Food is one of life’s sensual pleasures. I celebrate the play of an endless variety of flavors and textures on my tongue. But it wasn’t until I spent a few months with my Orthodox ex-boyfriend that I realized that I believe in food.
We’d been friends for years until one day, at a buffet table, we joked about people thinking we were dating. And we admitted we’d both been thinking about it.
We’re both Jewish, we even occasionally go to the same religious services. But he’s strictly observant – he keeps Shabbat, the sabbath, and he keeps strictly kosher. He won’t eat anything cooked in a non-kosher kitchen – or restaurant.
I revel in food. Friends and I have a restaurant club to go out and taste new Boston venues. But suddenly, shockingly, I had a boyfriend who couldn’t go out to restaurants with me. He couldn’t even eat at my house, because I don’t look for a rabbinic seal of approval on the food I buy.
Instead, we cooked – at his house. We’d fry up tofu and vegetables, ad-lib sauce for pasta. We covered our hands in sticky fruit juice for mango and black beans. He said he’d rarely eaten so well.
But I missed sharing other food experiences with him. I thought about visiting a close friend and how she wouldn’t be able to cook him her Armenian crusty rice. I regretted that I couldn’t introduce him to the salty sweet vegetarian kibbeh at my favorite Middle Eastern hole-in-the-wall.
Then I started to think about traveling. I’ve sipped soup with Thai monks, dived into a hot fish taco with Mexican fisherman. How would we travel together?
I began to worry about kids. What if we got married, and what if he didn’t want our kids to eat at my friends’ houses?
Months passed, and we discussed our religious differences – food among them. Finally, he said he had to end it. He looked into the future, and he wasn’t willing to take on the struggles ahead.
Dating my ex made me examine the ways in which I’m willing to compromise. I already limit by diet by choice, both for religious and other personal reasons. It’s not always easy. I can practically taste the rich aroma of my friend’s favorite lamb dish at a local Mediterranean restaurant. After a week in Madrid, the rosy glow of cured ham tempts like a beacon from its premium spot on the wall of my favorite tapas joint.
And yet there’s still flexibility within these restrictions. It gives me an opening to the world. I can eat anywhere, even if my options are limited. I know I’ll share this experience with a life partner. We’ll teach our children that they can wander the world freely. They can experience the tastes of different cultures and the joy of new friends from any background.
The relationship’s end left me sad. I understand that Judaism forms the basis of his life. And it’s certainly crucial in mine. But by dating him, I learned that my decision to approach food with greater flexibility isn’t based on an addiction to restaurants. It’s part of my belief system, as much a part of it as being Jewish. I savor the freedom of being able able to sit down with anyone, anywhere, and break bread.
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