Keeping kosher is way more difficult to do with Jews than it is with non-Jews. If you are eating a meal with non-Jews and they ask, "Why aren't you eating?" you can reply, "Well, I'm a religious Jew and I keep kosher and this food is not kosher." Most people have heard of Kosher even if they don't know exactly what it means. As one person once asked me, "Is your food blessed by Rabbis?" The first time I heard that one I was like, "What? No. That's not what Kosher means." Many Americans are very interested in diversity and learning about different religions so the practice of keeping kosher is fascinating.
When it comes to non-religious Jews, however, things get a little more complicated. I work in an office that is mostly non-religious Jews. There are some non-Jews and there are a few other religious Jews, but we are the minority. Today my department had a lunch meeting and they ordered food from a restaurant. I knew about this meeting for a little while, but didn't want to ask where they were ordering food from because I didn't want them to order special food just for me. Also, there is one guy in my department who is also religious who has been there much longer than I have, so I figured there was a chance that they would be ordering kosher food anyway. The last time we had a lunch we went to a restaurant outside of the office which was Kosher.
I was one of the first ones to arrive at the meeting, since I am a fairly on-time person and for some reason I don't run on "Jewish time," the special time zone that the rest of the Jewish world runs on, that apparently includes non-religious Jews as well. There were a few other people there including the religious guy and I casually asked where the food was from, trying my best to appear simply curious, not as though it would impact me in any way. They of course figured out that I was asking to find out if it was Kosher. The problem is when people insist, "it's kosher, it's kosher!" and have no basis for that. They mentioned the name of the store it came from, which was a place I have never heard of at all.
Upon seeing my hesitation, someone added that the religious guy was OK eating the food. I found this was true when I spoke to him, but unfortunately what he said did not do anything to reassure me, and in fact what he told me made me more likely to believe that the place did not have an acceptable kashrut certification. He held that the food was OK, but made sure to tell me that I shouldn't rely only on the fact that he said it was OK. I felt it would not be appropriate to leave and run back to my computer to look up whether that particular establishment was up to my standards, so I simply decided not to eat the food to be on the safe side.
This would not have been a difficult decision (the food wasn't that tempting), except that like I mentioned, most people in my company are Jewish, so the women have the "Jewish Mother" syndrome. Each person had to individually ask me, "Why aren't you eating?" "Don't you want to eat something?" I couldn't say that the food wasn't kosher, since they would have pointed to the religious guy and said, "Well, he's eating it, it is kosher!" So instead I was stuck hemming and hawing and saying, "Oh, um, it's OK, really, um, don't worry about it." I couldn't even use the excuse that I usually use when we have cake for birthdays, that I'm on a diet. And in my head I always think, "Yeah. The kosher diet..."
Despite the fact that the entire situation made me uncomfortable, (because I would have rather explained my beliefs, which is easy, but I didn't want to embarrass the religious guy), I walked out of the situation relieved. I could have easily given in and said, "Well, he's eating it." I could have rationalized, "Well, I could just eat the fruit/vegetables." Instead I decided to stand my ground and say "Unless I'm sure, I'm not going to eat it." After the meeting I looked up the restaurant online and could not find a website that listed it as a kosher restaurant. It said "kosher" on the restaurant's website, but did not say who was giving it hashgacha, as most restaurants do. And it was equally unclear if all of their chains were kosher or only certain locations. The only thing I hope is that I didn't give off any "holier than thou" vibes to the religious guy and that I didn't make him feel bad eating food which he thought was acceptable (which it very well may be, just as far as my research goes it was not), simply because I was not eating it.