Pastrami is, sadly, not a health food. Photo from Shutterstock
I am someone who loves being Jewish and loves to eat. (That’s redundant, isn’t it?)
The problem with Jewish foods is that while they’re delicious, they can be very dangerous. My favorite Jewish food of all time is pastrami, which is really just a heart attack waiting to happen. Yet every Jew loves the smoked meat on rye — it doesn’t matter your background or denomination. Maybe Mount Sinai was smoky and this reignites something in our collective Jewish souls.
There’s also challah. I’m a big fan. The problem, though, is that Jewish bakers got all fancy and started offering up cinnamon sugar challah and raisin challah and pumpkin challah and — the biggest culprit of all — pretzel challah with Belgian chocolate inside. Damn! It makes me want to rally up all the fat people so we can talk about being food addicts and march against Big Food.
Never mind. Fat people don’t march.
Not only are Jewish foods unhealthful, but we’re supposed to eat so much of them. And not just big meals every week for Shabbat — special holidays, too.
Rosh Hashanah: Eat apples and honey. Passover: Eat matzah. Nonstop. For eight days. Purim: Eat and drink until you can’t see straight. Sukkot: Eat outside. Shavuot: Eat cheese. Chanukah: Eat fried food.
And don’t even think about trying to limit your portions or Mom will set you straight with a stern, “Eat, bubbeleh! Eat!”
Some Jewish food doesn’t sound appealing, but after the fourth or eighth or 27th time, you start to like it. Like kishka. Or gefilte fish. That’s a funny food. What’s the deal with gefilte fish? It’s not a fish, right? It’s, uh … forget it. I’m not going to be reduced to digging up old Borscht Belt punch lines that were probably used by guys named Morty while entertaining the lunch crowd at Kutsher’s in 1950.
As I write this, I’m actually craving a pickle and a Cel-Ray soda (yes, a celery-flavored soda). Triggers, man, damn it. I always go on diets with the goal that I will be able to get into good enough shape to start eating recklessly again.
I used to eat terribly every day. I’d have pizza and pastrami, bagels and blintzes. And then I tried to take control of it. I decided I’m going to exhibit self-control and plan ahead. Eat pastrami only on Mondays. It worked, so I kept going. Eat pizza only on Tuesdays.
I thought I was doing tremendously well until I looked at my calendar and realized I had dedicated every day to another bad food. My week read Pastrami Day, Pizza Day, Blintz Day … oh, my, Blintz Day. Man, I love blintzes. How my grandparents used to make them for me. Is there anything more Jewish than a blintz shmeared in sour cream and applesauce? Is there a word funnier than shmeared?
My family has a dangerous history in the Jewish food business. My great-grandfather worked for Hebrew National and lost his hearing after one of the hot dog machines exploded. He used to talk about how rats would jump into the grinders and get mixed in with the meat. They didn’t used to answer to a higher authority back then — or a health inspector, either, apparently.
And one summer, I was asked to manage a kosher pizzeria in Long Beach, N.Y. Rather than fire the old manager, they demoted him to work under me, a high school student at the time. He turned out to be an unstable person, and one day he snapped and chased me out of the store and into the street with a pizza cutter. Ah, memories.
Though I’ve tried, it’s been hard to kick my addiction to Jewish food, despite its dark side. And I’m always dragging people into my tasty habit. I introduce my friends to new delis. I serve chocolate challah on Friday night. I guilt my dogs when they don’t eat my leftovers.
Recently, when I was filling in a shift for a friend at a local kosher cafe, a woman in her 50s came in and asked what she could put on her bagel. At first I was thinking, if you don’t know what to put on a bagel at this point in your life, I can’t help you, ma’am. But I just kindly suggested smoked salmon and cream cheese.
She said, “That sounds lovely. What a great idea.”
I watched as she took the first bite and her face lit up. And I smiled.
Danny Lobell is an L.A.-based standup comedian who runs the podcasts “Modern Day Philosophers” and “The Mostly Bull Market,” as well as a monthly improvised storytelling show at the Hollywood Improv called “Bookshelf.”