Sunday, November 7, 2010

What to Do When You're Craving Treif

I suspect that everyone who has become Jewishly observant as an adult has cravings for treif food. (See the Glossary if you aren't familiar with "treif.")

The question is what you do with these cravings. I suspect that most people divert their attention to something else and try to forget about it. Usually, this results in your mind subconsciously going back to the "forbidden fruit" in your brain. I would argue that we should embrace our cravings in order to understand them. And the earlier you are in the "going kosher" process, the better the argument that you should even indulge in that craving. However, that is a question for someone more knowledgeable than myself.

What are you going to learn by embracing your craving and understanding it? I'll use myself as an example. I've learned two very important things from my treif cravings: (1) they actually made me feel more successful about my kashrut process and (2) they attack at specific times.

The most unexpected realization I gained from examining my cravings is that I don't crave "necessarily treif" foods. My treif cravings are usually for foods that are not intrinsically treif (combining meat and milk). I crave foods that are perfectly kosher if prepared kosherly. Against all expectations, this attempt to understand my cravings made me feel great! I realized that I had finally conquered the desire for pepperoni pizza and chicken Parmesan! This also brightens my spirits now because once I move to a larger community (and kosher restaurants are my #1 requirement), I will be able to satisfy these cravings with no problem (other than gaining 100lbs and ruining my shidduch chances, haha!).

Now for my realization about the timing of cravings. This will be considered TMI by some readers, but I think it's a great example: I generally only crave treif during my monthly cycle. Like chocolate, but treif! That's been a very key realization to me because I can anticipate the cravings and take action to lower any temptation factors. After all, there are no kosher restaurants in my area, so I need to make sure my house is full of kosher alternatives (especially "guilty pleasures"). Also, this means that if I have a craving at a time other than my monthly cycle, I stop and try to understand it. What's going on in my life that is giving me a craving NOW? What can I do to remedy this? What is my body/mind telling me? Often, I'm overly stressed or getting sick. The common thread in all of these situations is that my resolve is weakened by external factors. It's not me on the average day; it's when my ability to maintain self-discipline is weakest.

So now that you understand your cravings, where do you go from here? As mentioned above, the best idea is to minimize temptation. At its root, kashrut is probably the most discipline-oriented of the mitzvot (in my opinion). I, like many people/Americans, have very little discipline. In fact, that's what kept me from being observant for so many years. Observance was beyond my ability to discipline myself. But like a muscle, discipline must be exercised. You'll become stronger over time, but there's no reason to encourage giving in to the craving when there are steps you can take to bolster (or support) your goal.


  1. That's very awesome and powerful that you are able to stand back and ask WHY you are craving what you are. I feel like when I examine what I am craving that is treif, it all comes down to missing a certain event or time in my life and wanting to go back to that time through food. Music and food are two things that remind me of the past(generally in a positive way). When I'm sick, I will crave the amazing and treif chinese food from my hometown that my mom ALWAYS bought for me when I was sick when she took care of me. That's not as much about wanting chicken soup as it is wanting my mom to take care of me when I'm sick and this was the first step.

    And with our modern world with every processed food in the world, we are delighted to have tofu cream cheese and sour cream, soy cheese(although most isn't good), soy-based fake meats, bacon salt, and many other kosher goodies to help us with our treif desires!

  2. The mitzvah of keeping kashrut is keeping it when it's hard, a true challenge. If you don't have to work at it, the mitzvah is smaller.

  3. Batya, another great point! When I started, my problem was that I kept making it much harder than it should have been!

  4. Luckily (or unluckily?), as I have become more kashrut-observant over time, each time I take a momentary step backwards in a moment of weakness, I get really bad digestive problems for about 1.5 days. (For which I thank haShem.) The Pavlovian response is generally strong enough to make me not want treif at all 99.9% of the time.