My boyfriend is the one of the greatest men in the entire world. Seriously, I can’t believe how lucky I got with him. He’s handsome, hysterically funny, brilliant, kind to everyone, and a great communicator. Best of all, he loves me like crazy and isn’t afraid to show it.
Also, he keeps kosher. This means he doesn’t eat pork, shellfish, fish without fins and scales, meat and dairy together.
Though I’m also Jewish, as a professional food writer, I place an almost religious value on trying all foods at least once. I consider it my duty as a culinary professional to embrace all foods and to try to at least understand them. He, while also a lover of food and cooking, chooses to eat mostly pescatarian, “cheating” maybe once a week with kosher meat (usually when I roast a chicken on Friday nights).
When we first got together two years ago, I was a little bit concerned about our different approaches to eating. Was he really not going to join me for Sunday morning pork buns and dumplings? Would late-night cheeseburgers really not be a part of this relationship? Who would I eat lobster rolls with on my annual summertime trip to Boston? Would I have to keep kosher too?
As it turns out, it’s not a big deal at all. At home, we eat mostly vegetarian. When we go out, I get whatever I want, and so does he. We respect one another’s food choices, and know our love has little to do with what the other decided to order for dinner.
But dammit if other people don’t have a lot of opinions about it.
“But what if you have children?” an acquaintance wanted to know. “Are you really willing to raise your kids in a home without bacon?” Wait, remind me why I am faced with choosing between eating bacon and having hypothetical children with the man I love? Is this some warped version of "The Hunger Games"?
Or, “You know you’re going to have to start keeping kosher if you guys get married, right?” Oh, right. I forgot about that ancient law that states that married people have to start eating the same thing, all times, always. Do we also have to start dressing alike and speaking a secret twin language?
Or my favorite, “Do you think it bothers him when you eat shrimp in front of him?” No. I think it bothers him when I listen to Taylor Swift in front of him.
What strikes me the most, however, is not the outrageously presumptuous, unsolicited opining about the culinary and cultural intricacies of my relationship. Rather, it’s the increasingly common trend of people comfortably and outwardly judging of others for what they do or do not choose to eat.
We live in a world with a lot of food choices. And with every choice (Kosher! Vegan! Paleo! Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian! Macrobiotic! Cheese-on-Everything-ism!) you’ll find passionate devotees willing to go to bat for their food “team.” And you know what: if you love the way you eat, that’s fine. It’s wonderful, in fact. We should all be so lucky as to love the way we eat. What’s not fine is judging others for how they eat – because, chances are, you don’t know the whole story behind their choices.
We all have our own complex relationships with food—so rare is a necessity for living also the source of so much pleasure, or in some cases, so much pain. Food is one of the first things we develop preferences for or against as children. It’s almost always associated with love in one way or another. Food is at weddings, baptisms, bar mitzvahs. Food is at funerals. For some, food is an addiction. It can be a medium for acting out deep, painful internal emotions.
Food can be costly, and specialty and organic foods tend to almost always be expensive—sometimes prohibitively so. Often, the way one chooses to eat is a direct reflection of their finances.
Everybody (and every body) is different.
Is that kale organic?
Oh, you’re still eating gluten?
White bread? Really?
When we comment with judgment about what’s on someone else’s plate, we’re also (inadvertent though it may be) commenting on a whole lot more.
Plus, food is so much more delicious when you aren’t on the defensive.