Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Orthodox Detox

Even though it's been more than 10 years since I first transgressed, I find that growing up orthodox has left me with a weird cultural lag that I'm still trying to catch up with. For instance, the other day I had a somewhat typical (for me) conversation with a friend of mine:

Her: *something something* tastes just like skittles except they are gross somehow!
Me: Oh really? I've never had skittles

Ok she didn't quite react like that, but I seem to have this same conversation with various people at least once a month. I don't think people who arn't jewish realize quite how strict kosher laws are...they seem to think it just has to do with not eating pork or seafood. But yes, there are millions of types of candy out there that I have never tried. And fast food chains. And even food that's not candy or fast food. It seems that non jewish kids spend their entire childhood sampling every type of candy and fast food out there, and the fact that I haven't tried 90% of them makes me seem like a backwards crazy person.

I don't know about you, but I was raised to believe that all food that wasn't kosher was disgusting and bad for you. And even after I stopped believing in God, I still kept psuedo-kosher for years; you know, where you don't eat not kosher meat, don't eat seafood or bacon, etc, so basically acting as a default vegetarian.

Leaving the orthodox world wasn't as simple as deciding that Judaism was made up by people instead of god. That's just the begining. After that you have to go out there and try all these scary new things. Well, you don't actually HAVE to try them, no one is holding a gun to your head or anything. But living a secular life usuaully involves business type lunches with new types of food, and dating B involves someone trying to shove new food down my throat at every opportunity.

New food scares me. Can I just admit that? If I've never tried it before, and it's very different from anything I've had before, I automatically assume I'm not going to like it. The farther away from kosher it is, the scarier it is to me.

It's a years long process to catch up with all these foods that non jewish kids presumably start eating at birth. The hardest part isn't trying these new and sometimes horrible food. It's getting over the psychological blocks I have against eating them. It's nearly impossible to try something new after 20-25 years of not eating it. Even though I have no moral or philosophical objections to them on an intellectual level, my brain just doesn't want to do it. Each time I try something new it is STILL a HUGE deal. I can remember each and every time I did so. Don't beleive me? Here's a list:

December 2003: Tried non kosher chicken for the first time, at an applebees in times square after we couldn't get tickets to "the machine" who were playing at bbkings. I had spicy chicken wings with blue cheese dressing.

Actually that's not entirely true, the REAL first time I had non kosher chicken was when I was 15 and working at a hospital- they had chicken noodle salad in the caferteria and I sort of assumed it was tuna noodle saled, and at that point I was already eating non kosher fish and veggitarian food. So I ate it, and about halfway through I realized it was chicken and not tuna, and kept eating it. But then I didn't eat non kosher chicken again until 2003.

May 2004: Tried non kosher beef for the first time. It was a week or two before I graduated college, and my friend Steven was making Empanadas (beef in this fried dough stuff) in the dorm 9th floor kitchen. I was hanging out with him while he was cooking, and he offered me one, and after several minutes of hesitation I ate it. And it was awesome.

November 2005: Tried shrimp for the first time when I went with my old roommate to a hibachi place for one of his friend's birthday party. The hibachi guy put 2 shrimps on everyone's plate with their order, and I tried one of mine. It was really salty and I didn't like it

June 2007: Tried Shrimp for the second time, at a great seafood resturaunt with B and his family. I ordered salmond, but tried one of B's shrimp This time I did like it!

ok you get the picture. I could go through the first time I tried a pork product (pepperoni), bacon, beef jerkey, scallops, clam chowder, calamari, etc. I remember the first time I tried each, where I was, who I was with, how it was prepared, how I felt at the time. Why? Cause each and every time it was a big event in my life. Even though the belief isn't there, the psychological scars of keeping kosher still are there, and still remain there- last week I tried beef jerkey for the first time (delicious) and I still hesistated before taking that first bite.

Does that ever go away? Probably not. Maybe I just hate trying new things, but I'm pretty sure that's not it. I notice that things that are a lot closer to kosher (like, vegetarian indian food) i will try in a second- I had no moment of hesitation when I tried seitan or tempeh, even though they also look kinda gross. It's the anti-kosher food that trips me up. I guess that's just something I'm going to have to live with.


  1. It mostly goes away. I have bacon all the time now. However, if it's something new or something I don't eat much (e.g. a big ham steak) it's still a little weird. You might be interested in my top ten non-kosher foods. :-)

  2. What's fascinating is that this is almost completely opposite to my experience, growing up as an assimilated Jew from New York.

    My family have always been adventurous eaters, and have happily gone off to try each new cuisine as it arrives in the United States, and to me that was always part of, if not the Jewish experience, certainly the New York experience (highlighted when I was back in New York, and met a Cuban-American friend on the lower east side for Ukrainian food).

  3. Interesting. I don't think you should be too upset about being conditioned to eat only specific things, it happens all over the world, not just's a natural part of culture.

    On the other hand, there's no doubt we've been more conditioned than most. And on another hand still, I don't think you can discount the fact that sometimes, you might just not like the look or smell or idea of a food. Even kosher food...

    I think I might make a blog post about food soon!

  4. Interestingly, in the States in the early 20th century, it was the mixing of milk and meat that gave the assimilating Jewish population the most trouble.

