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Kitchen Warrior

Monday, August 20, 2012
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Dear Miriam,

I want to have a kosher kitchen, but I don't know if this is the best option for me. One major issue is that my culturally Jewish boyfriend grew up with a non-kosher kitchen and is intent on keeping all things religious at bay. He already agreed to have separate pots, pans, dishes and cutlery for meat and dairy, but things are a bit more ambiguous in terms of other utensils. Even under our current system, he mixes up the pans and cutlery all the time. Also, all the meat things are his, since I am "Jewish vegetarian" and eat only dairy, pareve and fish. We've had this arrangement for two years and he doesn't want to complicate his eating habits any further.

Recently, I've stumbled across the difficulty of sharing dishes within a more traditional community, where paper plates and utensils need to be used to accommodate my food. Since I am vegetarian, is it practical or possible to have a part kosher kitchen for me, and leave all the meat stuff for the non-kosher meals my boyfriend eats by himself? Or should I be happy with the arrangement that I already have and not worry about monitoring his cooking?

Signed,
Kitchen Warrior

Dear Warrior,

It's a noble ambition to want to grow in your observance and have a kitchen that is considered kosher by more traditional standards. It's also noble of your boyfriend to accommodate your practice and transform his own cooking habits based on your needs. I think it helps to separate the issues here, so first, let's talk about you and your boyfriend's kitchen, and then we'll talk about sharing dishes with a more traditional community.

When my husband and I met, one of the first things he learned about me was that having a kosher kitchen was (and is) a priority to me. Though that's not how he grew up, he knew kashrut would be part of the deal of getting involved with me. If your boyfriend knew from the beginning that kashrut was important to you and now is starting to regret what he got himself into, then that's the stuff of serious relationship talks. If kashrut has become more important to you during the course of your relationship, then, while that's certainly your right, it's worth taking a step back to realize how much you're asking another person to change his habits to accommodate your changing priorities.

In terms of the kitchen itself, the first, hopefully simple, solution, is to label everything that has a designation as either meat, dairy or pareve. There are great stickers you can get for just this purpose. Some people also choose a color scheme for dishes, such as red for meat, blue for dairy and green for pareve. I've also seen people use strategic swatches of colored duct tape. Another option is to invest in glass dishes and metal for everything else. You can eat meat and dairy off of glass (though not at the same time), and pots and utensils that are pure metal can be kashered in boiling water if there's a mix-up. Then, at least, it won't be such a big deal if things get confused. A final option, which is what you seem to suggest, but I'm not entirely sure I advocate, is for you to have your own set of everything, and your boyfriend to have his own set. When you cook, you can adhere to your level of kashrut. When he cooks, he can do as he pleases and you can decide whether or not to eat what he makes, though that seems like it takes some of the joy out of living together.

If you decide you want a more traditional kosher kitchen because it's really important to you, then you should do it, and that last option will probably be the best way to make it work as long as you and your boyfriend share a kitchen. But, if the only motivation for wanting a strictly kosher kitchen is to accommodate others, then I'm not sure it's the right move, especially if it doesn't accommodate the person with whom you share your love and your home. Certainly there's precedence for people keeping their kitchens to certain standards to accommodate community standards (and it's a motivation for many of my own kashrut choices), but given the circumstances you describe, I'm not sure that's reason enough.

Perhaps when you go to potlucks, you could prepare marvelous salads or other cold dishes that don't require cooking and thus are less affected by rules of kashrut. Or maybe you could keep one pot as your "strictly kosher potluck" cooking vessel. You could store it separately from everything else and only use it when you know it's the only way to have your dish fully included. You could also ask to cook in other people's kitchens on occasion so that you can prepare food in a way that you know will adhere to these other standards.

Whatever decision you make, be sure to include your boyfriend in some part of the process. Even if he doesn't care or is even suspicious of the religious aspects, what you decide will affect him directly, and he needs to know what you're considering. Keeping kosher can feel like a constant exercise in obsessiveness, but "monitoring" your boyfriend's cooking on a daily basis is a recipe for both an unkosher kitchen and an unhappy relationship.

Be well,
Miriam

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