What Food Do You Choose?

What’s your food practice, and why?

Traditionally, Jews are The People Who Don’t Eat Pork. The Philistines, who were of Greek origin, commented upon it. Antiochus, a Greek king, thought it bizarre. The Romans thought it just one more bit of evidence that we were crazy. And after the Expulsion from Spain in 1492, a refusal to eat pork became the hallmark of “Judaizing” and became grounds for torture and execution.

Not Eating Pork became the hallmark Jewish food practice, even for Jews who did not embrace the full practice of kashrut. Kashrut is a complex topic but the short version is that only certain animals may be eaten, those animals must be slaughtered and cooked in an approved fashion, and meat and milk must be kept strictly separated. Observing kashrut is often referred to as “keeping kosher.”

Many 21st century Jews keep kosher. Some observe those commandments more stringently, some less. Some choose not to observe the traditional laws at all. Some choose to eat pork. Some do not. Some Jews only practice traditional dietary laws to some extent during Passover or holidays.

For many 21st century Jews, another pressing issue is food ethics:

  • Will I consume animal products?
  • If so, what are the minimum standards for how those animals are treated?
  • How do my food choices affect the human beings who produce food?
  • How do my food choices affect the ecosystems in which they grow and are processed?
  • What about food scarcity for others in my area?
  • What about food waste?
  • How do my choices about consumption affect my health and that of my family?

Any time we address a question of food ethics, we must recognize that much of our decision making is about trade-offs. For instance, food that is ethically sourced and ethically produced (and fresh, nutritious, etc.) is more expensive. So then we add to the questions:

  • What can I afford?
  • What am I willing to do for those who cannot afford this food?

A person might decide to forego the free-range eggs in order to donate those funds to the food bank. That’s their choice, and their way of addressing the trade-off. Someone with a lot of discretionary income may choose to do both. And someone who is trying to feed their family on very low income may get eggs from caged hens and that’s how it is. No one with more income has any right to pass judgment on the person for whom worry about ethical food choices is an unaffordable luxury.

There are a number of Jewish organizations exploring these issues and looking at ways to move towards a more ethical practice of Jewish eating. My Jewish Learning has provided a great article on the subject by Shmuly Yanklowitz.

Finally, what else am I willing to do to address ethical issues and food? Learn about the issues? Lobby elected officials for better regulations? Volunteer at the food bank? Join a Jewish group (maybe a congregation’s social action committee) to study up on these issues?

So, what are your food practices, and how to they stem from your reading of Torah? Do you keep some level of kashrut? Do you fast on Yom Kippur? What do you choose to eat, or not eat, out of ethical or ecological concerns? And most importantly: why???


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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

13 thoughts on “What Food Do You Choose?”

  1. I try to eat as healthily as possible. I do not eat pork, or seafood. However, I have an unresolved personal angst against meat and dairy together. G-d said never to boil a kid in its mother’s milk and that was that. Why, then, do we have to go that step above and beyond what G-d told us (not) to do?

    Some Jews wait 2 hours before eating one after the other, some wait 4 hours, some wait 6 hours, and some don’t eat both on the same day. You are right, we carry our Jewishness any way we want to.

    Personally, I make an extreme effort to wait at least 6 hours, but in my mind I think, “This is ridiculous, HaShem didn’t say to do this.”

    Your opinion, please? I need to sort this out so I won’t feel petty about how I do things, when it clearly is not written the way we practice it nowadays.

    1. I’ve never understood that myself. If you look at the Laws, everything’s spelled out in solid detail, the do’s and don’ts. If God didn’t want ANY meat and ANY milk together, wouldn’t that have been specified in exact detail, including how many hours, maybe even different on Shabbat and Passover or if you’re a priest? The Lord is capable of going into extreme detail.

      But no. God ONLY says no kids in their own mother’s milk. That’s one very specific thing. I could logically see extending that to no baby animals in their mother’s milk, but how that means you can’t have a beefsteak with goat cheese on your salad, or a lovely French onion soup is beyond me (That sounds like a terrific dinner, now I’m hungry).

      I know, mysterious are the ways of the Lord, but this seems like some humans put in extra complications and rules.


      I had a coupon and got organic cage-free eggs for the same price as regular mass produced eggs yesterday! 🙂

      I donate to the food banks and try to eat organic, but mostly I’m just pinching pennies till Lincoln complains to feed our own selves. I feel bad about eating factory farm chicken and cheapo grains, but we’d never be able to afford to eat otherwise. I do insist on organic milk.

      1. Lurk, you are so right: the deeper one goes into these matters, the more expensive it gets, and it is out of the reach of most consumers. It sounds like you are doing your bit, though: watching for those coupons, donating to the food bank and so on. We do what we can.

