How to Survive Shavuot on a Dairy-Free Diet
By Elisheva Blumberg, Lubicom Staff
I admit it — I’ve been through some ridiculous diets in my lifetime.
During my year in seminary, I fully immersed myself in the finest culture Israel had to offer. Culinary culture, that is. (Hello haloumi salad, where have you been all my life?)
But after all those fried cheese salads and other delicacies the Land of Milk and Honey does so well (mekupelet hot chocolate, bakery bread, blended iced coffees, I can go on…) I decided that a diet was in order.
Instead of suffering through carrot sticks and fat-free cottage cheese, I figured the best meal plan would be one in which I eat only what I love — and nothing else. With the absolutely airtight logic of the mono-food dieter, I decided the best way to lose weight would be with eating just one kind of food. I mean, really, why should I bother with salad when I can eat ice cream?
And in a country where you could buy something as awesome as halva-flavored ice cream, why not eat ice cream to the exclusion of everything else?
I couldn’t see how this could go wrong.
In short, my ice-cream-only diet lasted no more than a day and a half, at which point I never wanted to look at ice cream again. Since my ice cream experiment was a complete failure, I recognized that the rational course would be to do the opposite of the ice cream diet; instead of enjoying only my favorite food, I would completely deprive myself of it: no more dairy whatsoever!
So as my friends enjoyed fro-yo, I sipped on non-dairy fruit shakes. After a week or two, the dairy-free diet went the way of the ice-cream-only diet. Back to the haloumi salads & co.
Since that time, for various reasons other than weight loss, I’ve played around with different food groups, eliminating items such as tree nuts (easy peasy lemon squeezy), white sugar (tough, but you get used to it surprisingly quickly), gluten (not too bad, even for a bread-and-butter fanatic like myself), eggs (I missed mayo the most), and even going dairy-free again (this time, for way longer than a week).
I’ll tell you one thing: dropping dairy was definitely the most challenging of them all.
Especially at a time like Shavuot — a holiday in which even the most level-headed folk lose their marbles over a good piece of cheesecake — being dairy-free can make you feel like you’re missing out. Majorly.
But take it from someone who’s been there: you can survive a dairy-free Shavuot. With these few pointers in mind, you can not only get through the holiday, but enjoy it as well.
1. Remember your reason
Why are you dairy-free? Is it allergies, food sensitivities, or ethical concerns?
If you’re keeping your distance from dairy for good reason (i.e., not just to punish yourself for an ice cream binge. Because mark my words, that will backfire), remember why you’re doing this. Make it your mantra.
When everyone around you is ooh-ing, aah-ing, and virtually moved to tears at how utterly delicious the cream of broccoli soup is, remember your reasons for refraining. Repeat it to yourself again. And again.
Remember: even if you can’t eat cream, you can act like cream. In other words, you can rise above it all.
2. Call in the subs
If you’re dairy-free in 2019, count yourself lucky.
Compared to years ago, today there is an incredible variety of good quality dairy alternatives available. Whether based on almond, soy, rice, coconut, cashew, or oat, you can easily find dairy-free substitutions for milk, cream, butter, and cheese.
Armed with a great parve cheesecake recipe (try Esther Ottensoser’s Cheesecake with Rosemarie Chocolate, Joy Devor’s Cheesecake Pops Victoria Dwek’s Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream) and a cup of coffee with non-dairy creamer (my favorite is Califia Farms Better Half creamer), you can have your (parve) cheesecake and eat it — make that downright devour it — too.
3. Keep the spirit alive
Eating dairy on Shavuot is a custom, not a requirement.
There are a handful of reasons given for why we traditionally eat dairy on the holiday, but no one can say for certain how the custom began.
Hazelnut praline cheesecake can taste mighty good, but even if you can’t partake in the cake, you can still be thoroughly invested in the holiday. In fact, there are many who hold that eating meat meals on Shavuot is actually preferable to eating dairy meals.
Even without dairy, you can still celebrate the spirit of the day with the many customs of this harvest holiday, like reading Megillat Rut, decorating your home with flora, and of course, learning Torah.
Even the most hardcore dairy fan knows that food is just a means to an end. And yes — that includes haloumi salad and halva ice cream.