    There is a fascinating paper on the history of Jews in the United States and Chinese Food here:

    (JS, I would have posted this over on your blog as well, since it was sparked by your discussion of Pork and Shrimp, but I can't post there with your current settings)

  5. I've become a skeptic in my old age, but still can't eat shellfish or anything from a pig. So yeah, I know what you mean.

  6. AE,

    Actually, be glad that you didn't grow up eating fast food and candy - it's not very healthy. Of course, frum kids do have Kosher Delight & Paskez, so they gorge themselves as well.

    As a vegetarian for 17 years, I have to say to most of your post - ugh! :-P

    But it does simplify eating kosher.

    I'm still observant & intend to remain so, but since leaving NY, I find myself much more willing to eat in vegetarian restaurants - I just avoid dishes with cheese.

  7. Hey. s(b.) here. I know I linked to my blog, but I haven't put anything there yet. Anyway, re: trying new foods, fwiw, some time around 30 I said f it, and I've just been trying new foods, 'cause if I don't like it, I don't have to eat it.

    I remember explicitly where I was when I was in 8th grade (the circle diner, flemington, nj, RIP) and had a little conversation w/God that went, "If you're going to kill me, kill me now, 'cause I'm going to eat this," and eating (a blatantly not kosher combination of foods for dinner).

    About 10 years later I realized that (my concept of) God doesn't give a S if I keep kosher; it's something that either I care about, or I don't, and that's a personal thing, not a deity watching me thing. ymmv.

    As for feeling like you were raised by wolves when other people are astounded that you've never eaten something, I TOTALLY understand what you mean. I just tell whoever is in shock that I was raised on another planet. They don't usually hesitate to believe me, either.

    -s(b.) [yeah, me]

  8. I find it so interesting how you view the move to non-kosher foods as "detoxing," as if putting foods like shellfish and pork into your body will remove the poison that your years of keeping kosher have put into your system. Your need to get past the "psychological scars of keeping kosher" sounds to me like keeping kosher when you were younger has damaged you in some way and now you need to heal. Is this so?

    Parenthetically, do you not hear how insulting this is to your fellow Jews who do keep kosher? I'm sorta surprised at you, AE. I mean, it's your blog and all, but wow, there is some kind of anger there, yes? Why frame keeping kosher as some sort of mental illness of which you are now cured? Am I reading too much into this? Yet, I couldn't help but feel defensive as I read your post.

  9. Yechudi - My boss is a vegetarian and he eats only cheeses that were made vegetarian way. Translation Same as Kosher. He also said that there are plenty of vegetarian restaurants which are careful about their foods, same as Kosher. Ok, so they don't care whether a Mexican could have cut a ham sandwich with this knife while you weren't watching, but overall they are careful about their cheese products.

  10. webgirl-

    honestly, I think you are overreacting, and you seem to take personally every thing i post about leaving judaism. This is a blog about leaving the orthodox world. And I didn't leave it because I thought it was awesome and right, I left it because I thought it was misguided and wrong. And yes, I do feel like I have psychological scars from growing up orthodox that have prevented me from enjoying certain things...such as new food. If you don't like what I have to say about my experience with judaism, feel free not to read my blog anymore- but I'm not going to stop writing about the way I feel because it might be insulting to some orthodox jews. How can I NOT be insulting to orthodox jews, if this whole blog is about how I have rejected their lifestyle?

  11. alot of people feel funny about eating non-kosher food when they grew up keeping kosher.but after awhile they get used to it. so says my brother who took that path.

  12. I'm sure it IS hard to start eating those foods even if you're not religious anymore. I am religious, but if the rabbis announced tomorrow that it was OK to eat anything and everything, it would be very hard for me to do so-even though I have always been fascinated by cheeseburgers (pork and shellfish don't tempt me a bit).

    I once saw Martha Stewart grill hamburgers with a big chunk of cheese stuffed INSIDE each burger and thought that must taste absolutely delicious, even better than laying a slice of cheese over the top.

  13. This is a great post and very on point.

    There are other 'raised by wolves' experiences. For example, I follow sports but know absolutely nothing about college football, since all games (except bowls) are on saturday.

    Just to add my own experience, I didn't try anything at all that wasn't kosher until I was over 40. It's been a few years now and I more often than not don't even register if what I'm eating is "far from kosher". The feeling does still pop up now and then, but it is a much more gentle experience - like a good friend who's telling you that you're shoe's untied and seeing if you'll look down.

  14. AE, my sincere apologies. I guess I was just wondering if you could criticize Ortho Judaism without dissing Ortho Jews. It was a gut reaction.

    Like I said, your blog. No insult intended.


  15. Sorry to disappoint you, but Rabbi Abadi ( holds that not only are skittles fine, but you can even eat them on Pesach!

  16. i remember my first time eating non-kosher- it was a milk dud, and i thought, what happens now? i thought it would taste different than kosher food or something. it just tasted a bit creamier.
    then i tried slim jims (i had a friend who paid for it, i was too afraid... he is so supportive!)...
    yeah, i was more afraid of being seen eating the stuff than god, and once i realized that, i just kept on going. yeah, the first time you eat something, its a bit of an ordeal, but then you build up endurance


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