A few years ago I was enjoying lunch with a friend, who just happens to be vegan, when she looked at me dead in the eye and said, “I can’t believe you keep kosher now. Isn’t that hard?” As you might imagine, this question was followed up by me with a series of other questions, all of which could be summarized by, “Wait, what?”
First and foremost, you should know that I didn’t grow up keeping kosher. In fact, as a child, I was known to dabble in bacon and the occasional honey-baked ham. Then one day I ate too much honey-baked ham and decided that the subsequent stomach ache I got from overindulging on said ham was Gd reminding me I shouldn’t be eating ham, no matter how much delicious honey and brown sugar it had been roasted in. Then I went to Israel, took some classes on kashrut, fell in love with a man who keeps kosher and the rest is kosher history.
So there I was, in 2008, newly kosher and eating a meal with my vegan friend and trying to get her to understand my confusion regarding her question. You’re a vegan. To me, that seems difficult and requires quite a bit of discipline and creativity. But from her lens, however, veganism was a no-brainer; something that came naturally to her. At that point in my kosher-keeping journey, I was still craving the occasional cheeseburger so it wasn’t as natural to me as it is now. We went back and forth on the differences and similarities of keeping both of these diets. Eventually, the conversation naturally flowed to the challenges of starting a new diet; expense, limitations, family judgement, trying to get creative with cooking, etc., when it hit me. Vegan is her kosher.
Kosher used to be exotic. Having a specialized diet that required shopping at specialty grocery stores, declining dinner invitations to certain restaurants or other people’s homes due to dietary issues and budgeting to afford diet-specific items was considered strange and even too much work to consider. But in 2013, everybody’s got their kosher. With the rise of diets including, but not limited to, gluten-free, grain-free, vegan, paleo, strictly organic and/or only eating unpastruerized dairy products, etc., kosher just isn’t that strange anymore and I gotta say, I am a little relieved. Heck, at this point, kosher is old news. So you can’t cook meat and milk together? Big deal. Try going sugar-free, gluten-free and paleo.
I used to walk out of my local kosher grocer across the street from a Whole Foods and see families with loaded grocery carts and think to myself, “How on Earth are they affording that grocery bill?” The irony of that thought wasn’t lost on me. I had just paid $5 for generic, bland ‘parmesan’ cheese because it’s kosher and that is my only option. I forgo buying only organic because we can’t afford it on top of keeping kosher, but if you can afford it and eating organic is a value to you, then organic is your ‘kosher’ and you will daven at the house of Whole Foods. We all do what we gotta do. (P.S. the conversation about the privilege of being able to afford these specialty diets, kashrut included, needs to be had. Good luck to the kid who needs to go gluten-free, for example, but whose family lives below the poverty line.)
My family is not immune to specialty diets outside of keeping kosher. I have a gluten-free nephew and sister. I have a niece who is dairy-free and another niece and nephew who are grain-free. It’s their kosher; it’s not even a question. It’s a pleasure to try to create recipes that incorporate all my family’s dietary needs and a blessing that I can, more or less, afford to to accommodate all their needs while keeping things kosher. The challenge has allowed me to be creative in the kitchen, which is always welcomed.
One of my favorite recipes born out of trying to hit all the dietary-needs with one stone are the mini no-bake, vegan (a.k.a. parve) chocolate chip berry pies with coconut milk whipped cream pictured below. That’s right. They are kosher, vegan, raw, gluten-free/grain-free/paleo-friendly and they’re actually really, really good. So, no matter what your ‘kosher’ is, you’re covered . . . for dessert at least.
Check out my food blog, Jewhungry, for the complete chocolate chip mixed berry pies with coconut whipped cream recipe. Don’t be scared. If you’ve got a hand-held mixer and 15 minutes to spare, these little guys can be all yours.