It seems like I’m constantly reading about the new best “super” food. First, it was quinoa, followed by kale.
Then, after stuffing my freezer with fresh fish, I read the warnings about mercury levels, and that I should never, ever buy farmed salmon.
Last month I read the benefits of a diet rich in proteins and low in carbohydrates. This month I was informed about harmful antibodies fed to animals and the dangers of excess animal fat.
And, of course, the jury is still out on the exact pros and cons of a writer’s best friend—coffee.
Daily, we learn about new hidden toxins in our food. Is organic food safer? Are genetically modified grains dangerous? What are the effects of preservatives?
When it comes to nutrition, we are probably the most educated generation to date. We’ve become sensitized to the cause and effect of negative influences on or bodies, on our psyche and on our world.
The innocent-looking food doesn’t appear dangerous. The harmless piece of chicken that was supposedly given antibodies looks exactly like the free-range, grain-fed poultry sold for double the price. And who could distinguish organic bananas from regular ones?
But as informed consumers, we recognize that it isn’t only what we see that makes an impact. This is true in all areas of life, but nowhere is this more consequential than in the food we ingest, where the food actually becomes assimilated into our flesh.
So we’ve come to realize the subtle but potentially dire effects on our food, but do we ever consider our food’s spiritual “profiles”? Does the food or drink that we consume affect us on a spiritual plane, on a soul level, influencing our character and natural tendencies?
This week’s Parshah, Shemini, introduces the Torah’s dietary laws. Kosher land animals must be slaughtered in a very specific manner, and have split hooves and chew their cud. Fish need fins and scales, and there is a list of forbidden fowl.
Notice how all kosher animals and fowl have the characteristics of being non-predatory, peaceful and non-destructive.
Moreover, perhaps, the non-kosher animal’s closed hoof represents a spiritual quality of rigidity—being closed off and untouched to the plight of others. Do the kosher animal’s “split” and “open” hooves symbolize approachability and sensitivity, as well as receptiveness to growth? Does chewing its cud remind us how we too need to chew things over, and not be too quick or impulsive to judge?
Similarly, do the fins that propel a kosher fish forward represent its ambition, which needs to be tempered, like all of our ambitions, by protective scales representing integrity and principles?
On the surface, we may not be able to differentiate between many kosher and non-kosher foodstuffs. But on a spiritual and mystical level, the qualities of every creature affect us profoundly. Unkosher food may be just as physically nutritious, but its spiritual traits can clog our spiritual arteries from being able to assimilate a Torah consciousness.
And perhaps there is no generation better equipped to understand this than our own.