The Jewish deli: A cultural cornerstone

Whether people like it or not, being Jewish is not just a religion. It describes an entire historical culinary culture. I've always credited my dad and his family for my love of rye bread and mustard (sorry, no pastrami or pickled tongue for me) and my utter disregard for white bread and mayonnaise. Organic, vegan and local may be my m.o., but truly appreciating food involves recognizing and understanding cultural heritage.

What got me on this? All Things Considered had an awesome interview on Jewish delis, and David Sax, author of the new book "Save the Deli," expressed the value of these once popular neighborhood institutions. Click here to listen to the segment. Italian, Chinese and Japanese food may be at the forefront of ethnic cuisine in the U.S., but none of these restaurant styles can quite capture the rich social and cultural contexts of a Jewish deli.

Just as I want to see small farms survive in an age monopolized by agribusiness, I want to see real Jewish delis reclaim their place in American culture among the super-sized, sterile sandwich chains. While I may not eat the coveted rolled beef, I promise to get my share of dill pickles and latkes and do my part in upholding quintessential Jewish traditions.