Kosher meals are meals which have been prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary law, while non-Kosher meals do not adhere to the rules of Jewish dietary law. For devout followers of the Jewish faith, the difference between Kosher and non-Kosher meals is critical, because eating non-Kosher foods is frowned upon. Foods which are considered Kosher may be referred to as “kashrut,” referencing the Jewish term for the dietary laws followed by observers of Judaism.
Some of the rules of kashrut are familiar to the general public. For example, some people are aware that Jewish people do not eat pork, especially in communities with a big Jewish population, and some others know that kashrut forbids the mixture of milk and meat ingredients, in accordance with a law which says that an animal cannot be served in its mother's milk. However, kashrut is much more complex than this. Jewish dietary law sets out the precise way in which animals need to be slaughtered and handled, for example.
Devout Jews may seek out food which is labeled as “pareve,” indicating that it contains no milk or meat ingredients, making it safe for use in Jewish meals, or “Kosher,” which means that it has been certified by a rabbi and prepared in a Kosher environment. Even ingredients which are inherently Kosher, like fresh fruit, can be rendered non-Kosher by being handled in a non-Kosher facility, or exposed to forbidden ingredients like animal blood or pork.
People of the Jewish faith who take the dietary laws seriously also keep a Kosher kitchen, in which utensils are separated by purpose and no non-Kosher ingredients are ever allowed. The rules of kashrut can get quite complex, so some people consult a rabbi to ensure that they do not mix Kosher and non-Kosher meals, thereby spoiling their kitchens and utensils.
Some Jewish people are more casual about the difference between Kosher and non-Kosher meals. While they may abstain from obvious violations of dietary law, like a slice of ham, they will not necessarily be concerned about eating meat which has not been certified as Kosher, or eating produce which might have been mixed with non-Kosher foods. Many people find a level of observance which works best for them, allowing them to honor their religious beliefs without making their lives difficult.
For gentiles, the key thing to know about Kosher and non-Kosher meals is that a Kosher meal is made with ingredients which are approved under Jewish dietary law. If you are having Jewish guests over for dinner, you may want to ask them about which aspects of the kashrut they observe, to ensure that they will be able to eat everything which is offered. There are also unique rules about Kosher and non-Kosher meals during certain holidays such as Passover which may require special attention.