Desperately seeking sustenance

The pulsing, negotiating, deal-making heart of Knesset activity lay silent Wednesday, usually one of the busiest days of the week for parliamentary business. It was not the opposition's boycott of the Knesset plenum that managed to throw the entire house off-kilter, but rather one small visitor. A cockroach - found cooked in a meal eaten by Shas MK Yitzhak Vaknin - closed the epicurean epicenter of parliamentary life, forcing the two meat cafeterias - including the MKs' private dining room - to close their doors, fumigate and rekosher the premises. The steps taken to maintain the high standard of kashrut needed to satisfy all the different haredi factions in the Knesset included the destruction of around 2,500 servings of food and intensive cleaning. How intensive? Employees of the dining service were seen cleaning every blind, table and chair for the past two days. The floor will be treated with a special polish, acoustic tiles will be removed and cleaned and an exterminator will treat all of the food preparation areas - even though the exterminator's last visit was less than a month ago. But grumblings around the house did not just relate to the estimated NIS 100,000 price tag that the unexpected - and unwelcome visitor - incurred. Also grumbling were a few discontented stomachs forced to wait in line at the one remaining food provider - the dairy cafeteria. MKs and veteran house employees poked and prodded their way through three different kinds of eggs and two fish entrees. Some - like freshman MK Carmel Shama - tried to watch their diets by instructing dining room employees to "go easy on the egg yolks" or pull out the soft insides of the lunchtime baguette sandwiches. MKs, lobbyists and committee attendees vied for the handful of available tables, which put MKs into the sensitive position of having to watch their tongues carefully among the hoi-paloi. Many lawmakers simply opted out of the cafeteria service. On Tuesday, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and MK Roni Bar-On searched for meaty lunch at Mifgash Ha'esh, while a number visited Sima in the Mahaneh Yehuda market on Wednesday. Outside Ima's, another nearby establishment famous for its kubbeh soup and frequent political visitors, a customer quipped that "the MKs deserve to eat cockroaches." Even more simply cut costs as well as their losses and brought food from home. Vaknin himself brought mafrum, a traditional North African dish involving meat and potatos. His fellow party member Nissim Ze'ev dismissed the possibility of eating in the dairy cafeteria. "I'm a meat, potatoes and fish man, not bourekas and that kind of stuff," he explained. Vegetarian and opposition leader Tzipi Livni's spokesman said that his boss "usually just eats in the morning and at night and nibbles during the day. Her lunch today was a lot of coffee and a popsicle." And MK Danny Danon (Likud) brought sandwiches to the office and ate at his desk. His dietician wife congratulated him on accepting a healthier lunch to replace the heavy hot-plate fare he usually gulps down en route to meetings.