Latke or hamantash: The debate to save our planet

UChicago scholars argue over environmental issues in 73rd version of cherished tradition

Before being asked to participate in the Latke-Hamantash Debate, Assoc. Prof. Marc Berman was firmly on the side of Team Tuber. With family hailing from a “potato-loving part of the world” near the Carpathian Mountains in Europe, Berman said, potato pancakes “run deep in my soul.” 

Problem is Berman, a renowned psychologist who studies the effects of the environment on a person’s psychological well-being, was asked to argue for hamantashen in this year’s event at the University of Chicago, the theme of which was: “Which can best benefit our biosphere?” 

Putting his personal feelings aside, Berman delivered an address entitled: “How the latke is destroying our planet, society and our brains, and how hamantaschen can save us.” The presentation, filled with personal stories, academic figures and references to fossil fuels, reflected the tongue-in-cheek nature of the cherished UChicago Hillel tradition.

Dating to 1946, the Latke-Hamantash Debate has featured prominent faculty, Nobel laureates and UChicago presidents arguing over the superiority of the iconic foods of Hanukkah and Purim. It also has inspired similar debates across the country, and even a book published by the University of Chicago Press.

This year’s presenters included Jessica Kirzane, who teaches courses on Yiddish language, literature and culture; and Raymond Lodato, who teaches courses on environmental policy and urban sustainability. Lect. Ben Callard served as moderator for the Nov. 25 event, held in Mandel Hall on the UChicago campus.