Here’s a delicious sounding salad: romaine lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, red onion, red cabbage, chickpeas and strawberries. At first glance, this combination of fresh vegetables, chickpeas and berries sounds like the perfect easy kosher lunch. All of the ingredients listed are, by their very nature, kosher. However, five of the seven items are also natural habitats for a variety of tiny insects.

The Torah states that eating insects, referred to in scripture as “swarming things,” is not just prohibited, but detestable. “And every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth is a detestable thing; it shall not be eaten” (Leviticus 11:41).

The sages clarify: “Said Rab Judah: If one [knowingly] eats a worm in a cabbage, he incurs  flogging. A certain fellow [once deliberately] ate a worm in a cabbage and Rab Judah had him chastised” (Talmud Maakot 16b).

Most people would not deliberately eat a worm or a gnat, but do not think beyond these common insects, certainly not concerned about tiny mites and aphids that are the most frequent infestations. But if one knows that spinach leaves are often the home to these tiny creatures, does that not make eating unchecked spinach a deliberate violation?

Don’t worry, Popeye can still have his spinach, but only after the spinach leaves have been thoroughly cleaned and checked for bugs. Kashrut experts around the world have compiled, and continue to compile, the different methods for extracting the bugs. Some produce must simply be rinsed, while others must have their leaves individually inspected with a bright light, and still others (such as dried fruit) must be cut open in order to be checked. For more information on how to eat bug-free produce, most major kashrut organizations have detailed instructions available online for many varieties of produce, and it is best to check the necessary method for each food item.

Today is Eat Your Veggies Day.

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