Thursday, December 22, 2011

Can You Paint with All the Colors of Kashrut?

(Yes, that is a Pocahontas reference.)

One of the most, dare I say it, "childish" things in orthodoxy is the obsessive/OCD color-coding of kitchen items. Don't get me wrong. It's incredibly useful, especially when you're learning or when you're a guest. But sometimes my kitchen is so full of primary colors that it reminds me of a kindergarten classroom. I know this feeling is only going to get worse when I have an "adult" kitchen full of all the trappings of suburban American family life.

Despite how silly I think it is sometimes, I get surprisingly upset when people significantly deviate from the "standard" colors. So, first, let's discuss the standard colors, and then we'll see how other people will mess with your mind.

Red: Meat
Blue: Dairy
Green: Pareve
Black or Clear: Generally meat
Silver or White: Generally dairy or pareve

Ideally, you find kitchen items that are manufactured as one of those colors, then designate it for that use.  For instance, I have a dairy pot whose outside material is a dark blue. I have a meat skillet in red. There's an all-silver pareve pot. No lie, those are the only pots and pans I own, but that works for my kitchen and cooking habits right now. Then there are the Tupperware containers with red and blue lids. The same with the cutting boards and hand towels. You can even plan your plates and other dinnerware either that color or with accents of that color. 

Things get more complicated with utensils. They just don't come in as many colors, but black and silver are generally available. The problem is when you need a third, pareve utensil or a specialized cooking utensil that only comes in one color. Along those lines, the colors black, silver, white, and clear are less "set" for a particular use because you make do with what you can find. And if see someone using another color, then your guess is as good as mine.

In those cases (repeat colors or "unusual" colors), there's generally two options (as far as I have seen): getting different designs or marking the item for a particular use. 

Designs: As an example, my two sets of silverware are both silver-colored, but the dairy ones are plain. The meat silverware has an intricate etched design down all the handles. You absolutely can't mistake one for the other if you bother to open your eyes, even though they're the same size, same weight, and same shape. 

Marking: There are two primary ways of marking, stickers and nail polish. The stickers
are cheap and worth their weight in gold, as far as I'm concerned. You can find them in any Judaica store in your 'chood or on the internet. Nail polish just seems messy, short-term, and less...nice looking. A third option for some items is attaching something to it. For instance, attaching zip ties the handles of your pots and pans is easy, cheap, and long-lasting. Not so pretty either, but I think it's more attractive than looking like you spilled nail polish on your kitchen items.

So how can this mess you up? Primarily: when people use other colors, and you are a guest in their home. This is especially bad if they A) use red for dairy or blue for meat OR B) use the non-standard colors you use in your home, but in the opposite. For instance, a friend who was the guest in a home was hosting a meal without the home's owner (he was home, but eating elsewhere). Unfortunately for us, the owner had green dishes and blue dishes. So to our minds, those colors mean pareve and dairy. The guest was certain that the owner had said the blue dishes were the meat dishes. But these "standard" colors are so ingrained in us that I hiked back to my apartment and brought back plastic silverware and paper plates. The last thing guests want to do is treif up a nice person's kitchen, so it worth the walk.


  1. I really hate the color coding which is why I'm considering making a dairy only kitchen after my conversion.

    Right now we're set up with both and I rely on different patterns and cabinets to keep things straight. The meat plates have no raised pattern and are white. The dairy has a raised pattern on the rims or side of the pieces. Our flatware solution is that the meat is VERY traditional flatware and the dairy is lighter flatware with a design. Since we set up a "kosher" kitchen before we were on the road to being observant we made some mistakes. These are things that will be fixed temporarily now as we learn and permanently after the conversion. I still don't see us going to the color coding solution and our friends who are MO do not use it. They simply know that one cabinet/drawer holds the dairy, one holds the milk. Contrast that to my husbands SIL who does color code everything and it confuses the fuck out of me since it's green and blue. One is for meat and one is for milk and I cant' every remember which one is which so I don't do anything in their kitchen. :-)

  2. Funny enough, I had a nightmare last night that I was a guest somewhere and completely treyfed up the kitchen by accident! In our house, dishes will be all white (we're in the midst of the great kashering project) but we go by shape - round is milk (most like cow udders) and anything with a square edge is meat. And there will be a cheat sheet taped to the inside of our cupboards in English for my mom and Hebrew for his. I think that the cheat sheet (and/or stickers) should be a rule in all kosher kitchens.

