I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood in Toronto, and attended Jewish schools from when I was fresh out of the womb until I graduated high school in 2015. I grew up in a pretty traditional family who followed Conservative Judaism, a fairly moderate denomination with a relatively strict following of the laws of kashrut, or kosher. When I made the decision to keep kosher in university, I was totally unaware of what it would teach me. 

The Basics

meat, fish, seafood, pork, barbecue
Christin Urso

According to kosher dietary laws, mammals require certain identifying characteristics and must be killed in a very specific way. Also, dairy and meat products cannot be eaten together. Most of my life, it was easy to stay Kosher because I just ate vegetarian at restaurants or ate meat at home–mostly on Jewish holidays and special occasions. Many traditional Ashkenazi, or Eastern European, Jewish foods contain meat and dairy, making them a very regular part of my diet growing up. 

When I started school at Queen's University in the fall of 2015, I was nervous about new classes, meeting new people, residence life, and living 300 kilometres away from home: all the usual first-year jitters. But added to my list of concerns was the constant ruminating thought of what I was going to do about my diet. Living at home where basically of all my meals were prepared by my amazing chef-of-a-mom made being kosher a million times easier. But being kosher at university posed a new set of challenges. I worried what my parents and grandparents would think if I were to tell them that I broke my lifelong bacon-free diet.

Choices, Choices

organic fruit, Organic, salad, cabbage, fruit aisle, Vegetables, lettuce, Green, veggies, juice, mango, watermelon, vegetable aisle, Whole Foods Market
Shelby Cohron

I made the choice to at least try to eat according to my restrictions, and take it day by day. Eventually, I found that this was a way of actually preventing the freshman 15, as I was forced to eat more vegetables and less pizza as a result of my newfound lactose intolerance. Even with all the challenges of being Kosher at school, I found that there were also practical benefits. 

pepperoni, crust, pizza
Makaiyla Dell

But keeping kosher isn't just about the foods one may or may not eat. There are also many rules about preparation and consumption. There are waiting periods of varying length between meat and dairy food consumption. There are blessings to be said both before and after dining. In other words, keeping kosher in university is a detail-oriented process and one that requires a pretty serious commitment.

From Generation to Generation

bread, dairy product, vegetable, soup, cream
Madison Mounty

The structure of this somewhat exhausting practice can promote mindfulness and heightened awareness about where, what, and how a person eats. And for many, myself included, that mindfulness creates a greater appreciation for my traditions and my heritage. 

As annoying as it can sometimes be to not be able to eat poutine with friends after a long night out, making the conscious choice to be kosher in university serves as a reminder of who I am and where I come from. It is a reminder of the traditions of my family and the traditions of my people that expand more than 200 generations into the past. My grandmother always reminds me that it's a custom passed on from generation to generation, or in Hebrew, L'dor vaDor, amongst Jews all around the world. Keeping kosher is certainly a challenge sometimes, but its importance to me far outweighs the small sacrifices.