I just want to get this out there before you tag along with me much longer. You have to know what a crazy woman I am and here goes my biggest confession yet to date:
I love food.
Yep, that’s it. I don’t think you understand the sheer amount of joy I get from eating. There is hardly anything better in the world than relishing each flavorful bite of a wonderful meal. My favorite candy is a secret weapon that only two people in this world are privy to, and my happiness levels skyrocket whenever I encounter anything potato. Bottom line, I’m pretty sure there’s a little fat kid living in my stomach who does a happy dance every time I give him something to munch on.
One of the things I struggled with when I went home this break was being surrounded by mouth-watering, non-kosher food. Bacon with breakfast. Christmas ham cooking in the oven. And dear Lord, those loaded potatoes. Mind you, I also helped make some of this food. And it stayed faaaar away from my mouth.
I find the laws of kashrut and the kosher lines that I draw tend to crisscross, intersect, and get a little fuzzy. Sometimes, I make choices that I regret and am later ashamed of. I present you with three such cases.
Last year- I wandered into the dining hall, looking for dinner and not expecting much. I was ravenously hungry, but I knew better than to think I would see anything worth eating. I end up making about 50% of my meals on campus and was still clutching the remains of my lunch in my hand. I was just getting ready to turn around and make myself a sandwich back in my dorm.
And then they brought it out.
The most delicious, steaming tray of pasta I had ever seen produced by my school’s cafeteria. Long linguini noodles bathed in some sort of creamy sauce. It looked like a picture out of an Olive Garden menu, and I trailed after, casually stalking my prey-soon-to-be-dinner.
The server placed the tray in the heater and propped a little name card in front. “Lingiuni pasta with clam sauce.”
Clam sauce. My hand was halfway to the serving spoon already. Immediately, the excuses began flooding my mind. Well, it’s shellfish not pork I can make this one exception once if I say a brachot over it maybe it’s still good? I debated with myself for a quick five seconds before scooping it into a to-go box and making off with my spoils.
Fast forward two months- I’m out to eat at Red Lobster with four Jewish friends. They know that I am converting but not yet Jewish.
They all proceed to order from the menu and begin recommending dishes to me- shrimp bathed in this, crab alongside that, etc. I want to pipe up and say that I keep kosher, but I felt as though it wouldn’t be taken well. My friends, who have been Jewish their whole lives, don’t want to hear that I am keeping kosher and won’t eat their food. They might think I am trying to out-Jew them.
So, I put on a good face and order the crab something or the other. Mmm, delicious I tell them. I resent myself a little with each mouthful.
Jump to two days ago when I ordered roast beef and accidentally got a ham sandwich instead, which I did not realize until I was back in my office. I’ve been carefully budgeting lately because I have a limited amount of money, and there’s a while until my next paycheck comes in.
After the first bite I realized two things- 1. Ham is not as good as I remember and 2. I’m going to finish this sandwich and even bring home the leftovers so that I’m not wasteful.
It was that night that we talked about the laws of kashrut in my conversion class, and I slunk down into my seat, guiltily thinking about the half a ham sandwich crouching in my fridge and whatever remains still sitting in my belly.
I’ve been thinking about the laws of kashrut and why we keep them. Certainly not because health is still a concern- the animals are now cleaned and prepared just as any other would be. Certainly not because G-d will smite me if I do not (if I die from a lightning strike tonight though, y’all know what happened). And certainly not because the high priests tell me to. Darn it, I thought. Why do I keep kosher? What happens if I don’t?
All the mitzvot are here to help. Here to help us lead better lives, interact peaceably with others, and treat our bodies right. I thought about all the stupid exceptions, all the times that I’ve slipped up and felt like I was doing this Jew thing wrong. I love good food and want to enjoy it. Feeling guilty about what I’m eating just sours the whole meal. So how can I make peace with my desires and my morals?
I don’t really have all the answers. Each day I try to redefine who I am and what I put into my body. It’s not easy. When I cook for myself, I have no problem making kosher meals because I only buy kosher ingredients. It’s eating out and eating at home that still trips me up.
All I know is that G-d doesn’t want perfection. He just wants goodness. Keeping kosher helps me achieve goodness because it makes me mindful. It keeps me honest. It reminds me to be careful about what I put in my body. As long as I’m doing that, it’s all kosher with me.