  3. My meat plates have a green pattern and my dairy plates have a yellow pattern. It doesn't make any sense but they were were all a total of $13 so I don't care.

  4. "Black or clear" is generally meat? News to me.

  5. Emily: I forgot about shape! My meat dishes are clear and square, and the dairy are round and blue. I don't think I'll go so far as to claim any relation between my choice and udders :P

    Anonymous: It's not a science, of course. But a lot of books and resources that the newly observant are given suggest that, so it happens to be adopted that way because it's not like the reader has a better suggestion. That's what happened to me.

  6. We felt like we needed a good explanation behind our reasoning (plus, it's a good pneumonic for our friends) to break with the red/blue "tradition" and go all white. Silly, but true.

  7. I'm planning on getting black plates for meat once I get to the point of keeping reputably kosher. At that point my beige dishes will turn to the milk side. I haven't decided the silverware solution yet, but that might not be a problem since currently the only meat I eat is in sandwiches.

  8. I haven't got a silverwear solution either. Some of it looks exactly the same but since they are in two different drawers it's not so bad.

  9. Reality check: almost everyone makes a mistake at some point. Even with markings, shapes, colors, etc. it happens. It's annoying and possibly embarrassing but it is not the end of the world.

  10. Same Anonymous. We have adopted the minhagim of my mother-in-law and her Polish clan. It tends to be heavy on Gestalt in determining color choices beyond red, green, blue, and yellow.

    By the way, a cheap etching tool can be a boon.

  11. Same anon. Consult your LOR. Many mistakes do not result in the loss or maiming of the utensil. Although after nearly 30 years of kashrut, I am lately mourning accidentally "meat-ifying" my pressure cooker

  12. I have JUST set up my first kosher kitchen a few weeks ago... We have everything color coded and with stickers all over our kitchen (at the moment). I know which drawers and cabinets are meat and which are dairy but my hubby needs the reminders. As far as silverware goes... our dairy silverware has these wavy lines on the handles (it reminded me of milk) and our meat silverware has a square handle and no design. We don't have much parve-ware at the moment... Our dairy pots and pans have black on the outside and our meat pots and pans have a redish/orangish color on the bottom... We have casserole dishes that are actually cake pans (in case we accidentally mix them up it is easy to re-kashrut them) and they are slightly different colors. Our fridge is color coded...

    It is kinda entertaining seeing all the primary colors all over our kitchen!

  13. I really dislike the 'traditional' color coding so we don't use them. In my house, it's 'cream' dishes for meat on Shabbat (they are the elegant dishes) and 'white' for meat on weekdays (rarely happens). Then we have white dishes with purple flowers for weekday dairy. We have blue, green and brown glass dishes for Pesach and because they are glass, they can be used either way.

    We have blue-and-white Chinese bowls for meat, yellow-and-blue Spanish bowls for dairy. Silver-colored aluminum pots for dairy and cast iron or black enamel pots for meat.

    See? No-one understands our system! But we do! :)

    This Good Life

  14. Samantha: most Rabbis will tell you that the leading source of kashrus problems in the kitchen is...(drum roll, please)...


  15. I live with a roommate and most of the kitchen stuff is hers. Blue is always meat, and our dairy stuff is glass, yellow, or black(and my pink frying pan!). I find it actually very difficult to screw things up because the meat and dairy stuff is in completely opposite places in the kitchen. You have to make a big effort to go into the wrong cabinet. I don't find the blue/green/red to be so helpful, but I also find the kosherkitchen brand stuff to be of low quality in general.

    My future home in a few months after the wedding will have blue nonstick cookware for dairy, white plates with blue design(just a coincidence, I would have gotten the same ones if they were any other color, probably! for dairy...Meat will have all stainless steel with copper core cookware and white dishes with black design for meat. Both sets of dishes are exactly the same size and have the same shape(round with the same ridge) except the bowls, but the patterns are very different.

    When in someone else's house cooking, they are generally there with me, which prevents any screw ups. As a guest, the most I can ever remember using was maybe a glass for water. :) When I have guests in the future, I'll probably just have some paper goods for them so they don't have to worry!

  16. Sorry, in my house white is dairy and blue is meat for dishes. For Knives we really have no colour system, just styles that tell us meat or dairy