The Shabbos Conundrum

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During the week, eating a whole foods, plant based diet (or vegan…whatever you want to call it) proves pretty darn easy.  It’s when holidays and Shabbos happen that we’re finding it a bit more challenging.  At first, our friends were a little nervous to invite us over because they weren’t sure what we could eat.  Then, I found hostesses would feel guilty that we weren’t eating the main course, but only side dishes, even though we were perfectly content and well stuffed.  Then, there were the inevitable thorny questions.

How can fish be a meat if it’s parve?

Or, even better…

Surely chicken soup broth doesn’t count as meat!  I took all the meat out of it.

It helps keeping a sense of humor and focusing on the real point of going to other people’s houses for meals or having them over, which is really to share a meal together.  As much as all of us like to be seen as the best cooks out there, it really isn’t about the food in most cases.  The food is wonderful, but it’s more of a vehicle for bonding and good conversation and togetherness.

I’ve found a few tricks that have helped us navigate these tricky waters.

  1. Be specific.
    I think this probably works well for any and all dietary restrictions, whether it’s an unusual diet or allergy or just preferences.  I’ve found the more specific I am about what we do and do not eat, the more our hosts and hostesses actually relax.  A lot of the anxiety seems to come from not wanting to “make a mistake.”
  2. Give examples or positive suggestions.
    I’ve found that offering ideas of what we LIKE to eat rather than focusing on everything we can’t have also helps others feel more relaxed.  I give examples of vegetable dishes that the host or hostess probably already makes or simple substitutions that they could do.  By talking about our favorite salads or vegetables, this also seems to help them understand that we’re not feeling left out.
  3. Offer to bring something!
    If it fits for your community, this can be a really great way to reduce everyone’s stress.  I had a particularly nervous hostess who doesn’t cook a lot of vegetables in her home and, after sensing her anxiety, I offered to make some salads and sides and bring them over before Shabbos.  Not only did this help her relax and enjoy having us over, but her son discovered that he LOVES my lentil salad and she was thrilled that he found some new things he likes to eat.
  4. Have a backup plan.
    I rely on this particularly when we’re going to a community meal where there isn’t much input on the menu.  Having a pot of vegan cholent or soup on the crockpot and some extra salads stashed in the fridge means that even if there isn’t something we can enjoy at the meal, we can go, enjoy the company, and then come home to chow down.  At worst, I have leftovers after Shabbos and don’t have to cook for  a while.  Which…when I come to think of it, happened more often than not even before we ate this way!

Changing your diet doesn’t have to mean becoming a hermit, even if you live in an Orthodox Jewish community.  There are ways to ease around any differences in eating to make sure everyone can have a good time and celebrate the holiday or Sabbath together.

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