Chowhoundery and kashrut
- Alan Divack
The thread a little while back on whether or why corn syrup was or wasn't kosher for passover (see the link below) got me to thinking about the relationship between chowhounding and the Jewish dietary laws. I noted the large number of chowhounds who eat the most treyf of foods year round, yet try to keep some level of kashrut on passover (myself included). At first, there would seem to be not much in common. Although there is a kosher thread on these boards, it is by far the least active, and for obvious reasons. Although there is some excellent kosher food to be had, the search for authentic tastes, often from alien cultures, is hard to reconcile with dietary laws based in many ways on purity and separateness. (My grandfather's rabbi used to assert that kashrut was the most important mitzvah, since only it could maintain the Jewish people in the face of assimilation.) Although Judaism might assert universal moral standards, this universalism does not extend to what you put in your mouth --far from it!
However, I think that there is a link between chowhounding and kashrut, and that this is to be found in obsession about food. I know that the party line is that the dietary laws teach you that you eat to live, but should not live to eat. However, to keep the laws properly, you have to be mightily concerned about food, and down to the minutest detail. This translates into an obsession that with food, a concern that things should be done just right, and I think that this translates rather easily into chowhounding once the strict observance of the commandments has fallen by the wayside. Rather than being vigilant about the rigor with which those who prepare food follow religious guidelines, we chowhounds have substituted an obsessive search for the finest and most authentic tastes. Chowhounds also want things just right, only the standards are different.
The end is different, but I don't think that the habits of mind are all that different. Any thoughts?
1st off, I regard "kosher" as religious but following the Passover rules as culture/tradition. Judaism gets so complex because many follow it culturally while being atheist.
2nd, I don't know that the link between kashrut and chowhounds holds much water because any culture becomes very specific about the exact way to prepare food. Just read Marcella Hazan's recipe for pesto: she insists that you can't really make it without the basil that grows on the hillsides in Genoa, because the constant salty sea breeze effects the flavor, also that a morter and pestle is the only way to crush the basil but use a blender "if you must".