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Latkes, Hamantashen, and Urbanism

A little pre-Purim humor (well, attempted humor anyway).
Michael Lewyn | @mlewyn | February 21, 2021, 9am PST
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Mea Shearim
A Jewish child celebrates Purim in the before times.

The Jewish holiday of Purim is this week—one of the few Jewish holidays that are actually more fun than solemn. On a related note, the University of Chicago has an annual tradition of the Latke-Hamantash debate. In these "debates," scholars try to make arguments (preferably ridiculous ones) about whether the latke (a potato pancake commonly eaten by Jews during Chanukah, a holiday that usually occurs in December) or the hamantash (a pastry commonly identified with Purim) is better. This year, a question occurred to me: Is there an urbanist way to do a latke-hamantash debate? 

If I had thought of this a few weeks ago, maybe I would actually structure one. But since I didn’t, I’ll just try to do at least one side of the debate in print. So here is my intentionally silly urbanist case for the hamantash:

*There are three key factors in making a neighborhood walkable: density (because dense places are more walkable), diversity (of land uses, so people can walk to shops, parks etc), and design (for example, too-wide streets are dangerous for pedestrians). Similarly, a hamantashen is triangular, which means it has three points. Coincidence? Maybe, but what about...

*Sugar vs. starch. Latkes are made of potatoes, which means that they are basically boring—like the rural areas in which potatoes are grown. Hamantashen are more fun, like cities: they are full of sugar and fruit flavors, as well as the starchiness of baked wheat. And because hamantashen are not exactly an all-natural food, they require the economic growth that goes along with urbanization. Market urbanists in particular should favor the complexity of the hamantash over the simplicity of the latke. Eco-socialists fear economic growth, and hope to limit mankind to subsistence foods like potatoes, while only the free market could create the hamantash's intricate mix of flavors.

*The story of Purim is more "urban" than the story of Chanukah. Chanukah is all about a rebellion that begins in a small town in Israel. Purim is about palace intrigue in the city of Shushan, at the heart of the ancient Persian Empire.

*Purim ideally involves drinking alcohol, which is obviously much easier in a walkable big city than in suburbs where driving is usually necessary and drinking is therefore far more dangerous.

Does anyone want to make the urbanist case for latkes?

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