Friday, January 16, 2009


Might I pontificate for several moments about pepperoni?

My parents did me a grave disservice keeping Kosher during my childhood. And it wasn't really a Kosher home so much as (Dad would say) maintaining a level of hypocrisy that made them comfortable. We had meat dishes, dairy dishes and Pesach dishes, and we couldn't eat ice cream directly after a chicken dinner. Then all the dishes went into one sink and one dishwasher. Leftovers were stored in a Tupperware mishmash that held whatever was being plopped into them. We did not mix meat and dairy or eat shellfish in the house, and we ate Chinese leftovers on disposable plates (sometimes on the porch, which was considered sort of part of the house, I guess, and sometimes in the kitchen, depending on whether my father was home). I've seen Kosher, and this isn't it.

I reached college knowing how to eat lobsters - Mom loves them - and knowing cheeseburgers did not interest me (childhood McDonald's fact-finding missions). The thought of chicken parmesan turns my stomach (or: I don't know what I'm missing), and I had to learn that some people find grating cheese over meat sauce a logical decision.

I was on the Kosher meal plan my freshman year of college. I'd kept my own version of Kosher, with stricter boundaries than my parents, since a trip to Israel the summer before tenth grade as my own small means of remaining connected to the religious spirit I felt leaning my forehead against the women's side of the Western Wall. The Kosher food in Barnard's dining hall was a small section in the back. It had its own salad bar and its own teensy hot food service area that somehow nourished Columbia University's undergraduate orthodox community. At the time, they had no Kosher dining hall across the street.

I recognized the beginning of the end to my diet-based religious expression when (a) my sense of religiosity was waning and (b) a work-study student serving kosher pan-fried noodles said, "Are you really on the Kosher meal plan? What's your Hebrew name?" (Funny, she doesn't look Jew-ish.)

Boundaries cracked, and I discovered pepperoni pizza. You know those kids in grade school whose parents restricted access to candy, so they'd come over for play dates and eat all the cookies? Or - and this really happened - a friend who grew up without cable came over and forgot you existed upon discovering a marathon of "The Real World"?

I missed out on two whole decades that could have been full of pepperoni slices. It's salty and spicy and bite-size, and perfectly complements the blandness of mozzarella. But the noble meat can stand alone, as lunch meat or a sort of red, bendy potato chip. Talk about food and religion: this shit's my manna.


  1. 1) this is one place where our tastebuds aren't the same. I can't stand most pepperoni pizzas.

    2) have you thought more about the implications of diet-based religious expression? sounds like there's an even longer essay here.

  2. 3. pepperoni is not, strictly speaking, "meat" (it's actually a "fat" on the dietary exchange), nor is it, dare I say, "noble," having been scraped, by and large, from the slaughterhouse floor.

  3. But it is SO delicious!

  4. I will never live down my Real World marathon, will I?