Thursday, August 25, 2005

"Safe Treyf"

What is it with formerly revivalist (a.k.a. generic evangelicals) Lutherans and drinking stories? Maybe it's enjoying the happiness of finding "safe treyf". Safe what? Well, read this wonderful piece of food criticism/cultural history here, and you'll see what I mean.

OK, so you didn't read it and you want me to summarize? Here goes: Basically it starts off with another question: What is it with secular New York Jews and Chinese food? Why are they so crazy about it (I mean apart from the obvious reason why everyone else is crazy about food that is cheap and usually pretty good)? Well, George Tuchman and Harry Levine go on to explain in a brilliant and affectionate essay, Chinese is food is treyf (that is, unclean, not kosher) but in ways that are safe. The food rules for Jews focus on no forbidden meats (pork, shrimp, lobster, etc.) and no milk with meat. Secular and Reform Jews rebelled against these rules, but "a culture spawns the terms of its own rejection":

Rebels can disavow the strictures of a food-oriented culture by eating forbidden food. But a food-oriented rebellion cannot be accomplished with just any forbidden substance. It cannot be food that looks so like prohibited fare that it automatically triggers revulsion, nor can it be food that requires some expertise to eat (such as a whole lobster).

Chinese food fits the bill perfectly. Full of pork and shrimp, it's all nicely shredded so your head knows it's deliciously forbidden, but your gut can't tell. And no cheese or other dairy products. And unlike the local Italian restaurants there were no crucifixes, Jesuses, Marys or saints to remind them that they are a religious minority in a Christian society. Cosmopolitan, without being Christian - - that's the ticket!

So that's what it is with pietists gone Lutheran and drinking beer. It's a sign that I'm not in the revivalist ghetto any more, but one that doesn't trigger the revulsion that real treyf would - - you know, one night stands, blaspheming God, or voting for Howard Dean. It's safe treyf. Which is great. Jeremy and I were talking at lunch about some of the kids (not all, some) you find coming out of Christian schools. What's their problem? We agreed that it's that they never had any safe treyf; something that's outside their culture without being outside their real morals, like some long haired junior high teacher in Social Studies who assigns Howard Zinn to a class of young conservatives, "to see the other side." Safe treyf - - if you don't have some, get some!

So drink away, guys! Just make sure your wives drive you home!