Bringing Home the Bacon

How many interfaith families keep kosher? I have no idea, because I’m never sure what “kosher” means in that sentence. I mean, yeah, I know, it means appropriate or fitting, and it refers to food prepared according to laws set forth in Leviticus and enumerated over centuries by the rabbinic legal process. A kosher meal is either meat or dairy, not meat mixed with dairy, and any animal products must be from a selected set of permitted animals. Kosher meat has to be slaughtered in a specific way and drained of blood, usually by salting. (For a vegetarian, I know a lot about kosher meat.) Yes, see, I know about grape products and the special laws that govern them, why some people don’t accept rabbinic supervision from this or that kosher certification agency, what ingredients in cheese [float=left][/float]are problematic and even how to navigate a kitchen with separate dishes.

But when people say “I keep kosher” or “I don’t keep kosher”–I don’t know without asking more questions what that means about what they’ll eat. A lot of Jews who don’t care about mixing milk and meat at the same meal won’t eat meat from unkosher animals.

And some will. Andrew Silow-Carroll blogged last Friday about the ongoing fascination of hipster foodie Jews with bacon, which he noted made interesting reading in articles on Tablet magazine and Jewcy.com. (Jewcy seems to be having temporary technical issues, I’ll come back to post that link later.)

Unlike Andrew Silow-Carroll, I didn’t grow up eating bacon. I had it a few times outside my parents’ house, and even got to cook it once at the food co-op in college. After the experience of cooking the stuff, I was so grossed out that I was not tempted to eat it. (Though not as grossed out as I was when I found a chocolate bar with bacon in it on the shelf at my local gourmet food emporium.) As I’m sure a lot of non-Jewish spouses who read our site can attest, some Jews have food taboos, and even when they don’t keep all the rules of kashrut, they are just grossed out by the thought of some foods in their kitchen, leaving cooties on their plates.

I have mixed feelings about the importance of keeping kosher. I eat vegetarian food in restaurants and other people’s homes (and at my house, too) and that’s my observance. I honor other people who will only eat food prepared on kosher utensils, and I’m also OK with Jewish people who don’t keep kosher at all. I was at a meal at which other Jewish people were eating bacon and snickering uncomfortably,  “I’m the worst Jew ever!” I said, “Um, hell no, you aren’t, even if you eat bacon until the cows come home,” and then enlightened them with some of the recent scandals in the Jewish community, in particular the ones about the largest kosher slaughterhouse.

You can’t be a good Jew by only keeping the mitzvot (commandments) that are about your relationship with God, like meticulousness in kashrut–you also have to care the ones that govern your relationship with human beings. I don’t think keeping kosher necessarily makes anyone a better person, though it could if you decided to use it as a way to be more mindful about what you eat. I don’t believe that it hurts God if I eat the wrong thing, but it could hurt other human beings, and what we eat may affirm or violate Jewish ethical principles of not causing pain to animals and not wasting natural resources.

Hazon, a Jewish environmental organization, has started up a Jewish Food Education Network, to talk about food issues. That’s also a hipster foodie posture. Keeping kosher is an opportunity to elevate something we have to do anyway to a level of consciousness and even spirituality. Keeping my people’s food taboos preserves the integrity of my culture in a multi-cultural society. It is important to many people in interfaith families for that reason. I’d love to hear more from people in interfaith households about how they deal with keeping kosher.

Next, let’s talk about the hipster foodie fascination with beets. What’s up with that?

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14 thoughts on “Bringing Home the Bacon

  1. “Keeping Kosher” in an interfaith household is difficult or easy, depending.

    My (non-Jewish) wife and I have come to a series of agreements about what is and isn’t all right in our house.  Mostly it involves common sense:  I don’t ask or expect her to abide by a series of complicated rules that have no meaning for her (e.g., separate dishes) and she does her best to accommodate my needs (e.g., not mixing milk and meat or preparing meals using forbidden foods).  I would prefer not to have pork or shrimp in the house, but I don’t want to dictate terms; she maybe eats these things in the house a couple of times a year at most, usually when I’m not there, and always cooked in a separate pan.

