The First Foray Into Forbidden Food

Illustration by Kurt Hoffman

This is the second in a series of pseudonymous essays by The Treyfster. The pieces explore forbidden foods from the point of view of a person who used to keep traditionally kosher.

Before, when I was frum, we all used to have those conversations about “if you did, what would you?” If you were going to eat treyf, what would you pick? If you went super-goyish, what do you think you’d be like?

People had different answers to this question. Some people said, “Oh yeah, I could definitely eat treyf chicken, I think, but not pork.” Or, “I think I’d feel okay eating seafood.” Or, “I don’t know about treyf, but I could definitely eat some cheese an hour after eating some steak. I mean, they do that in the Netherlands anyway.”

Some people had thought it out pretty extensively and were particularly enamored of the idea of lobster, or cheeseburgers or even just fast food. There are a lot of McDonald’s fantasies out there; I think they’re a fantasy of fitting in, as much as anything else. A fantasy of no longer having to be so different all the time, of just being able to disappear. Some people enjoy pointing out that if you eat less than a kezayit — the volume of an olive — it doesn’t really count anyway. Although of course you shouldn’t do that, they hurry to explain.

As for me, I imagined that I’d rope in all my goyish or non-frum friends to suggest delicacies to me. Maybe I’d get them to take me to their favorite restaurants, eat the best treyf they’d ever had. I thought my first treyf might be a companionable experience of shared adventure.

But when it came to it, when I’d made the decision — and we’ll come back to the decision another time — I discovered I didn’t want anyone else there. I wanted it to be a choice that I could be with while I was making it. No losing myself in conversation, or feeling forced into it by someone else’s expectations. I wanted to know it was a choice, in the moment of doing it.

I went to a farmers market — the kind of place where the guys behind the stalls can tell you the names of the individual pigs and sheep and where exactly they like to be scratched behind the ear. I thought I’d buy an organic lamb-burger or something. I walked the stalls in a kind of daze, feeling the future — some other version of myself, the person I’d become once this was done — pressing in the small of my back, urging me forward. Choose, choose.

And then one of the stallholders proffered a tray of charcuteries. Small pieces, to try. And this felt perfect: no buying needed. A gift. I put it in my mouth, chewed and swallowed. It tasted like meat. I was surprised. I think I’d been expecting a revelation. A message, a meaning. Or at least that it would be foreign and surprising. But maybe I’d need to do it again to be sure, I told myself as I walked away from the market. I was well aware — and this was key — that it hadn’t even been a kezayit.

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