Thursday, January 12, 2012

Boy Food

I was at an orthodox wedding a few weeks ago and noticed something very interesting. After making my way through the extensive shmorgasboard (sp?), I ventured into the “chosson’s tisch,” as per my male-y duties. It was there that I noticed a pan or two of hotdogs, hamburgers, and French fries. It hit me: why was there none of this food in the general shmorgasboard, the one intended for the woman during kabbalat panim?
I asked a few friends at the wedding why they thought such a phenomenon existed and the general understanding was that hotdogs, hamburgers and French fries are “boy food” – meaning they are less dainty than grilled Portabellos, chicken stir fry, or turkey carving stations – i.e. other, less boy-ish shmorg foods.
However inconsequential this difference in food was at the wedding, I found it perturbing. I know many a girl who enjoys eating “boy food.” Why do distinctions even exist in food? Why is food associated with gender? Why can’t boys eat dainty things and girls eat messier, meatier, and/or greasier things? My overall issue with the gendering of food relates to tradition. What it comes down to is that traditionally, men enjoy foods like hotdogs and French fries and girls have tended towards vegetables and lighter foods. But why does that need to be a case? Tradition is important, especially in religion (I know every word to Fiddler On The Roof’s musical opener). But will breaking tradition when it comes to food really upset anyone that deeply? Or cause chaos? Probably not. So let the girls eat some damn hotdogs.
My second issue with gendered food at this wedding – and this one is slightly more charif (food pun intended) – also relates to tradition. There is a heavy emphasis on tradition in Judaism (as outlined in the opening number of The Fiddler On the Roof). And for good reason, too! By being gay, however, I am intrinsically breaking tradition. So much of Judaism’s traditions base themselves upon gender, gender roles, and heterosexuality. Unfortunately, not everyone is heterosexual, and only in recent years are more and more orthodox Jews coming out as gay. In order to not only accept, but to recognize them within the orthodox community, tradition needs to be viewed differently. And we can’t start with such things as “boy food.”
I am not sure what to suggest in terms of “breaking tradition” on homosexuality in orthodox Judaism, mostly because I don’t want to get my head bitten off from angry readers, but also because I don’t yet have a flawless suggestion. Heterosexual traditions are a staple in our religion, and I am not asking to uproot those foundations. All I would like is for homosexuality to be recognized as merely existent in orthodoxy and for people in the community to respect an “untraditional” (re: gay) couple – just like they can respect a girl eating a hotdog. 


  1. While I understand the differentiation you are trying to make in terms of "boy"/"girl" food, i think part of the reason in this particular setting that there was "less dainty" food at the tisch than there was at kabbalat panim, is because I think kabbalat panim is thought to be a more formal reception where the bride is seated and greeted by all her guests, whereas the tisch is thought to be a more laid back or possibly just a different type of encounter with the groom(correct me if I am wrong because I am a female). However the nature of these encounters are also probably reinforced by traditional, gendered stereotypes. From my understanding a broader topic you seem to be speaking to and challenging in this post may not simply be the tradition behind "boy" vs. "girl" food but rather (as you do discuss in your post) the inherent construction of an environment, or an outlook which is catered towards a given gender.

  2. You should rename your blog to "No mom... I will not stop kvetching." come on man, you've got to add more substance to your posts.

    1. While you may have taken an interesting path to reach it, the point you, Sam, are making does not lack in substance. In protecting itself from the external, secular world, Orthodox Judaism has developed a vast number of traditions that serve no practical purpose. Some of these include certain gender stereotypes, like "boy food." That being said, I don't think that we can so easily place a gay couple into this category. For most of the Orthodox community, this is not a matter of superficial traditions like food choice or F.L.O.P.S. at a wedding. What you, and I as well, demand is the revocation of a tradition that dictates the fundamental unit of Judaism: the family. Asking people to respect a girl eating a hot dog is a lot easier than asking them to respect two men building a home together.

    2. now that is profound.

    3. @Anon 5:37

      You are amazing. I agree with your sentiment on generalizations, and it's true - me and women are not the same and I like it that way. I do not believe in genderless babies, but I do promote gender non-conformity - which you agreed to also (just in different terms). Sure, women prefer daintier food and barbies, but that does not mean that boys can't like that too. Just as generalizations exist, non-conformers to these generalizations do exist, too. All I ask for is recognition of these non-conformers. Yes, it is MUCH easier to accept a girl who loves French fries over a gay couple. But I posit that French-fries-loving-girl is a baby step to potentially recognizing gay individuals and couples in orthodox settings - and other non-conforming/non-traditional aspects of orthodox Judaism.

  3. Sam - I want to begin by telling you that I think it is admirable that you write these posts and allow people to understand your way of life, especially if it helps you. However, this argument is really too much. Are you a supporter of genderless babies? (See article I attached at bottom) Sure sounds like it - and the bottom line is that gender is a big deal in Judaism and the world at large. Of course there are women who like hotdogs, but is there anything wrong with women liking "daintier food" more? Generalizations are so for a reason, namely they don't cover EVERYONE. But, there is nothing wrong with realizing that a girl is more prone to play with dolls than a guy is. Is there a problem with a family where a guy likes dolls and the girl plays sports? NO! But, there is nothing wrong with generalizations. If you want people to take you more seriously, and based on the posts that I've seen, a lot of people seem somewhat angry at times, which I do not CONDONE, it's rude, wow this is a run-on and I'm ok with it, then you must bring up legitimate topics. Men and women ARE NOT THE SAME. I think you of all people should know that all too well. Still think your the man - Peace.

