Oh, Pesach. So many food rules, so many opportunities for obsessive thinking. Now, I love the holiday’s theme of liberation and take seriously the idea of “freeing myself from my own personal Egypt.” However, I do think there’s an element of irony involved: this holiday, which focuses so much on freedom, also plays right into the food restrictions and regulations that enslave so many people with eating disorders.
For me, nowhere is this struggle more pronounced than around the question of kitniyot. Every year I revisit the same question: Do I eat them, or not? Here are the particulars: I am Ashkenazi; I’m a vegetarian; I’m also fiercely protective of my recovery from almost a decade of anorexia. Each time Pesach rolls around, I have to decide which takes precedence: an ancestral custom that is hundreds of years old, or my internal wisdom that the severely limited diet of a kitniyot-free Pesach might inadvertently reawaken the food-restrictive mentality that I’ve worked so hard to put to bed.
Aside from the very real halachic issues involved, this dilemma also cuts to the heart of my perfectionist tendencies. If I were to eat kitniyot, would I be doing a “good enough” job of keeping Pesach? Would people find reason to look down on my lenience and criticize my choice? I believe the answer to both questions is yes. Undoubtedly, the norm among observant Ashkenazi Jews is to avoid eating kitniyot on Pesach. The decision to break with this custom would likely meet with some resistance from many members of the observant community. However, there is also the case to be made that where health is involved, the ban on kitniyot is not as stringent as the ban on chametz, and so people are permitted to eat kitniyot if their health requires it. Furthermore, there are Orthodox rabbis who have ruled that Ashkenazi Jews within the land of Israel are allowed to eat kitniyot because the custom of eliminating those foods was unique to Europe and therefore is not binding in the Middle East. Conservative Rabbi David Golinkin takes it a step further in his respons, which clearly argues that all Jews may consume kitniyot during Pesach “without fear of transgressing any prohibition.” Again, I fully recognize that these opinions run counter to the prevailing custom among the observant Ashkenazi community. However, their arguments seem valid, especially when recovery is at stake. I would encourage Ashkenazi Jews who are trying to recover from any type of eating disorder to consider giving themselves permission to eat kitniyot on Pesach. I would also suggest that if a person DOES choose to eat kitniyot as a means of safeguarding his/her recovery during Pesach, that family members attempt to view this decision not as a rebellion or transgression, but rather as a way to protect that which is most precious: health and life.
If you do plan to incorporate kitniyot into your Pesach food repertoire, here are some recipes to get you started! It’s possible to find KP versions of all the needed ingredients. Both feature quinoa…because, as a vegetarian, I am always looking for new ways to use quinoa on Pesach! The first comes courtesy of fabulous nutritionist Marci Anderson; the second, from Mark Bittman, author of one of my favorite cookbooks (How To Cook Everything Vegetarian...in case you were wondering.)
Sweet Potato and Quinoa Salad (when I make this, I add a 15 oz. can of garbanzo beans for a little added protein)