Monday, June 28, 2010

Growing up Jewish – Kosher Edition

This is a guest post from Broadsnark
I am an anarchist, atheist, adopted, Jewish, bilingual, woman with a degree in Latin American Latino Studies and a head crammed full of the history of the Americas. I spent a decade working in the law in Florida and another decade working for nonprofits in California and DC.  I know more than your average person about the history, policies, and human rights violations related to the food system, drug prohibition, the prison industrial complex, immigration, and (inexplicably) cowboys.  I believe that justice, peace, and understanding are possible.  I blog at

I’ve shared with you all the tortures of Sabbath and Passover.  But I have not yet shared with you the biggest torture of all.

My mother keeps kosher.

Being kosher means no shellfish and no pork.  Shellfish and pork are, as you may have heard, an abomination! The food that you can eat is classified into three different categories – meat, dairy, and parve.   Parve is neither meat nor dairy and can be eaten with anything (think fruits, veggies, grains…).  If you pull out a random food from your cabinet, you might notice a U with a circle around it.  Sometimes it will also say “parve.”  Now you know.  (OMG, they control the food system too!)

It is very important to know what is meat and what is dairy.  Because mixing of meat and dairy is absolutely verboten.  You can eat the meat from the cow.  And you can drink the milk from the cow.  But you cannot do both at the same time.  I believe it was the consumption of a bacon cheeseburger that actually set off the chain of events leading to the holocaust.  So this is some serious shit.

You might think figuring out meat, dairy, and parve would be easy.  But they like to throw in a few tricks.    For example, chicken is meat, but eggs are parve.  I don’t know why the chicken is meat, but the egg that comes out of its ass is not.  Maybe it’s a riddle or a Jewish version of the zen koan.

If you want to have some ice cream for dessert after chicken dinner at my mother’s house, you have to wait some number of hours which I am convinced my mother makes up each time.  Last time I was at her house, it was two hours.  Perhaps she makes some sort of calculation based on presumed metabolic rate?  Maybe if I was on speed she would have only made me wait 30 minutes?  I’ll check next time I visit.

It requires about 9,000 sets of dishes to keep a proper kosher home – dairy dishes, meat dishes, parve dishes, passover dishes, passover meat dishes, fine china…  And you have to have separate sets of cutlery and pots.  There are also separate sponges, cause you can’t wash a dairy dish with a meat sponge.  And clearly you can’t clean the counter with either the meat or the dairy sponge.  The dishwasher was reserved for the meat dishes.

My mother stopped short of separate refrigerators for meat and dairy.  But a lot of Jews who keep kosher have two refrigerators.  If you used the wrong sponge or utensil, my mother would throw out the contaminated object and buy a new one.  (We must be very popular in the kitchen sections at department stores.)  She would also throw a major fit.

My father really loved a good bacon cheeseburger and was not prepared to give it up (despite said food’s rumored role in the holocaust).  So the deal was that we kept kosher in the house, but were allowed to eat whatever we wanted out of the house.  Sometimes, we even ordered in pepperoni pizza.  But we ate it on paper plates and then banished the evidence to the outside garbage bin immediately.  It’s a miracle god didn’t strike us down on pizza nights.  He must have thought those were the neighbor’s pizza boxes.