What it’s like when you can’t just eat anything you want

Last week, I highlighted my best tips to keep Kosher for Passover, if you’re Jewish, and the observation of the holiday is a part of your life. However, it begs the question of how difficult it must be to keep Kosher in general (a very different concept) throughout the year, and ultimately your entire life.

In the simplest of terms, keeping Kosher entails not mixing dairy and meat (in your kitchen or withina single meal), eating only Kosher meats, and limiting other food intakes that aren’t dairy or meat to Parve foods. Keeping Kosher is a choice a significantly smaller group in the vast population of Jews make. It is typically followed by the conservative and orthodox, and not so much by the reform (me). However, one of my closest friends was raised in Kosher homes and continues to eat Kosher in college – a daunting task, especially when in a major city with overflowing cultural influence in all types of food.

Like living with any form of dietary restrictions, maintaining a Kosher lifestyle must always be at the back of my friend Daniela’s mind when ordering at a restaurant or purchasing food at the grocery store. When I asked her about her upbringing, she said that before going to a public high school, all Daniela knew was Kosher eating. “I went to a Jewish private school Kindergarten through eighth grade, so all I ever really knew was that I ate Kosher,” she begins, “I just knew that when I went out to eat I could never eat meat and that I would have to ask for vegetarian if needed.”

Once she got to her high school, despite growing up in a primarily Jewish area of New Jersey, she started to realize her way of life wasn’t the norm. She said, “it only really got harder in high school when I had friends who I would go out to eat with on the weekends, and people would start asking questions about why I could only eat certain dishes.”

However difficult, she adjusted. She always had her Israeli mother’s home-cooked meals to fall back on, and she wasn’t yet on her own. It was in college that the task of keeping Kosher actually became a task and not just something she happened to do. At Miami, she told me, “there is no Kosher meal plan or many Kosher options in Coral Gables or on campus. It was really hard to adjust to cutting out eat for long periods of time [because the meat isn’t guaranteed Kosher here] and Hillel’s kitchen isn’t that great so I don’t have many options.”

Since first meeting in 2015, I’ve shared an innumerable amount of meals with Daniela. While visibly, it may not seem like keeping Kosher is limiting her choices, it’s a similar struggle to anyone who has food allergies and has to thoroughly consider every menu they may come across. She consistently orders the same things at restaurants, never straying from what she knows fits the Kosher mold. Living in the dorms presents another challenge, she says because “I have no opportunities to cook for myself. Some of the supermarkets do sell kosher meat so once I live in an apartment, I can make myself food. But even simple things like eggs I can’t make in a dorm so, until then, it’s hard to find protein.”

Despite the struggles she encounters every day, even at a college that has a high population percentage of Jewish students, she wouldn’t throw away the Kosher values her parents instilled in her at a young age. She said to me that “it’s just something I’ve always done and I’m used to it. I’m comfortable with it and I’ve never had a desire to eat non-Kosher in my life.” She may be missing out on a few delicious dishes like the Italian classic chicken parmesan, she continues to uphold the lifestyle she was brought up with.

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