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
Her: YOU'VE NEVER TRIED SKITTLES?!?!?? WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU???!?!? HOW CAN YOU HAVE NEVER TRIED SKITTLES!! WERE YOU RAISED BY WOLVES, ENTIRELY ISOLATED FROM CIVILIZATION??!?!!!
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.