Have you ever cringed at the thought of having a large roast ham at the center of your Thanksgiving table? Or realized that your mom would never put cheese on your turkey sandwiches growing up and wondered what that was about? Well I definitely did. And I love pork ribs and have never even remotely ever thought (not even a little inkling of a thought) about keeping Kosher (nor was I raised in an even remotely Kosher household) so I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I even contemplate eating a delicious ham at the center of my meal without getting chills of discomfort? And why did I feel the incredible urge to always take the cheese off my turkey hoagies but not my tuna hoagies?
This was all terribly concerning to me… until I started talking about it. The more I talked to other Jews the more I realized I wasn’t alone. There was something uniquely pervasive about certain foods, habits and styles of eating and cooking that straddled all of our unique Jewish-nesses. I like to call it the “Kosher Threshold.”
Everyone has a different iteration of this phenomenon. My friend has no problem with eating all the shrimp in the world, but will literally gag at the thought of a slab of bacon or sausage. Kosher threshold. My coworker who was raised Kosher grew up absolutely sure that pork fried rice was totally fine to eat. Kosher threshold. My mom yelled at me the other day for roasting a 5lb pork shoulder. The 2lb pot roast we made last week “sounded delicious” but when I said we were roasting 5lbs… 5lbs of pork is her Kosher threshold.
But this idea of a Kosher threshold I think holds so much more than funny family anecdotes and quirky food issues. I think the idea of Kosher threshold embodies the unspoken and often overlooked connection that we as American Jews share with our ancestors. It’s easy to think because I am obsessed with bacon ice cream that my eating habits are in no way connected to the generations that came before me. Yet every time I nonsensically pick the cheese off my turkey sandwich, I’m connecting with my mom who did that, who was connecting with her mom who would never dream to eat cheese and turkey sandwiches because of her mother and her grandmother and so on as far back as anyone can remember.
Residing in all of our subconscious is a historical guide to our culture that we don’t even realize affects the way we live our lives (because literally 99.7% of life revolves around food) but does so every single day.
And that’s pretty damn cool.