Before the days of glazed kitchenware, pathogens often took up residence in earthenware serving dishes, cultured by residual milk or cheese. Subsequently, storing or cooking meat in these same containers often gave diners nasty ailments. Some Semitic tribes must have divined this relationship because they wrote dietary, or, kashruth, laws (with gruesome examples) that forbade such combinations: “Thou shall not seethe a calf in its mother’s milk.” Kashruth means, literally, “fitness,” in Hebrew.
Growing up, my family chose to keep semi-kosher. This meant either milk meals or meat meals, among other things. It also meant no pork— another notoriously diseased meat during ancient times. However, in this day and age, the question arises: why does anyone still abide by such antiquated rules? Hello! We have Tupperware and refrigerators now.
As an instructor of college writing, I speak to my students about the importance of making choices as they flesh out their ideas during the drafting process. And when I return home from teaching with an eye to pursuing my own studies and writings I often find, instead, a phone bill, another bill I can’t account for, missed communiqué with friends and family, or any number of pressing responsibilities. I choose to attend to all these household tasks at the same time by way of cooking. The privilege of cooking my own meals bestows on me a moment of reflection. Cooking focuses my energies on my home and my relationships. After all, I have a family to call and an apartment with bills to pay, in the first place. Anybody who comes into my home gets fed. Cooking allows me to know my body and integrate its needs into my life.
I believe in the power of cooking what I eat. I believe in choosing what I cook. I believe in caramelizing onions, white wine reducing in a pan, garlic going sweet— cream of broccoli soup coming together. I believe in whole wheat toast and tangerines— quinoa and cabbage.
Cooking reminds me that one has sovereignty over a precious few aspects of one’s life.
As a result, deciding each and every day what I choose to put in my body fills me with gratitude, a feeling of safety, and blessing. Indeed, I frequently find myself pausing over steaming pasta and red sauce— stopping to give thanks for the food that sustains me. Less frequently do I catch myself praying over takeout.
Over the years, my personal dietary guidelines have grown more free-form and variable— guided more by modern day health considerations than by kashruth proscriptions. Nevertheless, these proscriptions taught me to make choices that fit me. In my belief, the cook controls the health and happiness— the fitness— of the whole household.
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