  4. @Matthew: Good one. If you feel my blog lacks substance, stop reading it.

    @Benjy: Of course. You are 100% correct. I was not juxtaposing allowing girls to eat boy food with respecting two men to build a home together. My decision to bring in boy food was to posit that by (maybe??) downplaying certain traditions, we can learn to downplay others - with the ultimate goal of learning to respect and acknowledge gay couples in orthodoxy.

    1. Sam, I completely understood the downplay-rationale behind your post. While I'm the farthest thing from from a "militant gay," I think (if we expect actual change and recognition in our lifetimes) we need to identify and address the most salient and difficult issues that hinder the recognition of gay couples in Orthodoxy. For example, the difference between a prohibition on specific sexual relation and the lack of such a prohibition on the homosexual orientation and a gay relationship. Addressing the gender stereotypes within Orthodoxy Jewry is important, but should a grown man take baby steps when he's wearing running shoes?

  5. See it's one thing to downplay a gender stereotype. Something that is perhaps based in tradition because of certain gender roles, but not explicitly stated in the Torah and all the accompanying Halachot. However, it is completely another thing to downplay a homosexual relationship. The fact is, there is tradition. Certain ways of life were adopted as to live by G-d and His commandments. You can't just downplay it and expect others to do the same just because it is what works for someone. Say hello to reform and conservative Judaism. Judaism is not about bending the rules and shirking our responsibility to upkeep tradition. Yes, tradition changes and is quite malleable depending on the era we live in. But it is important to adhere to G-d and His laws. That's why it is much easier for a girl to eat "boy" food.

  6. @Anon 9:02:

    I know homosexual acts are forbidden by the torah. I also wasn’t comparing accepting untraditional gender roles with accepting an untraditional (re: gay) relationship. I know those acceptances are on completely different levels. All I was saying was accepting untraditional gender roles is a step in the direction of (Hopefully? Eventually?) accepting a gay relationship. I don’t want to “say hello” (obnoxious, by the way) to other sects of Judaism. I was raised an orthodox Jew and enjoy the orthodox lifestyle. I am aware – and I hope most people are too – of the contradiction between homosexuality and orthodoxy. But the bottom line is, is that a certain percentage of the population is gay – as is a certain percentage of orthodox population. I think instead of rejecting all orthodox gays, or referring them to other forms of Judaism, there can – at the very least – be acceptance and recognition of gay people who desire to be orthodox - if you can be open minded enough.

  7. There is a fine line between "accepting" and "condoning". If you just want acceptance, I think you'll find that from left-wing Modern Orthodox and Open Orthodox types. People will accept you as a person and a member of their social circle just like anyone else. But it doesn't mean that they will condone your lifestyle. (One would hope, though, that they would be decent enough to keep their opinions to themselves).

  8. It seems that much of the debate here has to do with different conflicting uses of the word 'accept'. The word is bandied about so loosely that it has practically lost all meaning.

    When stating 'X ought to accept Y', one can mean any of the following, or some combination of the following:

    (A) X should recognize that Y exists
    (B) X should acknowledge that Y exists as Z (i.e. Andy should recognize that Bob exists as a gay man)
    (C) X should appreciate that Y exists as Z
    (D) X should recognize Y as a member of her or his community
    (E) X should appreciate Y as a member of her or his community
    (F) X should welcome Y as a member of her or his community
    (G) X should recognize of the actions of Y
    (H) X should approve of the actions of Y
    (I) X should endorse the actions of Y as compatible with the norms of her or his community
    (J) X should endorse the actions of Y as representative of her or his community
    (K) X should not disapprove of the actions of Y even if they conflict with the Halachic, cultural or moral norms of her or his community

    This list can go on, but I suspect that this covers most of the possibilities of what you might have in mind when positing that the community should "accept untraditional relationships/gender roles/etc." The terminology you are using is notoriously vague, however, and I suspect it's hampering productive conversation. You can use 'accept' meaning (A-K) but the person reading you might read 'accept' to only mean (A-G), for instance. This is a powerfully dangerous rhetorical technique, whether or not you are doing it intentionally, and is dangerously counterproductive.

    In any case, whatever you mean when positing various permutations of 'X should accept Y' (and do please state exactly what you mean), instead of just making those statements, you should produce sound arguments for the claims. I am not saying that you don't have them, but I haven't seen them here. Once you have made it clear what you are arguing for, I suggest you state your arguments clearly. And merely stating that 'it would be immoral/unfair if it were not the case that X should accept Y' is not a good argument, because it begs the question: why should someone privilege your interpretation of morality and fairness over their own? Otherwise, you wind up just as dogmatic as those who you accuse of being just that.

    Most of my peers would recognize and acknowledge an openly gay individual as a member of their community. Would they condone his homosexual relations? No. It is simply unclear to me what your purpose is here, precisely for the reasons enumerated above.