Giving Up Treif Food with Unexpected Ease

By Larry Lennhoff

For years before I began my journey I was a non-observant bachelor living in Boston. One of my hobbies was eating out. I didn’t like to cook, and had no relatives or other people with whom to share meals, so I ate out a LOT. My definition of dining in (which I rarely did) was to get to-go food from some restaurant and bring it home.

20 years of this and you build up quite a repertoire of restaurants. There were literally dozens of restaurants where I could go and recognize and be recognized by the wait staff. If my friends wanted to know where to go for Mongolian-Thai fusion cooking, I was recognized as the authority. If you asked me for directions, you were likely to get a response in the form ‘Go down Cambridge street until a block past Colleen’s, then turn left at the Pu Pu Hot Pot and continue until you reach the light with the J.P. Lick’s on the corner….

This continued to a lessened extent even when after I met my wife. We soon started becoming more observant. One place she stayed well ahead of me was keeping kosher outside the home. I wasn’t sure I could ever give it up completely. Lose the ever growing, ever shifting panoply of exotic foreign foods for metro Boston’s meager selection of half a dozen kosher restaurants? With the majority those located 45 minutes away by car?

Finally a day came when I unexpected had to make the plunge. No last grand farewell tour, no lingering over a final selection of my favorite dishes, not even a chance to order my one-of-a-kind specialty sandwich from Flossie at the local Friendly’s. I was instantly going full kosher outside the house, if you will excuse the expression, cold turkey. 20 years plus of investing myself in the metro Boston restaurant scene, gone in an instant.

It was easy. I was stunned – since that day I have never eaten non-kosher food at a treife restaurant. I feel pangs of nostalgia, but I’ve never even been seriously tempted to go back and try one last kung pao chi ding.

Here is the takeaway lesson I learned. How many other flaws and habits that I think are a basic part of who I am could I break if I only went out and tried? We all know Hashem gave us free will, and we all know the strength of the Yetzer Harah, but I think we sometime forget that we have a Yetzer Hatov as well. If you are just are willing to trust it and take the plunge, you too may be surprised at just how easy it is.

14 comments on “Giving Up Treif Food with Unexpected Ease

  1. This blog and the comments are absolutely fascinating! A dermatologist told me to avoid all shellfish, as the iodine would aggravate my eczema. I have stopped eating Chinese food regardless of whether it is kosher or treif, as I have diverticulitis.

    My kitchen is not yet kosher and I still eat in treif restaurants, but in time I will get to where all of you are. I just know it. (My spouse is less observant than I am, but he gets and A-plus for his efforts and respect toward my level of observance.)

  2. My husband is a chef and we were HUGE foodies, eating at all the new restaurants, etc. so we were very slow in taking on kashrut. We started with p@rk, then shellfish, but because we loved sushi so much, we gave ourselves what we called an “e#l exception.” After we came home from our first trip to Israel, we decided to give up on the exception, but we wanted to do a farewell visit to our favorite sushi restaurant. I told our rebbetzin my plan and she said, “Would you skip the e@l if someone gave you a million dollars?” “Yes, I guess so, ” I replied. “Well, your reward will be substantially more than that in olam haba if you skip the e@l.” Somehow, we never got around to making it out for e@l sushi again…

    Once I got pregnant, the same rebbetzin gave me a few words of wisdom about the growing neshama inside me and we haven’t eaten treif since.

  3. By the same token, when they want to go out for a team lunch non-kosher at other times, I respectfully decline and they are okay with that too.

    I actually have had a very easy time integrating my religious life with my worklife, and I realize I’m fortunate to have employers open to diversity.
    I work in an area that does not have a “nice” kosher restaurant, although there is a cafeteria style place with good food. When my boss takes the 5 of us out once in December (the last 2 years), whoever picks the restaurant verifies that they’ll let me bring in food, and my boss (or everyone) first walks with me to the kosher place for a take-out meal which he pays for – he says he’s taking us ALL out.

    I have also had an easy time with the integration thing, Shabbos, food, etc. I’ve found that it works best when you don’t sound apologetic, just willing to make the big picture fit everyone’s needs, e.g. come in early every day in exchange for leaving early Fridays, whatever.

  4. Shalom Charnie and Bob,

    You both make excellent points.

    I try to make sure I don’t imply there is anything “disgusting” or “abominable” about the food my colleagues are eating, and G-d forbid they should have the impression I think their food is “dirty” or “impure.”

    My view about waterbugs is for Your Eyes Only. ;-D

    I try to make it very clear that it has to do with Jewish law and applies to Jews only. For instance, when I try to explain why I can only have products with hechsures on them, I tell them as an example that animal products in a food will make it “meaty” and that we can’t mix meat with dairy.

    I have the whole crew scouting for hechsures on my behalf.

    You know, what otherwise could have been a very thorny and difficult situation (introducing my fanaticism about kashruth to my colleagues), has actually been a very positive experience and a learning for all.

    Matter of fact, every year for the last three years, my team of seven workmates has insisted on going out for a “seasonal lunch” in December, courtesy of the boss. “Seasonal lunch” is their term out of respect for me, but I don’t get too hung up on labels.

    Anyway, every year since we started doing this, they’ve been adamant that it be held at a kosher restaurant. They know I wouldn’t go otherwise. I tell them I’m perfectly happy staying back answering phones and they should go and enjoy themselves at whatever restaurant they want, but they won’t hear of it.

    So we go to the nicest kosher restaurants in town. :-)

    I know it feels a little weird to them, but they get to see that kosher food isn’t alien food and the fine dining is just as fine as what they are used to.

