Food & Fasting, Guest Post 2: Alaina’s Story
By now you may be tired of reading about me whining about my food issues. Trust me, I’m tired of having them and talking about them. But I’ve been on this journey, not just with finding balance in health & fitness, and eating & fasting, but trying to figure out just what exactly it means to honor God with this area of my life.
It’s an interesting time of year to write about this as we’re all busy baking Christmas cookies, sipping on hot cocoa, and indulging in foods we only do during this season, so I figured I’d bring in an outsider’s perspective who doesn’t exactly partake in these “Gentile traditions.”
This is Alaina’s story:
1. Being a Messianic Jew, what are the dietary restrictions you follow?
Alaina: We follow the laws of Kashrut, which is the Jewish dietary laws outlined in the Torah.
2. For us ignorant Gentiles, what does Kosher even mean exactly?
Alaina: The word Kosher in Hebrew means fit, or proper, and the laws of Kashrut outlines the biblical dietary restrictions for both Jews and believing Gentiles (not all laws of kashrut are required of believing Gentiles as they are for Jews). It is a popular belief that kosher food, particularly meat needs to be blessed by a rabbi for it to be “Kosher,” but this is not true. Jews do have blessings that are recited over food before anything is eaten, but these blessings do not make the food “kosher.” The laws of Kashrut outline what animals are fit to be eaten, and how the food is cooked and prepared.
3. What are some dietary restrictions listed in the Bible for Gentiles (other Christians) to follow that most don’t?
Alaina: The biggest dietary restriction is when it comes to meat. The bible outlines in Acts 15 that Gentiles should abstain from eating blood, improperly slaughtered animals, and meat offered unto idols.
4. In addition to obeying God and honoring God with your diet, what’s some research you’ve found on the health benefits to abstaining from these foods?
Alaina: This is another misconception of Kashrut, many people think that the Kosher laws were given because of health reasons, for example it is healthier to abstain from eating pig, kosher slaughtering techniques make the meat better for you, and separating meat and dairy can be better for digestion, but although some health benefits are an added bonus to the kosher laws, this is not the reason for the Jewish dietary restrictions. Many of the laws of Kashrut have nothing to do with health reasons, for example, separating meat and dairy dishes in a kosher kitchen. We do not know why God has commanded us to observe many of the dietary restrictions, but we follow them because the Torah says so. There are many things that the Torah commands us to do, but we do not know why, and the kosher laws are one of them. But the most obvious reason God gave these laws are to set apart Israel from the nations. As Jews and believing Gentiles, we are called to be set apart from the world, and to model holiness. By following the laws of kashrut, we are elevating the mundane act of eating, and turning every meal into a religious ritual. We are constantly reminded that we are set apart when we adhere to a kosher diet, and we are reminded at every meal that we have made a commitment to God to demonstrate this holiness to the rest of the world.
5. In order to obey God with your diet, what’s a typical trip to the grocery store like?
Alaina: We have a kosher kitchen at home, and although grocery shopping can seem overwhelming at first, it is actually not that challenging once you get the hang of it. In a kosher kitchen, you separate meat and dairy, and have separate dishes for both meat and dairy products. One simple reason for this is that meat is associated with death because an animal was slaughtered and milk is associated with life because it nurtures the young. God throughout the Bible is pretty serious about the separation of life and death, so we Jews tend to take the separation of milk and dairy serious. Because the modern food industry has hidden ingredients in almost everything, the Rabbis have certified labels called “hechshers” on all products that are certified kosher. These labels will say if the product is categorized as “dairy,” “meat,” or “pareve,” which is is comprised of foods which are neither meat nor dairy and may therefore be eaten with either. When we go to the grocery store all items in a package needs to be certified, but you get to know the products pretty quick and which stores offer a greater variety of kosher products. For meat and dairy, these also need to be certified, the meat certification means that it has been slaughtered according to Jewish law. The certification on the dairy products ensures that it was not made with animal rennet, which is a popular bi-product in dairy products. Kosher meat is not available in all grocery stores, but Trader Joes and other specialty stores do offer kosher meat such as chicken and beef, and in larger cities like New York or Los Angeles you have kosher butchers which offer a greater variety of meats. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds do not need any certification on it and can be purchased at any grocery store.
