The dietary restrictions in Judaism seem to take up an enormous amount of mental energy. Often when I meet someone there is a conversation about food, specifically about the food laws, or kashrut.
There is biblical kashrut, what the Torah says about food restrictions. This includes not eating forbidden animals, removing the sciatic nerve (to do with Jacob), not eating certain fats or blood, not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk and not killing a mother animal and her young on the same day. Also, not eating torn flesh (treif means torn) or animals that died of natural causes. Adam and Eve were supposed to be vegetarian, eating meat was a concession on God’s behalf to human vice. (FWIW I’m not a vegetarian).
The Rabbis expanded these rules and defined what they meant for the everyday Jew in order to come up with the laws that now play a huge practical role in how Jews who keep kosher interact with the world.
Obviously dietary restrictions are a highly visible way to differentiate yourself and being different always comes with a host of social issues. Keeping kosher for those who do is an integral part of their identity however and is worth the trouble for the spiritual rewards.
There are other parts to keeping kosher that I think warrant just as much attention. These include not causing needless pain and suffering to animals and not causing wanton destruction or wastefulness.
Some would argue that traditional techniques for killing animals may not these days be inferior to modern techniques, but I’m not really knowledgeable enough on the subject to comment on that. It is worth thinking about though. Being vegetarian of course you avoid the need to consider how your meat lived and died, but I still believe that it is often far more difficult for humans to be at optimal health without meat. Many will disagree.
Avoiding wanton destruction and wastefulness, now this I think is the aspect of keeping kosher that needs more attention. The concept of eco-kashrut is something I’m starting to learn more about. More on that soon.