I grew up keeping strictly kosher, both inside the home and out. My husband, on the other hand, grew up eating pretty much everything from shellfish to pork. These days, we work hard to maintain a kosher household, but do not keep kosher outside the home. For me, that means sticking to vegetarian items, but for my husband, it means all bets are off. And I don’t have a problem with that.
But a friend raised an interesting question a few years back when she observed that although I freely admit to not keeping kosher outside the home, she’s yet to witness me eat anything other than dairy and vegetables in a restaurant setting. “So what are you guys going to do if you have a kid?” she asked. “Will he follow Mommy’s rules, or Daddy’s rules?”
We didn’t really give it much thought until about a year ago, when our then 1-year-old moved up to the toddler room at our daycare center and became eligible for free breakfast and lunch. The idea of not having to pack up two meals on a daily basis was enough to convince me to go for it. However, when I casually mentioned this to my mother, her initial response went something like this: “But have you seen the menu? And just how unkosher is it?”
I had, in fact, seen the menu, and lo and behold, it featured delicacies such as cheeseburgers and turkey-cheddar tacos–items never to be featured in our kitchen but ones I was certain my little guy would enjoy. So I had a choice: I could continue to send in my own food daily, or I could accept the gift of less hassle and prep work by opting for the daycare’s menu. (Incidentally, the center does not serve any pork or seafood products, so I knew his early exposure to the glorious world of treif would be limited to the meat and cheese combo at best.)
In the end, I chose the latter and I don’t regret it. You see, my 2-year-old son is a bit of a foodie. He’ll basically eat anything from hummus to guacamole to spicy chicken curry. He loves vegetables and fruit (and gets plenty of those both at home and at daycare), and while he certainly has moments of pickiness, he’s a really good eater overall. To me, that’s the most important thing–that he get a good balance of vitamins and nutrients and proteins and carbs, and whatever else it takes to nicely top off the ever changing food pyramid. Plus, I want him to enjoy eating, and to be able to do it socially without feeling different or limited.
But there’s another hidden agenda at play here. I’m also hoping he’ll eventually appreciate the culinary and cultural divide between keeping kosher inside the home and being more liberal in outside dining spaces. Because yes, I’ll admit it: You probably won’t catch me eating a cheeseburger any time soon. And I know the thought of her grandson chomping on turkey-cheddar tacos is enough to make my mother lose her appetite.
I think experiencing food that is non-kosher will eventually help my son appreciate the nuances of keeping kosher rather than resent the notion like so many do. And perhaps, when he’s old enough to make the choice for himself, he’ll decide that he’d rather limit his non-kosher intake to dairy and vegetarian options like his mama. Or, maybe he’ll be like his father and indulge in seafood marinara from time to time without any associated guilt whatsoever. I have no idea. All I know is that right now, the food he eats makes him happy–even if it’s not as kosher as my mother would like.