Accidentally Kosher for Passover!

Back when I was in high school, a friend of mine from an obser­vant Jew­ish fam­i­ly told me that her fam­i­ly often ate in veg­e­tar­i­an restau­rants. She explained that most of the Jew­ish dietary laws relat­ed to meat. If you ate in a restau­rant that nev­er served any meat prod­ucts, you would auto­mat­i­cal­ly be observ­ing most of the rules.

The excep­tion, of course, is Passover. Dur­ing Passover, Jews aren’t sup­posed to eat yeast-raised bread. This rule doesn’t just apply to wheat. It applies to four oth­er grains as well: bar­ley, rye, spelt, and oats. If any of these grains is allowed to sit in water for longer than 18 min­utes, it becomes chometz. It’s against Jew­ish dietary law to eat, own, or ben­e­fit from chometz at any time dur­ing Passover.

Of course, peo­ple with celi­ac dis­ease can’t eat wheat, bar­ley, rye, or spelt—even if they haven’t become chometz—at any time of year. In oth­er words, prod­ucts that are gluten-free and don’t con­tain oats are auto­mat­i­cal­ly nev­er chometz.

Ashke­nazi Jews are also sup­posed to refrain from eat­ing kit­niy­ot dur­ing Passover. Kit­niy­ot con­sists of grains and puls­es (such as corn, rice, beans, lentils, peas, and pos­si­bly peanuts) that could be con­fused with chometz. Still, a gluten-free veg­an cook­book would be a good place to look for good recipes to use dur­ing Passover. Lots of those recipes are acci­den­tal­ly Kosher for Passover!

Pho­to by Cen­ter for Jew­ish His­to­ry, NYC

Bourbon and potato chips are vegan!

My Web site and blog are about healthy food. I want peo­ple to know what sci­ence real­ly says about how diet affects human health. For exam­ple, we know that eat­ing ani­mal-based foods rais­es the risk of a whole host of dis­eases, includ­ing heart dis­ease, many can­cers, and autoim­mune dis­eases. The less ani­mal-based food you eat, the safer you can be from those dis­eases. So the health-opti­miz­ing diet for human beings would be free from ani­mal prod­ucts. It could there­fore be clas­si­fied as veg­an. Although all healthy foods are veg­an, not all veg­an foods are healthy. For exam­ple, no one would con­sid­er bour­bon and pota­to chips to be the basis for a healthy diet.

The first veg­e­tar­i­ans I met were veg­e­tar­i­an for reli­gious rea­sons. They includ­ed some Hin­du peo­ple who had been born in India and some Sev­enth-Day Adven­tists from the USA. I’ve also known obser­vant Jews who would eat in veg­e­tar­i­an restau­rants because every­thing that’s veg­e­tar­i­an is auto­mat­i­cal­ly Kosher. I also know a lot of peo­ple who refuse for moral rea­sons to eat any prod­ucts that come from ani­mals. All of the peo­ple I’ve just described can eat at my house with­out vio­lat­ing any of their dietary laws. Since I’m aller­gic to wheat, every­thing that I cook is even kosher for Passover. How­ev­er, not every­thing that pass­es muster in their dietary laws is good for them.

To be tru­ly health-opti­miz­ing for the aver­age per­son, a diet also has to be low in fat (<10% of calo­ries) and high in fiber. Some of the foods that con­tain no ani­mal prod­ucts are nev­er­the­less high in fat or low in fiber. A high-fat, low-fiber veg­an diet could pro­mote ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis, even though it doesn’t con­tain any cho­les­terol. That’s why even veg­ans occa­sion­al­ly die of heart attacks.

When I was grow­ing up, I was taught in school that the meat group (which includes eggs and fish) and the dairy group (which includes all milk prod­ucts) are an essen­tial part of a bal­anced diet for human beings. How­ev­er, when I grew up and start­ed read­ing nutri­tion and med­ical text­books and sci­en­tif­ic jour­nals, I found strong evi­dence that those foods are dan­ger­ous and unnec­es­sary. So far, I haven’t found any evi­dence that any human beings would real­ly ben­e­fit from adding ani­mal-based foods to an oth­er­wise healthy plant-based diet. I found plen­ty of evi­dence that cats need cer­tain nutri­ents that occur only in ani­mals, and are not pro­duced by plants or bac­te­ria. How­ev­er, I’ve seen no such evi­dence for human nutri­tion. If I find it, I will report it. Then, the deci­sion of whether to eat those foods will be a moral deci­sion, not a health deci­sion.