6. How about when you eat out?
Alaina: Observant Jews will only eat at kosher restaurants, but we adhere to a more conservative approach to eating out at restaurants. Our first choice when dining out is to pick a kosher restaurant, and if none is available then we choose a vegetarian restaurant, but if we are at a non-kosher restaurant that serves meat we will choose a cold vegetarian option such as a salad.
7. How do you handle parties or other social settings involving food?
Alaina: Similarly as eating out, we would just stick to vegetarian options at a party or other social settings.
8. You mentioned in one of our previous conversations that the way you pray before each meal and for different types of food in front of you varies. Can you give me an example of each of these prayers?
Alaina: Sure! The Sages said that "one should not derive benefit from this world without first reciting a blessing." We make different blessings for the various kinds of food, for example a blessing for bread, fruit, vegetables, and wine. This blessing infuses the act of eating with a higher purpose, and an awareness that everything we have comes from our creator.
An example of a blessing is the blessing over bread, traditionally we say this blessing in Hebrew, but in English it can be translated as, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.”
9. Overall, how does following this type of diet affect your relationship with God?
Alaina: The kosher laws are a constant reminder that God has separated us Jews and believing gentiles from the nations, to be holy and to demonstrate this holiness to the rest of the world. Food is such a huge part of life, and by elevating this mundane act we are always reminded of God’s love and provision for us.
10. Overall, how does following this diet affect you physically?
Alaina: Eating Kosher does not necessarily mean that you have a healthy diet, I do notice that I eat healthier when I am out since I am limited with choices at restaurant’s, but besides keeping kosher I try and eat organic whenever I can and maintain a balanced diet with limited sugar and sweets.
11. Has there ever been a time that you did not adhere to this diet that you felt the physical effects afterward?
Alaina: Eating Kosher has been a process, since I did not grow up observing the laws of kashrut. At the beginning, I did not realize all the hidden meat or milk products in processed food, and I would find out something had meat byproducts after I consumed it. I would not feel physically sick after consuming something that was not kosher but it did make me realize that I had to pay closer attention to make sure that the products I am consuming is certified kosher.
12. Are there times that you wish you didn’t have to go through all of this hassle?
Alaina: There are times that I wish I could eat anything and not think about it. Most of the time it is just a way of life, and I am not bothered by it, but other times I do think life would be easier without the restrictions. At the end of the day though, I am very happy that God called me to a more observant life, and I would not change it for the world.
13. What motivates you to continue to live and eat this way?
Alaina: Although it is not always easy, I have made a commitment to my creator to observe the laws of Kashrut. Many people read about the kosher laws and are turned off by the strictness of it, but I find it liberating to know there is a guide to follow. Similarly to other Jewish laws and traditions, once you learn them and apply them to your life there is greater joy and freedom. I think of it like a parent setting rules for a toddler, it is out of love for the toddler, and within that framework that toddler has more freedom then if they did not have any rules or structure at all.
Beautifully said Alaina.
Having these types of conversations with different friends, on different journeys with food has brought me to a place of heightened awareness.
For one, it’s easy to judge people: when you see them indulging, when you see them abstaining; it’s easy to make assumptions, but everyone’s story is their own.
I often get asked if or when I’m going to be able to eat “normal” again.
To me, “normal” meant ignorant. Normal meant eating any and everything and not giving it a second thought. Normal meant not taking care of my body and not considering what God thought about this part of my life. With all of the research I’ve done, the questions I’ve asked, and the experimenting, I know I can’t ever go back. Sure, once some of my health issues resolve I may be able to have some foods that I can’t currently have, but I never intend to go back to that “normal.”
My new normal is this:
- Make healthy choices daily, eating mostly home cooked, clean meals
- Listen to my body and what it is craving (not in a sense of “gee, my body wants a donut so I’m going to go get a Boston Cream,” but rather listen when I feel I am craving protein or certain vegetables)
- Respect food and meal times, not racing through it (when possible) and always giving thanks to God
- Don't let my eating habits hinder others on their journey (Romans 14:13-23 & 1 Corinthians 8:13)
Maybe once this is all over I’ll write a cookbook, but for now, this next chapter for me will be less about food blogging and research and more about living out all of the ways God has called me to be set apart, and that includes food.