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Heartfelt cookbook gets to tooth of the matter



It was a birthday link to a website containing information by the Rebbe (Menachem Mendel Schneerson) that led South African-born Dr Linda Greenwall to give back in the best way she knew how – dentistry.

Then, a pandemic led her to fulfil another dream – that of writing a Jewish cookbook.

The former event took place 10 years ago, after she had moved from Cape Town to the United Kingdom. “It was a significant birthday when a friend sent me a link to a website containing information by the Rebbe on what you should do on your Hebrew birthday and how you should use your life to make the world a better place.

“So I sat down and thought about how I wanted to do that. I decided it was time to set up a charity to help children from a dental point of view to improve children’s oral health globally.”

Linda’s grandfather and father were both dentists. Her husband and her son are dentists too. So, it made sense that she gave through this vocation. A decade ago, she set up the Dental Wellness Foundation in Cape Town and the Dental Wellness Trust in London.

She then set up a programme called LiveSmart, which facilitates supervised tooth brushing in Cape Town. The LiveSmart programme runs in various schools, Early Childhood Development Centres, crèches and nurseries, and facilitates supervised toothbrushing for more than 21 000 children.

“We have 16 amazing women called Toothbrush Mamas who provide oral health advice and education to children in the townships,” Greenwall said. “The Toothbrush Mamas in the townships also supervise the running of 12 soup kitchens. These soup kitchens were started during the COVID-19 pandemic, and each kitchen feeds more than 100 children per day.

“Dental care is vital,” she said. “Many children miss school because they are suffering from toothache and abscesses. The decay rates of Cape Town are some of the highest in South Africa. About 85% of children have decay. If they do have decay, 85% of their teeth are rotten due to sugar consumption, poor diet, lack of knowledge, and not being able to afford a toothbrush or toothpaste.

“Last time we did outreach, in October 2023, there was a child suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome,” Greenwall said. “At the age of 12, she had all her upper teeth – baby teeth and grown-up teeth – and was in terrible pain. We were able to give her the treatment she needed. She also said she was hungry. So, the Toothbrush Mama in the area helped her with this.”

Because of the LiveSmart programme and food kitchens that run in the townships of Cape Town, Linda visits Cape Town every three months to make sure the programmes are running efficiently and effectively.

While giving back dentally is something she’s driven to do, during the pandemic, she turned her sights on another passion – Jewish food.

During lockdown in London, Greenwall found a cheesecake recipe that her grandmother had put at the back of an envelope for Shavuot. “I thought about how our grandmothers had challenging, difficult lives. Through their cooking, they shared their Jewish values, love, the importance of family, and the connection to the next generation.”

This inspired Linda to write Food Memories – The Cookbook. “I’ve written four other books, all about dentistry. My research area was in tooth whitening. This was my first book on Jewish food. It’s a passion and hobby. It took me three years to research, interview people, and collate the history of our family,” she says.

“The book was written with love to collate the stories of everyday heroes who had challenging and inspiring lives. Some people use the book purely as a recipe book, while others use it as an inspirational storybook of everyday heroes and the challenges they had. Everyone has a story in them, and the recipe and story are closely linked, giving an inspirational insight into people’s lives.

“The book’s audience is those who remember family time with their loved ones and special occasions such as Rosh Hashanah, Pesach, and Shabbat. And it’s for all of those in the South African Jewish community who come from Lithuania and share a common heritage.

“The most meaningful part of writing the book was understanding what our great-grandparents gave up and suffered to provide for their families in times when food and money was scarce,” Greenwall says. “Challenging times included pogroms and going on long journeys by sea to get to South Africa. The writing down of the recipe is part of the Jewish tradition and culture of showing love through food.

“It’s important to remember where you come from to know where you’re going. The food that we’ve eaten over generations is our heritage. It’s the difficult journeys taken across continents to keep families together.”

The book includes a dedicated chapter to becoming sugar free – which Greenwall points out is a major cause of tooth decay. All the proceeds go to the Dental Wellness Foundation to support 21 000 children, 12 soup kitchens, as well as the LiveSmart programmes in schools in Mfuleni, Khayelitsha, and Delft.

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