    Personally, what someone else eats or dosen’t eat vis-a-vis Kashrut is a matter between him/her and God.  It’s none of my business.  That said, reading the Tablet article was a bit jarring.  Again, people can do what they wish, but there’s an in-your-face-ness about some of it that, frankly, I find off-putting.  It’s as if some people want to stick their bacon under the noses of those who observe kashrut specifically to bother them.  They have the right to do it, and I will defend that right, but I certainly won’t applaud it.

  2. Thanks for commenting about how you negotiate kashrut in your interfaith household! I want to get more comments like this, and indeed, personal narrative essays about it.

  3. In my Jewish-Anglican family we keep a kosher kitchen to almost Orthodox standards. We have a dairy only kitchen and koshered everything from the instructions of an Orthodox rabbi. We only buy food approved by the London Beth Din and check eggs for blood spots and vegetables for bugs. The only exceptions to this is that we buy ‘non-kosher’ wine and grape products because kosher products are expensive and not as good and I don’t think that the halachic justification for the issues with wine are reasonable. We also buy vegetarian ‘non-kosher’ cheese, because to me ‘kosher’ cheese which contains animal rennet seems to be much less in keeping with the law than cheese made with vegetable rennet.

  4. I think this is such an interesting discussion, especially in light of some negative feedback I’ve received as the author of a non-kosher Jewish cookbook!

    I don’t keep a kosher home, thought I do tend to buy kosher meat and don’t eat pork (like Ruth, it just grosses me out…)–although I will cook it for my husband on occaison. I have great respect for those who choose to strictly observe dietary laws but do think it’s up to the individual to decide what their relationship is with their religion. Part of my drive in publishing JCBC was to inspire those who don’t keep kosher to embrace the traditions of Eastern European Jewish food and use that to connect with their friends and families as well as their religion. Kosher or not.

  5. I grew up Jewish in a non-kosher home and have eaten everything at one time or another – bacon, cheeseburger, shrimp, escargot.  But since my trip to Israel over 20 years ago, I’ve kept “kosher-style.”  I no longer eat forbidden foods and don’t mix milk and meat.

    When my Catholic husband and I married 7 years ago, it was understood that I wouldn’t provide any assistance in making anything not “kosher style.”  So if he wants pork chops, he needs to buy them, prepare them, prepare something else for me, serve and clean up from it all.  In our house, I do most of the shopping and preparing of meals, so though this happens, it is infrequent.

    I don’t have a problem with him using the same cookware or plates, because to me they aren’t kosher anyway.  I eat my grilled cheese and my lamb chops on the same dishes, though not at the same time.

    My kids eat everything either by their choice at a restaurant or by what Dad is serving.  I am comfortable with this because I figure, like me, they may one day decide to honor kashrut as a way to bring even a menial exercise a level of spirituality.  Or they may find other ways to do so.

  6. When I recently moved in with my boyfriend who is Mexican and a non-Jewish atheist, I insisted that the kitchen be kosher (no pork, only kosher meat if any). I’m vegetarian and he doesn’t cook meat, so we have a vegetarian kitchen (but I don’t only by hekshered products). But we did have an amusing discussion about Passover. I said I plan on keeping kosher for Passover and want to have a fully kosher for Passover kitchen (keeping the chametz out of sight and sealed away, but I don’t mind not kashering the dishes). He was not a big fan of that idea, and after some debate asked if we could at least have corn tortillas, cause those must be kosher for Passover. I couldn’t find any information on it, though! Anyone know if corn tortillas are kosher for Passover? (if they were made from scratch at home, of course, and I go by Sephardi tradition that corn is a-ok). These are the really fun interfaith conversations that come up!

  7. I grew up in a Jewish home where my mother kept strictly kosher — except for the Chinese takeout that we ate on paper plates with plastic forks. We also ate anything in restaurants — lobster, crab, clams, you name it. Although I never got into shellfish or crustaceans, I did go for quite a period in which I ate ham and cheese sandwiches and once, after moving to Baltimore, steamed crabs bought from an A-rabber.

