Plant Powered Shabbat: Aliana Turkel

Written by: Aliana Turkel
April 2022

Plant Powered Shabbat: Aliana Turkel

Plant Powered Shabbat is a OneTable series that celebrates the Jewish values of nourishing ourselves and the world around us through plant-based cooking and eating. Hear from OneTable hosts and guests how they’re bringing these values to the Shabbat table!

We sat down with OneTable LA host Aliana Turkel (they/she) to talk about journeys to going vegan, intentionality, and reconnecting with Judaism through Shabbat.

Tell us a bit about you!

I’m an artist and activist based in Los Angeles. I was born and raised in Miami. My family is Jewish, but I’m currently in the process of finding my own connection to my Judaism. I’ve been interested in veganism, photography, art, and social justice my whole life. I’m also an avid knitter and host a biweekly knitter/maker circle in LA. I love to bring people together — that is one of my greatest joys.

What inspired you to go vegan?

Growing up, my family had a lot of companion animals — dogs, cats, fish, even a squirrel! I remember seeing meat at the center of the table and wondering, “How could I be friends with some animals and not others?” That question changed my life and I decided to go vegetarian when I was eight years old. When I was 16, I read a book about the dairy and egg industry, and I chose to go vegan.

Veganism for me is about being aware and intentional about what I eat. It’s expanded into other aspects of my life: thinking about what things I consume, learning about production and capitalism, and questioning the ways we live in modern society. I worked at an animal sanctuary where we educated people about our modern food system and how to eat in a more ethical and sustainable way.

How is veganism connected to your Judaism?

This is such a hard question, but I can tell a story that captures it: for my Bat Mitzvah, my haftarah (Torah portion) was about animal sacrifice. In the speech that I gave after reading the haftarah, I talked about how today, we have other ways to show sacrifice and gratitude toward God. We don’t have to harm animals in the process of expressing thanks. I gave other options that center respect for animals, the environment, and ourselves.

What does Shabbat mean to you?

During the pandemic, I felt like I lost a lot of routine; I was craving ritual. At that time, I was very disconnected from my Judaism. I was looking to bring ritual back into my life, so I started baking vegan challah every Friday. I lived in a house with many people, and we started gathering every Friday around the challah (even though no one else in the house was Jewish!). Without planning, I ended up having big family dinners every Friday with my friends. Everybody knew to come up on Friday around dinnertime when they smelled the challah. Shabbat has been a really meaningful time to just pause and reflect on the week and join in community with people, to eat food, and enjoy company.

How does Shabbat relate to your plant-based values?

Being able to connect over food and share a meal together is such a beautiful moment. On Shabbat, people are unplugged from their phones and able to connect over a meal together… it feels like you’re being transported. Shabbat is otherworldly.

In a similar sense, I’ve connected with so many people over a vegan meal or figuring out how to veganize family recipes. Being plant-based and hosting Shabbat both give me a sense of community, joining over food and connection. It’s a way to create your own utopia.

Go-to vegan challah/Shabbat recipe?

I love Joan’s Laguatan’s Soft, Fluffy and Delicious Vegan Challah Recipe on Jewish Food Hero!

I always go to Minimalist Baker’s website to find delicious recipes. They’re not all vegan but you can search for vegan recipes along with other dietary needs, like gluten-free, soy-free, etc.

Veganomicon was the first vegan cookbook I ever used (circa 2010), and it’s the reason I love to cook tofu. I can’t recommend this cookbook enough. They recently came out with a new edition that I’m sure is just as delicious!