As continuing research reveals the importance of healthy eating, we may benefit from going back in time to find the best way to feed our bodies. Kosher eating is perhaps one of the most ancient food traditions, but is it still relevant in today’s society? Can kosher help pave a path to a healthy lifestyle? Eating with awareness, having a connection to your food, and considering ethics are all significant parts of keeping kosher.
And, no matter the way you incorporate kosher into your diet (as well as other healthy dietary habits), these aren’t bygone regulations, because they can also be logically justified in the context of a modern environment.
I would argue that kosher eating is a type of mindful eating. Rather than consuming all, you place parameters that are rooted in old tradition and modern reality. And, no matter the way you incorporate kosher into your diet (as well as other healthy dietary habits), these aren’t bygone regulations, because they can also be logically justified in the context of a modern environment. Let’s think about choosing not to eat shellfish, for example. The Pentateuch declares to only eat fish with scales and fins (Deuteronomy 14:9-10/Leviticus 11:9-12), an ideal that might seem arbitrary to some. But, today, imported shrimp are found to be full of pesticides, banned chemicals, and even cockroaches. On an even more dire note, shellfish in general are twice as likely to contain food illnesses such as salmonella and E.Coli than fish with fins and scales. This is due to the fact that shellfish are bottom eaters, which means that they literally eat all the trash that is in the ocean. Kosher fish such as salmon may also pose some health risks when consumed in excess, however crustaceans have much higher chances of serious hazards.
This idea of “unclean” food doesn’t stray far from the explanations that we see in the Torah. Pigs, for example, have split hooves and don’t chew their cud, so they are deemed unsanitary and hence not kosher. Professionals argue that animals who don’t chew their cud may have digestive issues because they lack the natural antacid that is secreted in their saliva (College of Agriculture, Food and Environment). Pork products are proven to heighten your cholesterol because of high amounts of saturated fats. This can lead to heart disease, asthma, diabetes, and a menagerie of other ailments. A study mentioned on WebMD suggested that eliminating pork products led to less overall body fat and a healthier heart. Whatever your reason, whether it be biblical or related to wellness, avoiding pork is a healthy choice.
Kosher eating is not limited to just health concerns, as it also takes ethics into consideration.
Kosher eating is not limited to just health concerns, as it also takes ethics into consideration. “Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23:19), is one example of finding spirituality and meaning in food, or as many today call it: conscious eating. By extending this barrier to preclude any mixing of meat/poultry with dairy products, observing kashrut reminds people to eat with intention. A second example of ethics in kashrut is shechita, the kosher method of slaughtering animals humanely, swiftly and with caution. Judaism upholds that cruelty to animals should never be permitted, no matter the circumstances. This practice is reflective of the fact that we’re all creatures in this world and ensures a connection to yourself and your tribe through the food you eat. Mindfulness and spirituality prove to be a continuous theme in Jewish traditions. For instance, the brachot, or blessings, that many Jews recite before and after we eat give us an opportunity to eat purposefully and create a spiritual relationship with the food that we consume.
Though there are numerous positives, kosher eating and kashrut food production don’t exist without flaws; inequitable labor cases, environmental concerns, and economical issues within kosher food production companies are just some of the obstacles that the Jewish community faces in regards to dietary matters.
Though there are numerous positives, kosher eating and kashrut food production don’t exist without flaws; inequitable labor cases, environmental concerns, and economical issues within kosher food production companies are just some of the obstacles that the Jewish community faces in regards to dietary matters. However, from a perspective of healthy eating, I would say that kosher principles lead one to a balanced and enlightened diet. And, processed kosher foods are strictly inspected, which prevents contamination and other issues.
Recognizing that there’s more than one way to eat “Jewishly,” we should be asking not “do you keep kosher?” but “how do you keep kosher?”
With all points considered, what I think is most unique about keeping kosher is that many Jews have their own way of observing these principles and adapting them to their lifestyles. While more religious families keep a strict diet, other Jews may stray slightly from some restrictions, while adhering to others. Recognizing that there’s more than one way to eat “Jewishly,” we should be asking not “do you keep kosher?” but “how do you keep kosher?” As dietary and spiritual concepts continue to evolve, I wouldn’t be surprised if we continue to see explorations or even adaptations of keeping kosher for anyone who’s interested in eating consciously.
Byline: Vivienne Rachmansky is an incoming high school Freshman who lives in downtown Manhattan and is passionate about issues of the day.
Vivienne Rachmansky participated in JOFA’s first ever leadership development program for high school students. In addition to providing them with skills training, we are also empowering participants to use their voices.
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