Monday, March 19, 2007

Turkey Sandwich

I've finally decided to faced the fact that we are a mere two weeks from Passover. The more ambitious of my tribe have been cleaning, scrubbing, and planning for weeks while I've merrily had my head in the sand. The friend who normally prods me into action as we plan our shared family seder is no longer speaking to me, so I've been a state of denial and realize that I'm going to have to make it happen without her which is both overwhelming and quite sad.

I made the initial crosstown trek to the one Albertson's store that carries all the kosher-for-Pesach items and bought the initial round of supplies including 10 pounds of matzah and the nasty kosher marshmallows that my kids seem to find a reasonable compensation for a week without bread, pasta, tortillas, cereal, and crackers. I've never understood th attraction of the marshmallows but they keep the kids happy.

I was feeling generous and decided to splurge a bit and buy The Dark Lord some flesh. While we have the requisite two sets of dishes (more actually) and all the cookware and what have you to enable us to cook and serve separate meat and dairy meals, meat is rarely seen in our house. I'm just not much of a meat cook, mostly because there's not a whole lot of meat I like. I did order 5lb of beef brisket which, when cooked according to my grandmother's recipe, really isn't meat at all as it melts in the mouth..."like buttah". I'll pick that up next week and cook it to serve my family midweek when the post-seder grumbling begins.

But today I bought the kid a pound of sliced kosher turkey so he could make a bunch of sandwiches and grow a few more inches. I can only buy this stuff at the one store across town so it's a bit of an occasion but I was happy to get the kid his much loved meat. He hoovered down a couple of sandwiches this afternoon and was eating the turkey once again when I came home from work this evening. I noticed that he had his meat sandwich on a dairy plate and was pointing out the error when I realized that he'd also put a bunch of cheese on his turkey sandwich. Now, mixing up plates I can understand. We eat meat so rarely that it's not uncommon to reach for the default (dairy) plates but someone usually remembers. But it's rather hard to accidentally put cheese your turkey sandwich. When I asked him about it, what I heard was something along the lines of "the rules are stupid, I can eat whatever I want, and I'm not even Jewish anyway".

Whew. It felt like one of those handle-this-correctly-or-you're toast parenting moments. I tried to stay calm which wasn't easy while The Spouse (who, I'll just add here, isn't even Jewish) tossed the whole $6.50/lb turkey sandwich in the trash which rather ticked off both The Dark Lord and myself as I was busy trying to determine my best response.

I know I can't force my kid to be Jewish. I can't (nor do I want to) tell him how he has to be Jewish. But it doesn't seem unreasonable to me that he be expected to respect the rules of this house. We keep kosher. Not by Chabad standards, but biblical kashrut is an important part of my keeping a Jewish home and it's been that way since The Dark Lord was tiny. I have no idea why he wanted to flaunt the rules so blatantly tonight. I kept trying to imagine what he hoped to accomplish with that turkey and cheddar sandwich. Why was it so important to him? And to me?

Judaism and I have a complex relationship and I tend to move in and out of my need for traditional observance. Sometimes I attend services regularly and other times I just can't be bothered. Sometimes I am bowled over by the wisdom and beauty of Jewish ritual and sometimes I think it's all hooey and I'd rather just knit. I've had periods when I examine the mitzvot (commandments) in great detail and try to increase my level of observance and other times I dig deep and realize that I can't in good conscience participate.

But the thing is, kashrut is easy. My friends who have more liberal diets will think I'm crazy for saying so, but really, it's easy once you get the hang of it. And it's concrete. There are things Jews don't eat and there are ways that Jews don't eat. There's nothing inherently wrong with shrimp or bacon or cheeseburgers--we just don't eat them. I don't have to dither around about what's permitted or how I can justify something. The food is either kosher or it isn't. And every time I choose the hechshered sour cream over the one with gelatin, every time I order the only vegetarian dish in a restaurant, every time I drive across town for kosher meat then I'm making choices that affirm my Judaism. At least that's what I've always thought.

I've always been squeamish about meat. I can't really choke it down unless I block out images of dead animals. Kashrut requires separate meat and dairy meals--you make one or the other. I like to say that I'll take butter over meat any day, but really I find it rather nasty to cook and eat meat so 99% of the time we eat dairy or vegan around here. We're always told that kosher slaughter is more humane but in the end, the cow is still dead and probably isn't able to distinguish between the relative merits of a bolt to the skull or a sharp knife to the throat.

Today as the man in the kosher deli sliced up my Rubashkin turkey I couldn't help but think of all the horror stories I've read about the kosher meat processing plants. It's bad enough that the meat's not sustainably raised and that the animals likely don't have much of a life before slaughter. It's also very likely that the meat was processed by exploited laborers who work a miserable, dangerous job for shockingly low pay. And my buying this "kosher" meat perpetuates all of this. What, I wonder, is Jewish about that?

So in the end all I could really do is talk to The Dark Lord about respecting his parents by respecting house rules which, if you know your ten commandments falls under number five. That teen bravado that's been flexing its muscles backed down pretty quickly. He couldn't say it or anything, but I knew he was sorry when he started baking cookies and brought me the first fruits of his labors.

1 comment:

PhilCLiberal said...

I believe that the proscription is, "thou shalt not seethe a calf in its mother's milk". I haven't seen, "thou shalt not seeth a turkey in its mother's milk". I'm puzzled.