
“Plant-based eating became the solution I found,” Kenden said. “In addition to making me feel well physically, it aligns with my values.”
But while she thrived on a plant-based lifestyle, Kenden found it challenging to marry that aspect of her life with her Jewish faith — especially on holidays, where customary cuisine often contains animal products. “Most Jewish food for the holidays is traditional,” Kenden said. “On the one hand, I really appreciate this tradition because food is a part of our cultural experience and story. However, I also believe that every generation has the power and responsibility to respond to the time in which they’re living. In this way, updating Jewish food scripts is important, both in terms of ourselves — how we celebrate the holidays and how food makes us feel — and the world in which we live now, and how our eating habits affect our world.”
Always one to take action on her convictions, Kenden launched Jewish Food Hero in 2014. The aesthetically pleasing website offers holiday menus with complete recipes, as well as courses and articles on everything from prepping for celebrations to journaling. “Jewish Food Hero is a convergence of two important parts of my life — plant-based nutrition and Judaism,” Kenden said. “After having my daughter, I wanted to create holidays for our family with healthy food at the center of the celebration.”
But the online destination has also resonated beyond the Jewish community, building a following of all kinds of vegetarians, vegans, and people interested in creating a beautiful, healthy meals. The site creates an inviting atmosphere with its calm vibe and emphasis on self-care, order, and ritual. It recently expanded to include an online shop offering Jewish holiday calendars, greeting cards, and notebooks. A portion of each sale goes to the Joint Distribution Committee — a way for Kenden to connect her new venture with her humanitarian roots.
“My calling is to help people,” she said.
We chatted with Kenden about her first foray into plant-based eating, a few of her favorite things, and where Jewish Food Hero is headed.
When I was 12 years old, I became a vegetarian after reading a part of a simple book about Mahatma Gandhi. His commitment to nonviolence in all aspects in his life, including food, inspired me to change the way that I ate. As I became an adult and started traveling all over the world as an aid worker, I started to see the environmental impact of my food choices.
Best part of holiday prep:
My favorite things about planning for the holidays are learning something new about the holiday, getting my husband and daughter involved with the planning and cooking, and creating meaningful moments for myself.
My favorite holiday is Passover because I have such beautiful childhood memories of the holiday with my extended family in Maine. I also love the ordered re-telling of the story and how integral food is to the Passover experience.
My goal is always to make special food simple and simple food special. This means on a normal day, I’m happy to eat a nourishing bowl of oatmeal sprinkled with cinnamon, a bowl of rice with steamed greens, a baked potato or sweet potato with a tomato salsa. I’m also a soup devotee; my family eats soup at least once per day, usually for dinner.
My two favorite food books right now are "Bread Alone" by Dan Leader and Judith Blahnik and "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Ellix Katz. Both books read like a passionate love note to making food, and both authors approach food-making as a craft. Joan Didion's essay “On Keeping a Notebook” [also] feels always dear to me. It’s an intimate look at the meaning and urgency behind keeping notes and takes the reader to the heart of the writing process.
Fill the Void is a 2012 Israeli drama film written and directed by Rama Burshtein starring Hadas Yaron and Yiftach Klein. Watching the film feels like reading a Jane Austen novel. The focus is on the intra-psychic experiences of women living in their insulated culture where there are rigid social rules. It explores universal themes of love, loss, and shattered expectations. I ended up watching a few interviews of Rama Burshtein on YouTube about the film, and was impacted by her single-minded desire to simply tell a story. At one point, she even said something like “nothing happens” in this film, it’s only about shifting emotional landscapes. This movie was so meaningful to me that I actually sent the lead actress, Hadas Yaron, and Rama Burshtein, a present in the mail as a “thank you.”
Hortus Natural Cooking is more than a blog about cooking. Inspired by her Italian roots, Valentina delves into the history and culture of the food she cooks to make beautiful, meaningful connections.
I love the emphasis Pure Ella places on food as medicine, both for the body and the soul. Her recipes are clean and simple, just like the design of her blog — I feel happier just looking at it.
Every Sunday I read Ana Ottman’s Elemental Vignettes. Her meaningful and intimate letters share her observations on and experiences with leading a creative life.
I read Sarah Von Bargen’s Small Business Blog. Sarah’s blog consistently delivers positive and valuable resources for small business owners and is loaded with helpful ideas and tips.
At this moment in my life, I have more dream vacation activities than dream destinations. What I am doing matters more than where I am geographically, so my dream would be to travel someplace warm, take an intensive Pilates training in the mornings, and then go to a bread baking course in the afternoons. In the time between these two activities, I would sit in a cafe and drink espresso, eat a fresh and nourishing lunch, and journal. In the evening, I would go to the Paris Ballet with my daughter and husband to watch Aurelie Dupont and take time to stare at the Marc Chagall ceiling.
Outfit of choice:
I like long skirts and 3/4 sleeves tees. I feel feminine and comfortable in long skirts, and long-sleeve tees make me feel like myself. Right now in Cambodia, I have a few skirts and shirts that I keep replicating. I find a fabric I like and then go to a local tailor. I always wear closed-toe shoes that are clean. I wore sandals while I was living in India and would have to scrub my feet clean every night; that’s when I realized I didn’t like having dirty feet.
Three things have influenced my style the most. First, my mother happens to have beautiful style but more than this innate style instinct of hers, the fact that she dressed for herself deeply influenced me. She dresses to please her own sensibilities of beauty. Second, living in traditional societies has influenced how I dress. One of my realizations over these years overseas is that taking care of yourself (your hair, skin, body, and clothes) is a universal experience. When I dress I try to show that I respect myself and my social environment. And third, minimalism influences my style. Less really is more for me.
Next up for Jewish Food Hero:
My goals for Jewish Food Hero are to offer inspiration and resources for women around the world celebrating the Jewish holidays. In the year ahead, watch for new plant-based menus for Jewish Year 5776 and more beautiful lifestyle products in our shop.