Oy Betcha: The Mind Rules the Belly

At the beginning of this year, I had a bacon bender. There was bacon for breakfast, German potato salad, brussels sprouts roasted with bacon and dashed with balsamic vinegar, BLTs, sweet and sour cabbage flecked with little smoky bacon bits. A funny thing happened; I became sick of bacon, and at this time, I decided to try, at least for a bit, kosher(-style) eating. The rules were simple: no pork, shellfish, or other treif; and no mixing of meat and dairy, no matter how minimal.
The immediate impact of this was noteworthy. As my friend pointed out to me, one of the ways religions have tried to gain a foothold in civilizations is by imposing dietary restrictions. Attempting to eat outside of ones homes while remaining within the bounds of those restrictions make it obvious why they work; it is pretty darn hard to do, so who’s going to bother going anywhere but place where your dietary needs are understood? Even “safe” menu items like a grilled chicken breast sandwich end up on a stealthily buttered bun.
But, I like challenges, and this was certainly one that took a surprising amount of guts. Those guts were not always present, and my taste buds got the best of them. Pork made its way onto my plate more than once, as I took the ignorance-is-bliss approach. I looked the other way, guiltily, eating free-range chicken sausages in pork intestine casings.
My #1 “why I would possibly maybe like to keep kosher” reason is that it infuses such a mundane task as filling our bodies with sustenance with holiness. You’re not just downing calories, but following divine decree. You really have to think about that food you put in your mouth, and each of those thoughts leads you to God, since that’s where this wacky eating plan originated.
But as a person who is almost always thoughtful about food, and for whom food is more than just fuel for the body, I have to wonder… What is the point (for me)? I definitely think that most laws of kashrut are silly, if only because – please sit down, as this may shock you – no one can agree on what the “right” way to do things is. And since there is no “right” way to do things, you have a choice of either going with what your rabbi says is “right” and going with what you feel is “right.”
Does it feel right to me to be okay with eating beef grown on a feedlot and processed by underpaid immigrants (legal and otherwise) simply because it was slaughtered in a kosher manner? No; an animal’s life, to me, is more important than its death, and even 60 years ago this was a non-issue, since animals simply weren’t raised like products to come off an assembly line. Do I feel it’s right to not mix dairy and poultry, just in case someone might think I’m eating meat mixed with dairy? No, because birds don’t lactate, so how could I possibly boil a chick in its mother’s milk? Does it seem right to me to have separate dishes and utensils and dishwashers and kitchens for meat and dairy? No, because how privileged and wasteful is that?
Kashrut is one of those lovely complicated things I adore about Judaism, but at the same time, I’m not sure how it fits into my life now. Do I want to build a fence between myself and my friends and family when it comes to what we’re digesting? Are we supposed to be so separate, or are we meant to be a community? Am I leading by example? If so, where on Earth am I leading anyone to? And why?
Kashrut is terrible. It’s wonderful. It’s something to strive for. It’s something to rethink. It’s something so complicated that… that it makes me think of my place with God.
…I see what You did there.
(Image: zeeweez)