The passing of Passover, with its dietary rules, has got me thinking again about something that I read when I first got back here from Hawaii. Last fall, I had gotten a book called Food for the Soul: Traditional Jewish Wisdom for Healthy Eating, but hadn't yet had a chance to read it, so I picked it up in the wee hours of my jet lag.
Before going on, let me interrupt myself to give a little background for those of you who aren't familiar with the kosher laws and what they mean. Observant Jews have a lot of rules of about what and how to eat: though I am not Orthodox, when Carol and I moved to our apartments in Watertown, we decided to keep our home kosher, partly as a way of connecting with our traditions and exploring what they might mean, and partly as a way to organize our life, which is spread out over three units on two separate floors of the building (hey, it sounds crazy, but it works!). Two of the main rules of keeping kosher are not eating pork or shellfish and not mixing meat and dairy products. And then, of course, there is the whole prohibition against leavened grain products (and anything that might remind you of such products) during Passover.
Truth be told, I don't find most of this a problem, despite all my various issues about deprivation. While my family did not keep kosher when I was a child, it was definitely kosher style, and I simply never got into the habit of eating pork products or shell fish, and when I tried them later on, I simply didn't like them, except for bacon, but I'm just as happy eating the vegetarian version of that. The meat and cheese thing is a little more of a sacrifice, but most of the time I don't have a problem with that either. And I quite happily trade in my bread and pasta for matzo during the week of Passover. No big deal. I just do it and don't usually feel deprived at all.
So in Food for the Soul there was a chapter about eating for good health where the author likened the act of making healthy choices about what to eat to following the laws of kashrut. She said that just as an observant Jew would not allow herself to be tempted or pressured to eat a bacon cheeseburger but simply and matter-of-factly say "no, thank you," a healthy, mindful eater could use that same, matter-of-fact discipline to decline second helpings or overlarge portions, etc.
Reading this was a revelation to me. In my efforts to combat the evil effects of deprivation and too much diet mentality thinkiing, I had been feeling that the answer for me was somehow going to involve only being extremely mindful of what I wanted and needed rather than having to impose any sort of discipline. I had already been thinking beyond that notion, as I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts (Pathology or Punishment - Part Two), due to some gastrointestinal issues, but it wasn't until I read the passage in Food for the Soul that I really understood something about what this might really mean on a day-to-day basis. It was just a glimmer, but I get the feeling that there is something to be learned here.
Interestingly, this is the first Passover in as long as I can remember by the end of which I wasn't absolutely longing for some of the "forbidden" foods. Perhaps because I was trying to be so much more mindful of my bodily needs during the week, especially during my illness, perhaps because I was feeling so much calmer about food in general, when the holiday ended last night, I just ate some more matzo and cheese and went to sleep, ate some more matzo for breakfast this morning, and then for lunch made some salmon, boiled potatoes and spinach, all of which would have been perfectly acceptable on a Passover table. We did some shopping on the way home from an evening with grandchildren so now have "normal" food in the house, but there was really no urgency about it. Usually I'd have been longing for pizza or a doughnut or ice cream or something on the prohibited list. That seems significant also, though again, I'm not exactly sure of the specifics yet.
Have I reached some sort of turning point? Maybe. Or maybe I'm just sojourning in a calm, lovely valley before I get to the next mountain. Whatever this landscape is, I'm enjoying it.
A hui hou.