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Nutrition in the News: Is It Kosher?

Nutrition in the News: Is It Kosher?

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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.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
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Marsha Selwyn Billings April 11, 2016

Nursing homes Thank you for all your feedback. I t really helped me feel I can handle being the only Jew here and all alone. I plan to have mazo here for Passover! Reply

Diane Albuquerque & Maine April 10, 2016

Marsha in Billings, Mt. Wow, you are quite a ways out there. I'm in Albuquerque. My mom and dad are in San Francisco Bay Area, and mom isn't in your average nursing home. It's a memory care facility for only dementia of all kinds. My mom has vascular dementia with strokes. She can't speak for herself. And, my parents are Reform. They never had Kosher so mom isn't that picky on the food. We were planning on visiting over Pesach to give mom some matzo, gefilte fish, etc., but due to other problems we won't make it there then. I will try & contact the rabbi at Reform synagogue where they belong and see if the rabbi or someone can visit my mom. My younge sister to converted to Christianity placed mom there, so I'm sure she wasn't thinking mezuzah or even anything about food.

It's sad sync mom used to do all the Seders every year for us and extended family, aunt, uncle, cousins, etc, I just felt she deserved better.

We spend half year in Albuquerque & half near Bangor, Maine. We attend Chabad in both places. Reply

Marsha Selwyn Billings April 7, 2016

Jewish aging I am in the same situation as your mother. I am in a nursing home where I can't get kosher food. I had a Chabad Rabbi visit me and just put the mezuzah up without asking! They haven't said anything ! It's a very Christian nursing home it's the best in my small town. I would like to know the name nursing home in Albuquerque, if it's not too personal. I have family there! I'll try to eat vegetarian. The meat is very bad with gravy,pork a lot . I'm here with physical disabilities and I can speak for myself. Maybe I need an Orthodox Rabbi to help me! Reply

Diane Albuquerque, New Mexico April 1, 2016

To Marsha in nursing home I know what you mean. My mom was just placed in a memory care facility by my now Christian sister, & very Reform Jewish dad. We never kept kosher, but I am feeling angst that my mom is only Jewish resident. My husband & I hope to spend Pesach visiting nearby so we can bring her matzo & other kosher for Pesach items. She used to make Passover Seder for whole family including extended family. I feel so bad. I will find out, too, if I can put up a mezuzah on her room door. There is Chabad nearby in San Francisco Bay Area who would help me if I can get permission from facility. My husband's mother kept strict kosher & vegetarian. She had Alzheimer's. He visited once & found pork on her plate. He took it to management. From then until her death, it was vegetarian.
As an RN, I know dieticians more concerned with diabetes, heart disease, etc. But, most don't know anything about kashrut (unless they are Torah Observant).
I hope you are able to work out some different choices of food. Reply

Bentseyon Morton, PA March 31, 2016

food B"H
I love this article! The Torah says to guard your health diligently. It is of paramount importance today. I eat only organic food. This is more inconvienent than keeping kosher.
I disagree that we are the most educated generation when it comes to nutrition. In past years they didn"t have weoponized food to call it healthy. Reply

benjamin Indianapolis March 31, 2016

Eating Vegetarian/Vegan Diet Listening to the RaMBaM's instruction on the laws of slaughtering serves to instill gratitude for our choice to eat vegetarian, vegan diets.... The farming of animals has a huge environmental impact....Also as the saying goes "you are what you eat"....do we consciously choose to eat animals that are fed hormones, antibiotics, factory farmed and other atrocities just making sure the final slaughter was 'Kosher'? One knows that Torah was written before such inhumane practices were standard fare, however, as Torah always has the answers we may choose to study Bamidbar 11 and further avow through proper action to elevate this past. Why eat the fear, why digest the carcass of a divine creation who seldom saw daylight....who wasn't free to roam? Understandibly many choose to eat meat. I simply offer that you make it your business to know to the best of your ability the source and thus the treatment thereof... and finally as to the comment on Mendel and gluten and GMO's > Glyphosphate! Reply

