At the Big Event this year (the biggest organized community service event at OU), the ICDG team and I worked in the Hillel, the University’s center for Jewish life, in the kitchen. It was excellent timing for us, as the week prior had been Passover, for which the entire kitchen had been basically replaced: all dishware was different, countertops had been covered in aluminum foil, and everything scrubbed head-to-toe, so as to not come into contact with any remnant of leavened bread. It was our job to clean everything again, re-replace the dishware, remove the foil, scrub the place, and return the kitchen to its original (kosher) condition, keeping meat and dairy containers separate (labelled with either red or blue).
Later we were treated with kosher and Passover friendly lasagna and peanut-brittle-like crackers as one of the directors answered for us any of our bizarre questions about Jewish culinary life and traditions while describing the history and reasons behind the practices. I was somewhat surprised to find out that many of the reasons behind what grains are allowed during Passover depended solely on where that group of Jews resided when the rules were written down. Russian Jews had different foods available than Middle Eastern Jews, and that difference in custom is traceable.
This made me further think about what those near me can and cannot eat. One of my roommates grew up in an at least mildly Hindu family, and so is generally restricted meat wise from pork and beef and usually just eats chicken to be safe. Another has a tree nut allergy. And I’ve known many people who are lactose intolerant or can’t eat gluten or are vegetarian.
I’m going to have to diversify my recipe library to take these new discoveries into account!