    It’s a very cool experience.

    By the same token, when they want to go out for a team lunch non-kosher at other times, I respectfully decline and they are okay with that too.

    I actually have had a very easy time integrating my religious life with my worklife, and I realize I’m fortunate to have employers open to diversity.

    I’d love to hear what others’ experiences have been.


  5. A food ought to be disgusting to us when it’s referred to in Chumash as an abomination (sheketz). What’s the problem in saying exactly that among ourselves? A thing can have a valid purpose in the world (food for other than Jews might be one such purpose) and still have a reason to be disgusting to us.

  6. Leah, your story reminds me of another, ineveitable, BT experience. It’s called “when our kids come home from Yeshiva and teach us stuff we didn’t know”. In this case, it was my daughter, who attended BY, who told us that her Morah said we’re not allowed to say a food (they were using pork in their example) is disguisting, because it was created by Hashem, it is not forbidden to anyone except us. And Hashem would not create disguisting foods – He just give us the mitzvahs to avoid them.

    During the 9 Days I had mock “shrimp with lobster sauce”. At this point in time I have no clue whether it tastes like the real thing, but I did enjoy it (and in fact, I wish the Chinese places carried their 9 day menu all year).

  7. Shalom all,

    I did a farewell tour too without realizing it at the time. I had no thoughts of becoming religious when I used to eat out frequently at my favourite Chinese buffet.

    For about a year or two before I started on the road to becoming frum, I’d chow down almost weekly on tons of buttery cr*b l*gs and l*bst*r, and five different styles of shr*mp, never having had a scintilla of a notion that I was ingesting creepy crawly abominations. I’m sure I ate an ocean’s worth in that last year.

    Then came the day I decided to eat kosher only and BAM, it was the last time I ate the bottom-feeding scavengers or even looked at them without being nauseated. Water bugs, that’s what they are! Not to mention how disgusting it is to think of dropping a live l*bst*er into a pot of boiling water. Barbarism!!!

    In retrospect, it was a farewell tour, and definitely fun while it lasted.

    The other day we had a business lunch at work. I brought in my kosher lunch and my colleagues ordered in Thai. They ate at a big round table where we hold our meetings, and I ate at my desk.

    I don’t eat at the same table as them as a rule anyway, unless there is a birthday and they’re having a cake and I’m having my little kosher cupcakes. But in this case, I couldn’t stand being even within a foot of the table, having gotten a gander at the coconut shrimp. Yuck!

    In Vayikra, Hashem tells us that ocean-dwelling bottom-feeders are to be an abomination to us, and so they are!

    This reminds me of one of my most embarrassing BT moments related to food. One of my other favourite non-kosher dishes was p*rk souvlaki dripping with (dairy) cucumber yogurt sauce. Mmmmmm. It was hard to give that up.

    One day I was chatting with a friend at a chasuneh. I had to leave before the seudah because I was in mourning, and I mentioned that my husband was going to be bringing me dinner — a chicken shishkabob sandwich from a nearby kosher eatery. Without thinking, I called it pork souvlaki, cuz that’s what it looked like. Youch! I stumbled around like a flopping fish trying to get out of that one.

    She understood, knowing I was a relatively recent graduate from the ranks of the assimilated. But talk about embarrassing! =:-O


  8. Hi Larry, well said! One of the things I love about israel is that you can have it all, or close too it. While not everything in Jerusalem is Kosher a high enough precentage of places are that I can once again feel like I don’t have to keep saying “NO”.

  9. Great article. My experience was similar, although I did do a short farewell tour, hitting my three favorite non-kosher restaurants. I had to end with Wendy’s as I had worked there for 3-4 years during high school and college, and there was a lot of sentimental feelings for me there (not really food related, but friends and experiences that I learned from while working there).

  10. Larry, your article brought back a similiar experience I had, which I’ll share here.

    I was very gradually trying to increase observance, initially by eliminating outright treif (cheeseburgers, BLT’s, etc.), and was now trying to make the next jump – to kosher meat only. However, the lone holdout was my love of Chinese food, and I was a regular at the Chinese takeout place near my house.

    One evening I stopped to pick up my regular order. Now, in maybe 15+ years of ordering from this establishment, I’d never once gotten sick. However, this particular evening I got violent stomach cramps. Figuring that this must be a “message from Hashem”, I stopped eating treif Chinese then and there.

  11. I had a boss once (from India) who was a serious chain smoker. One day, his doctor showed him his lung x-rays, explaining all the damage done. He stopped smoking instantly, permanently.

  12. Hi Larry,
    This article was GREAT! I didn’t know you were a budding author! I loved the way you articulated your experience. I will pass it along to other people who are having the same struggles. We miss you around here.
    Dvora Green
    Chabad of Westboro, MA

  13. Thank you for making this excellent point.

    I have had the same experience, multiple times, writ both large and small.

    Repeatedly, after angst-filled months of obsessing about a particular observance, once I make the decision, clouds clear and stumbling blocks crumble in my path.

    This was true for large commitments, such as shabbat, kashrut and covering my hair.

    It is also true (at least for me) for the smaller, short-term commitments, such as washing the dishes or processing the mail.

    The shadow of the task looms over my head when I have my back turned to it, ruminating. When I turn, determined to and face and tackle the task, I often realize its substance is a much smaller hurdle than the shadow led me to believe.

    I like to think that when I take the initiative to turn and commit myself, HaShem flips the light switches in the room and removes the intimidating shadows.

    The Yetzer harah is like the light behind my back, enlarging the shadow. My nikud bechira is the turning around. The Yetzer hatov is the clear view of the task at hand.

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