The non-kosher kosher

by Cynthia Castro Chiurliza

I recently went to a bakery with a new friend. Not knowing about my observances, she was worried about whether the goodies we were going to consume had dairy in them or not (because it wasn’t a kosher bakery), so she kept on asking the woman behind the counter: Is this dairy? No, she would reply, is just margarine.

One of the most important concepts in Judaism is the preservation of life. Life goes before everything: before fasting in Yom Kippur –if you are ill–, before resting in Shabbat –if you need emergency surgery–, before kashrut laws –if you need to eat worms in order to keep yourself alive in the jungle–. Life goes over everything but murder, idolatry, incest and adultery (not an every day thing, right?) and you are not only permitted to violate a commandment to save a life but also expected to do so if necessary.

So, why would you consume products that endanger your health, like margarine, in order to enjoy a dairy-like dessert with your steak? Have you ever taken a closer look at the ingredients in your non-dairy whipped milk, or the non-dairy creamer that you put in your coffee while having a roast beef sandwich? Did you even know that non-dairy creamer can be used to whiten clothes, remove foam from fish tanks, and clean dry erase boards?

Non-dairy products, in order to look and feel like dairy, are “enriched” with extra ingredients you might not even be able to pronounce. One of them, to give an example, is partially hydrogenated oil. Hydrogenated oils are vegetable oils with added hydrogen, and they are what we know as trans-fat, which is more harmful than saturated fats: it raises your bad cholesterol levels and lower your good cholesterol levels, increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke, promotes inflammation of the body, drives the immune system crazy and is also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. And this is just one of the many ingredients!

Are you really observing the commandment if you are eating in a non-kosher way in disguise? And adding hydrogen molecules to what God created in order not to break His rules… Doesn’t sound really kosher, does it?

Although there is no explanation of kashrut laws in the Torah, a few ideas have been said about them. When you restrain yourself from eating something because your tradition says so, have you ever stopped to wonder why? As my good friend Rambam used to say, sometimes it’s good to know –or wonder– about the reasons; it might help you achieve some insight about what you are doing.

Personally, I like to think of kashrut as a way of inner training. If you can control what you put in your mouth, you can control anything else. And if you think it is easy, just ask any person you know has been on a diet (probably 90% of the people around you), and they will tell you: restraining yourself from having a delicious piece of chocolate cake while taking care of your figure is really, really hard. So, if you can control your impulses on having those golden pork ribs that smell so good, or that seafood ceviche that looks colorfully delicious, you might as well be able to keep yourself from doing whatever you are not supposed to do in other aspects of life.

One thing you are not supposed to be doing is eating meat and milk at the same time and yet we have invented all sort of artificial products to be able to commit the crime and still be innocent. Would you pay someone to kill that person you hate so much? Technically, you didn’t kill him. Or would you steal a stolen object from a thief? Maybe that isn’t really stealing. Then why do you eat fake bacon and why do you insist on having fake flan after that roasted chicken? Isn’t it the same? If we are commanded not to eat something is so we can learn from the experience of not doing it, not to have us manufacturing shrimp out pulverized fish and chemically modified tapioca. Is it really kosher to consume imitation products? Is it really kosher to slowly kill yourself and try to fool the law by having harmful fake dairy or fake meat products?

There are natural alternatives for man-made products given by nature itself:

Want some butter with that meat meal? Have some virgin coconut oil! Coconut oil not only helps our immune system, it also have positive effects over our thyroid, cholesterol and sugar control and it even helps you lose weight! (ask doctor Oz if you don’t believe me). You can even get whipped cream out of it and drive your guests crazy over that nutty flavor in your healthy dessert.

Need some milk for your oatmeal? Try coconut or almond milk. Almonds are extremely good for our health and their milk has an amazing flavor and texture.

Can’t go without that sour cream? Make something alike with raw cashews, lemon, salt and vinegar!

Really want to kill that shrimp craving? Well, you can’t, you are Jewish! If you are going to observe, do it the right way and embrace what you are being teach through your own actions.

Take care of yourself, save your own life! Remember: we are what we eat. Some margarine or artificial sweetener won’t kill you today or in a few years, but it will affect the quality of your life and your longevity. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes… Is that the price you are willing to pay for a cup of non-dairy ice cream?

No, it is not easy and that is exactly the point. After all, spiritual growth doesn’t just happen through osmosis; you need to earn it in mind and body. Work with what nature gives you, with that which God has put in your world, the world that He gave you knowing and understanding what we, smarty-pants humans, really need.