Monday, February 25, 2013

Why Jews Love Chinese Food


I just picked up my malaria pills from the drugstore for my upcoming journey to Haiti. Oddly enough they were not covered by my health insurance, which will only pay for them after I contract the disease--is this a great system or what? 

Checking the calendar, I noticed that my trip falls during Passover. Good thing, since the whole Jewish thing is fraught with anxiety for me. This is because I was raised by lunatics who kept a kosher household but had no idea why. I still don't know, but they're all gone now so there's nobody to ask. Instead, I looked it up.

In 1965, Hebrew National rolled out its famous slogan, “We answer to a higher authority.” I still don't know who that is, but I'll tell you, he or she is quite lenient these days. Almost everything edible sports a little K inside a circle, alerting Jews they can eat it without going straight to Hell. Potato chips, cake mixes, cookies, soup mixes and soda all bear the stamp of approval from that “higher authority.” According to Kosher Today, the official monthly trade publication of the kosher food industry, 400 new products certified as kosher will be added to the more than 80,000 already on grocery shelves, just in time for Passover.
              
While many non-Jews choose the kosher way of life because of allergies, lactose intolerance, or a belief that they are healthier, the practice is growing most notably among Jews who were not raised in kosher homes and feel they missed something important as children. Just like being a vegetarian, the kosher lifestyle offers many levels of adherence. Some people are strictly kosher at home but in the outside world they will order vegetarian meals in any restaurant, whereas those more observant will not eat in any but a kosher restaurant. Others eat cooked vegetarian foods, a more relaxed choice than that made by people who will eat only raw vegetables, citing the heat as a possible conduit for non-kosher contamination. Still others, like my Grandmother, believe that God actually cannot see into Chinese restaurants, so they eat at them often and order whatever the heck they please. (This is why so many Jews eat Chinese food on Sundays.)
 
In case you don't know, here's what kosher is: No shellfish ever. No meat products from animals with split hooves (pigs). Never mix dairy products with meat at the same meal. To ensure that meat and dairy never mix, kosher kitchens must have two sets of dishes, silverware, and pots, one for use with meat and one for use with dairy. Foods that contain neither meat nor dairy ingredients are called parve, which means neutral; thus, all fruits, grains, and vegetables are kosher and parve. Like many rock stars and TV personalities, a parve item can go either way, becoming "dairy" when cooked with a dairy food and "meat" when cooked with meats. For example, those carrots and celery stalks in your beef stew began as parve, but lost their independent status by sharing the pot with the beef; now they too are "meat." Fish with fins and scales are kosher and parve; some examples are salmon, flounder, and halibut. Not kosher under any circumstances: Shark, sturgeon, catfish, swordfish, reptiles, shellfish, underwater mammals, and most insects.

Haiti, here I come. I wonder if dirt pies are kosher.

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