    For quite a while, though, I’ve kept a kosher-style kitchen, and I maintain the same standard when I eat out. My partner and I have two kids, and I do all the shopping and cooking, so it is easy for me to control what we’re going to eat inside. We have one set of dishes (glass) — but we have a separate set we use just for Friday night, which is also often the only night we eat meat. My partner is free to eat whatever he wants for lunch or in restaurants, but when we go out for shared meals like pizza or Thai, we don’t order prohibited species, like pepperoni or shrimp. I carry out Passover pretty strictly too, changing dishes and removing chametz.

    I feel I am carrying out these traditions because they are meaningful and beautiful, so that my children will understand them experientially, in their gut, and so that they will see themselves as part of our people by embracing its heritage. For the same reasons, as much as I like to cook exotic cuisines and try new recipes, I try to serve kasha, latkes, kugel, compotes, matzah brei, and blintzes often as well.

  8. I am the non-Jewish partner in an interfaith marriage. We too keep a “kosher style” kitchen – no prohibited foods, no mixing of milk and meat, but no separate dishes or kosher meat and, when my parents visit, I don’t make them use our non-dairy soy margarine. We usually follow the same rules when we eat out, simply because we like to taste each others’ food! However, I will sometimes order a non-kosher dish for myself. We tend to discuss our position on how and when to follow the rules strictly and when to bend them at Passover–I have a wheat intolerance and can’t eat matzoh, plus, we try to eat vegetarian most of the time but most of the vegetarian recipes I know use beans. We have decided that our bottom line is that we try be mindful about what we eat and consider the impact of our actions on the earth and other people. To us, that is the essence of kosher. We hope we can explain that to our son when he is old enough to wonder why Mommy can have a cheeseburger.

  9. I find this very interesting.  I converted to Judaism after marrying my Christian husband.  However, I also have food allergies, and can’t eat many things.  So the way we have negotiated this is to say that what is important is to take care of ourselves, our body, and our world.  So we make our food decisions that way.  Our bodies are made in the image of G-d, and therefore need to be taken care of in that respect and honor.  Technically, no, we don’t follow kashrut, but we also tend to do a lot of organic and locally grown foods.  We have also made a specific effort to find ways to still make the Scandinavian traditional dishes that we both grew up with and still have with family, into Jewish holiday celebrations.  For example, several fried cookies get cooked along side latkes.  Lefse and Matzah are eaten for Passover.  (Yes, it is all potato – not even any wheat.)  To me, adding these foods is a way to honor my parents and what they value, a piece of my heritage.
    When we have friends and company over, I always check with them to see what level of kosher they observe and do my best to honor that and follow it for them.  We have just chosen not to limit what foods I can eat even farther than it already is by my allergy.  (I can’t eat anything that has mold, fermentation or fungus.  Everything from chocolate to cheese to mushrooms and mayonnaise.)

  10. So in looking over the Tablet article, I was most shocked by Hasia Diner’s comment about pork in Jewish food being just like pineapple or tuna in Italian food. That’s pretty disingenuous on her part, since Diner knows the difference between a cultural  custom and a religious taboo. Mixing categories of ethnic cuisine is not the same as shattering deeply-held religious belief, but her remark was a deft way of minimizing Jewish history with a little bit of hand-waving. I’m pretty sure no Italian ever willingly accepted death rather than choke down a pineapple-upside down cake (though I’m not saying that’s an unreasonable action; those things taste like brick mortar with corn syrup.)

  11. What’s the point in being kosher when you have a non-Jewish spouse?  It doesn’t make any sense.  It’s more important for the survival of the Judiasm to marry a fellow Jew and create Jewish households than keeping kosher and creating a non-Jewish household.

  12. [quote="Alina"]
    What’s the point in being kosher when you have a non-Jewish spouse? … It’s more important for the survival of the Judiasm to marry a fellow Jew …
    [/quote]

    That depends on whether you see “Judaism” as a race, or as a community of people with (somewhat) shared beliefs and practices.

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