One Man’s Kosher Is Another Man’s Treif

November 20, 2007 |

“I keep kosher. Sort of.” I’ve always felt the need to add a disclaimer to the end of that sentence, because I don’t keep kosher the way that some people do. This comes up whenever I’m trying to explain what I do and don’t eat to someone, Jewish or not, who isn’t intimate with the Jewish dietary laws. Conversations like these can be particularly confusing for the non-Jewish partners or family members of Jews who practice some form of kashrut, because the varieties of what “kosher” can mean are perplexing at best, and sometimes downright maddening.

Personally, I don’t eat chicken and beef that haven’t come from a kosher butcher, nor have I ever tasted pork (no big loss, from what I hear) or shellfish (which, I’m told, is more of a sacrifice). Still, I happily order fish and dairy dishes in non-kosher restaurants, and, what’s more, I don’t even ask the waiters whether my mushroom risotto’s been softened with beef stock, even though, as the author of a cookbook, I know that it almost certainly has been. When it comes to the animal-based oils used in frying, to the presence of rennet in cheeses, and to unknown species of fish when I’m dining out abroad (what North American really knows, offhand, what lotte or rochen correspond to?), my policy is simply Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. If there are no cubes of ham staring up at me from the split pea soup, I tuck in and hope for the best. And I turn a blind eye even though I know my maguro may have snuggled up next to some uni in a sushi chef’s display case. (more…)