Keeping Kosher to Keep Healthy in Modern America
The history of kosher eating is the history of the Jewish religion. Generations of Jews, from the European Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews to the Mizrahi of North Africa and the Middle East, have followed the rules of Kashrut. Religion aside, the simple act of preparing food in a traditional way connects modern families with their ancestors, providing a continuity of history that teaches both spiritual/moral values and the nuts and bolts of how to cook and how to eat. In our modern world, these lessons are more important than ever before.
The teachings of Hasidism revolve around the idea that every day activities are connected to divinity, and that the way the day is spent reflects directly on the spirit of the person, and pulls divinity into the real world. For modern families, feeling a connection with food that goes beyond simple sustenance can help to create a culture around food that promotes appreciation for the source of the food, not just for the taste. It also promotes family time, encouraging mothers and fathers to teach children the right way to prepare meals. This gives kids the tools they need to prepare their own food when they get older, resulting in a lifetime of better eating.
For children growing up in 2011, food culture is a maelstrom of unhealthy choices and mixed messages. Children are targeted by food marketers. They are encouraged to want fast food, sugary cereal, soda and candy. Our holidays surround these kinds of unhealthy foods. At Halloween children are encouraged to collect as many sugary treats as they can in a single night. At Valentine’s Day we give each other fatty, sugary foods to express our love. The obesity epidemic is the result of this culture of excess. More children have diabetes now than ever before. We are setting up an entire generation for a lifetime of food-related illness.
Kosher eating, in many ways, is the direct antithesis of this kind of fetishizing of food for pleasure. Food is treated ritualistically, as exactly what it is: nourishment for the body and mind. Kosher eating also teaches that animals must be killed humanely, something much of America thinks nothing of. Treating animals well is a basic moral decision that reflects our humanity. Choosing to live in a way that respects other living things is the first step towards creating a sustainable world.
While the particulars of kosher cooking (keeping meat and dairy separate, blessing meat before preparing it) are religious traditions, having a ritual respect for food instills the value of food, no matter what religious beliefs are associated with the ritual.
In the market, using the kosher labeling as a guideline for a product’s contents has become increasingly popular. Vegetarians, vegans, people with food allergies, and people with other religious affiliations trust kosher labeling to keep their food free of animal by-products and/or animal cruelty. With the millions of product choices, and the confusing packaging of many products, kosher preparations have remained the same, and continue to follow the same kosher guidelines they always have. Kosher eating protects families from many of the pitfalls of consumer food culture, while instilling traditions that will protect generations to come.
References and Resources:
Religion Facts: Kosher
PBS: The Meaning of Food
Kashrut: Jewish Dietary Laws