“BISON?!?” I exclaimed to my dad who had just told me to try a new type of burger. I was ten years old, standing in my kitchen, eating what I thought was a typical dinner. I was actually halfway through with the patty when my dad informed me this wasn’t from a typical cow; rather, it was from an animal that I had never heard of. Immediately, I did what any ten-year-old would do, and I ran straight for the garbage. Then, I started crying. I didn’t want to eat strange foods that I had never heard of nor did I want to be tricked into eating something I thought was something else.
Thankfully — and sometimes not so thankfully — my parents trained me to eat everything from a very young age. Whether or not I was fooled, I developed a love for ethnic foods, rare meats, and strange looking vegetables. I was eating brussel sprouts, spinach, and cabbage from a very young age. My family didn’t observe Kosher dietary laws so I ate every kind of meat you can imagine as well. Typical dishes were shrimp scampi, lobster bisque, and pork tenderloin. Peanut butter and jelly? I had my first one during my freshmen year of college after a few of my friends learned I had never tried it before.
Consequently, fifteen years since what my family still refers to as the “bison incident,” I am still very conscious about what I eat. Luckily, I developed a passion for food and cooking from a young age – something I directly attribute to my family insisting on me eating new, sometimes odd foods. But this awareness of what I put into my body is something that has stuck and has only grown stronger with time.
When I was 19, I heard the word ‘kosher’ for the first time. I guess my eight-year-long Hebrew school education skipped that lesson. Deep into the dessert of Arizona, I soon found myself surrounded by fellow Sun Devils, sitting around the Shabbat table at our Chabad on campus. That year changed my eating habits forever.
Kashrut, or keeping Kosher, I learned, is all about awareness. It involves paying attention – constant attention – to every step of the eating process because the laws stretch from raising animals to acknowledging the source of your food through prayer following your dinner. I quickly learned paying close attention is tedious. Grocery shopping took twice as long because I was checking labels and constantly finding new Kosher symbols that I would have to look up on my Blackberry. And cooking would never be the same. Separate utensils, pots, pans, dishes, sides of the kitchen for meat and dairy. This was extreme.
On the cliff of this daunting task, I knew deep down it was right. One afternoon after school, my rabbi came over and we transformed my kitchen into a kosher one. I vividly remember that day because it was the moment that I became personally responsible for bringing tradition to my home. I began caring more about what I put into my body as well. If I was going to be inspecting every label for a kosher symbol, why not inspect the ingredients for chemicals and avoid them? I grew to love places like Trader Joes and Whole Foods practically overnight.
As a child, I had never actually seen a scallop or a bison but I ate what I was served because I had no choice. I can’t say that about anything on my plate anymore and I am proud that my journey into having a Kosher home was the spark that has guided me to living a more aware, healthy life. I encourage all of you to invest the extra few seconds to look more closely at labels, whether or not they are kosher labels, learn what is in the food you eat, and make conscious choices every time you pick up an item at the grocery store.
Jessie Lipsitt works in the Institutional Advancement department at Hazon. She loves creating and cooking new recipes — especially dishes that are easy and healthy. In her spare time, Jessie enjoys throwing pottery, staffing Birthright trips to Israel, and traveling to new places.