Anonymous Kanata March 31, 2016

health food in the old days Way, way back when I was 22, the first health food store opened in Toronto. I was sure I consumed the hippest, healthiest foods possible- but, no? If I bought figs, invariably they had small spiders in them, sometimes live. If I bought lentils (pulses) I spent so much time trying to pick the small stones out from the cup necessary for a soup. hen I crunched on them haplessly after cooking. These days I can buy Kosher figs from Turkey. They never have blemishes or spiders. My lentils are as clean as can be, now. I am so thrilled that regular supermarkets have evolved to purchase many kosher inspected products (even peas!)
When I think of what we faced as consumers (including the dead of Vietnam from under the paddies in brown rice) I feel truly blessed by the rewards we enjoy from food specialists. Reply

laura cotchan henrico March 31, 2016

Very good article :) Reply

MIRIAM INSFRAN SEGOVIA Asunción.Paraguay March 30, 2016

I found a very interesting article, thanks. I am a vet with experience on animal welfare in cattle producing holdings and slaughtering plants and I think you are pointing very interesting things, like animal’s behavior, kosher animal species, among others. Considering kosher beef I think, at the moment the biggest point is the speed of slaughtering. The ritual is almost not respected when the meat plant is slaughtering a lot of animals per hour.I believe that animal’s way of living and slaughtering are very important for the consumer physical and spiritual wellbeing. More research must be done.The time will say. Reply

lloyd a cohen new mexico March 30, 2016

Other thoughts Very good article. The issue here often is in the processing part of the end product; how it is handled, what kind of items used to keep it fresh for how long. Interesting, it the time of the Temple, grain was a major staple==basically no gluten issues until Mendel and GMO came along.

Another major area of concern is nutritional supplements. There are certified kosher brands on the market. The issue is two fold:
certification without a label and purity of the product. If you use them, be sure you are obtaining 100 percent of what the product should be. Second, many companies such as Vitality Works in New Mexico which is under strict kosher supervision make items kor MaxiHealth, Zolers and others. sometimes, the kosher symbol is on the product and sometimes is not--if one needcs an item, check the manufacturer not rely on the label on the bottle. Sprouts has a huge line of products; for some reason some are marked kosher and yet some from the same kosher facility are not. Reply

Marsha Selwyn March 29, 2016

Jewish aging Kosher or vegan? I live in a Christian nursing home. It is the best one in my small town, they only have institutional food.I skip pork and ham here,growing up my Dad wouldn't let it in the house! We lived in Brooklyn and had lox bagels and bialys!I am having roast chicken for lunch. I do believe that G-d for gives us if we have no choice!, I would be happy to have any feedback in discussion. Also I am very sick and have to live here! My doctor has me on a prescription protein drink for breakfast and dinner and it is" kosher! " Reply

Anonymous Israel March 27, 2016

Thank you for your interesting article.
I do however find it hard to understand how unhealthy food and drink, such as junk food and Coca Cola can be considered to be Kosher and how they can have any spiritual value whatsoever! Many orthodox Jews, these days use cheap wine and white Challa bread to make Shabbat 'kadosh'. Personally, such 'food' and 'drink' make me ill and in no way contribute to my spirituality. Also, people insist that eating large quantities of food on Shabbat, often late at night is a Mitzvah.
As a kosher vegan, I also find it difficult to accept the justification for eating kosher meat. These days, most of it is factory farmed and apart from being unhealthy, it also involves much cruelty in the raising of the animals, even before they are given a kosher slaughter. Reply

James More Seasaw City March 27, 2016

Vegetarian diet plan Sounds like we eat things that are vegetarian, except for fish, which eat other fish, unless maybe if we are in a desperate starving situation and we must eat anything. I suppose that before this health law they ate most anything and some still do. Reply

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