    2. Binyamin, you are following the practice as it developed over time and as those verses are interpreted in Oral Torah. That is a beautiful thing. An Orthodox or Conservative rabbi might counsel you to persevere and study so that you can find satisfaction in your current practice. Certainly if you are part of an Orthodox or Conservative community I encourage you to talk with your rabbi.

      As a Reform rabbi, I see these things a little differently. If you feel that your current practice is distancing you from HaShem or from the Jewish people, then I would encourage you to study and pray. Talk with your rabbi, or find someone with whom to study. Ask yourself, “Why do I do this?” Some Jews keep kosher because they believe it is commanded by Hashem. Some Jews keep kosher because they feel it keeps them close to other Jews. Some Jews keep some of these practices because our fellow Jews died to preserve these practices, and it is a way of honoring their memories. And for some, it is what their parents did and they want to preserve that practice out of respect for parents. I would encourage you to explore “Why” for a bit, because it may bring you to more clarity on where you want to go from there.

      Then perhaps experiment a little. Perhaps reduce the waiting time and see what that is like. Perhaps you might want to interpret Torah more literally and not eat meat with the milk of that animal – beef with cow’s milk, for instance. Or perhaps you will find, once you study and look within your heart, that traditional kashrut is indeed what’s right for you.

      I wish you well with your studies!

  2. We do not currently keep kosher at home, though I do have experience with doing so when kid-who’s-more-observant-than-we-are was home from college. Kid now has own household with own kosher kitchen, but will eat from our kitchen or a non-kosher restaurant; kid does not eat pork or shellfish, or mix meat with milk; we do. Born-Jewish spouse grew up not keeping kosher. Kashrut is not something that “speaks” to either of us at this point. We do make an effort to buy organic and sustainably-grown food, prefer meat that isn’t factory-farmed, shop at our local farmers’ markets, contribute to the food bank, and support those who are trying to balance feeding people with treating the planet gently.

    1. Patti, it sounds like you have found a practice that works for you and your family – wonderful! I am glad that things worked out with your kid-who-keeps-kosher; kashrut can become very divisive in some families when generations disagree on practice.

  3. We never have pork in our home. After raising pigs on the kibbutz back in 1980, (they were so cute!), I would never eat pork again. The pigs were sold mostly to Arabs at that time. We do consume seafood, however; I must have my sushi.We fast on Yom Kippur.We also eat very healthily and I get my eggs from the local farm. They’re organic and very delicious! 

    Pamela FenderAuthorBeside Myself:Recovery From My Family Betrayal and Estrangement – A Memoirhttp://amzn.to/1HsHsyw

    WordPress.com | rabbiadar posted: “What’s your food practice, and why?Traditionally, Jews are The People Who Don’t Eat Pork. The Philistines, who were of Greek origin, commented upon it. Antiochus, a Greek king, thought it bizarre. The Romans thought it just one more bit of evidence that” | |

  4. I don’t keep Kosher at all, except during Pesach when I keep the laws about chametz. To a certain degree. What I find amazing is all the different ways people do and don’t keep kosher, and other mitzvot for that matter, and how they will look down on others who do differently. The more I live, the more I think that for a large chunk of the community, especially in Australia, at least those who are not frum, it comes down to minhag. And much of the time, they think that their minhag is halachah. I’m always so grateful to meet Jews who do this and don’t do that and are willing to cop to the fact that it’s just what makes sense to them, what suits them, what they’re willing to do. Does this resonate with you at all?

    1. Oh, absolutely it resonates with me! Even for those who are frum, (very observant) minhag will differ: they will accept some heckshers (rabbinical approvals) and not others.

      One of my goals with this blog is to talk about how Judaism actually IS, not just an ideal. The fact is that everyone keeps kosher a little differently, whether they are very observant or much less so.

      This is enormously confusing to newcomers to our community. When I first began keeping kosher, my idea was that “any Jew can eat in my home.” Well, no. There were plenty of Jews for whom my kashrut was suspect simply because my kitchen isn’t the way their mother kept the kitchen. At first I was frustrated with it, but now I see it just as more of the diversity in Judaism.

      What I don’t like is the “looking down” part – it is ridiculous to keep a mitzvah and then spoil it by talking about someone else (lashon hara!) or feeling superior. Mitzvot are to make us holy, not to make us stuck up!

  5. I’d like to keep chickens for eggs (not meat — I couldn’t eat ’em if I knew ’em either!), but the city doesn’t allow it. OTOH it would drive the cats mad, which is bad stewardship of my dependent creatures.

    I once saw a llama at a synagogue. I figure it was the safest place for it — no danger of being eaten, even by Reform Jews!

    1. I’d like to keep chickens too but they don’t mix well with a pack of toy poodles. A llama at a synagogue? A permanent resident?

      1. No, it was just visiting for the open day, with the games and the ladies selling food and such. We never did find out exactly what it was doing there, or indeed whether it was a llama or an alpaca. It was well-behaved.

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