Effect Measure

Taking kosher Coke on faith

We are now through with two major religious holidays, Easter and Passover. I dislike both holidays, Easter because it is soaked in images of cruelty and mythology, Passover because it is a nationalistic orgy. Now that I’ve offended half my readership, let me say something positive about something I once thought pretty silly: a version of Coca Cola branded as “Kosher for Passover.” It’s a small thing, to be sure, but an interesting one, at least to me. This post started with a research highlight I read over the weekend in the journal Nature, summarizing work published in Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, an Elsevier journal I don’t read. I’ll take the Nature summary on faith, since faith is a sub-theme of this post:

High-fructose corn syrup has been proposed to account for as much as 7% of the daily caloric intake in the United States ? a conservative estimate, say Bartley Hoebel and his team at Princeton University in New Jersey. They report that rats fed high-fructose corn syrup along with their regular chow for eight weeks gained more weight than those that munched on sucrose-supplemented chow, even when they consumed the same total number of calories. (from Nature Research Highlights, Nature 464, 653 (1 April 2010), doi:10.1038/464653a; original paper, Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav. doi:10.1016/j.pbb.2010.02.012 (2010))

There’s a bit more than this scrap, but the bottom line is that your bottom line is likely to get bigger if you take in a lot of high fructose corn syrup, the sweetener used in most big market soft drinks like Coca Cola. Except the yellow top Coca Cola that’s Kosher for Passover:

Connoisseurs of Coca-Cola and other soft drinks sweetened with high- fructose corn syrup have been scouring grocery stores in recent weeks. They?re searching for the rare yellow-capped versions of these sodas designated kosher for Passover. During the Jewish holiday, which begins this week, consumption of certain grains, including corn, is prohibited by kosher dietary laws. So once per year, soft-drink makers substitute the corn-derived sweetener with pricier sucrose. This creates beverages that are closer to the original formulations, and according to soda mavens, the sucrose sweetener is less cloying than its corny cousin. (Bethany Halford Mitch Jacoby, Chemical and Engineering News [C&EN])

This is only a small part of a longish C&EN article on how rabbis police all the molecules in food branded Kosher for Passover. My mother was quite observant and kept a kosher kitchen for the first 15 years of her marriage. She stopped when I was born. A sign from God, perhaps? In any event, keeping a kosher kitchen is an arduous task, not well suited to the pace of the modern world. No pork, pork products, shellfish. Kosher meat has to be slaughtered in a special way and you can’t let meat and dairy products get within hailing distance of each other. That means two sets of plates. Any grape product, whether juice or wine, has to be made by Jews. My old boss used to say the reason there are fewer Jewish alcoholics is because of Manischewitz wine. Lots of rules, some of them arcane, none of them rational (despite rationalizations about trichinosis that likely had nothing to do with the prohibition against pork) and in today’s world pretty tough to adhere to. Think about how many different ingredients there are in the average supermarket offering. Hundreds is not unusual. And you can believe that the faithful have thought about it.

Take Coca Cola. Againk from the truly fascinating C&EN article:

?Coca-Cola was probably the first iconic food product to become certified kosher,? [Kosher food historian Roger] Horowitz says. Back in the 1930s, Coca-Cola approached Atlanta-area Rabbi Tobias Geffen to see about the soda becoming officially kosher. To do so, Geffen needed to know everything that?s in Coke, Horowitz says, including the famous secret ingredient. No matter how proprietary the knowledge, rabbis need to know everything that goes into a product in order to certify it. ?The rabbis then promise that they won?t tell anybody,? he adds.

In the process of certifying Coke as kosher, Geffen discovered a problem: The chemical glycerin, also known as glycerol, is used as a flavor dispersant in the cola.

Glycerin is often derived from rendered animal fat, so its source can be nonkosher: a pig or even a cow that was not kosher-slaughtered. So, Horowitz explains, the question for the rabbis at the time became: Does it matter where the glycerin comes from? ?In other words,? Horowitz says, ?if it?s no longer a pig, if it?s a chemical extracted from the pig and the chemical itself bore no resemblance to the pig that it came from, can it be kosher??

Geffen determined that the source does matter. Glycerin that comes from a non kosher source cannot be kosher.

This resulted in the equivalent of the Kosher certifying rabbi Full Employment Act, complete with the confidentiality of the food confessional. All those gazillion chemicals that go into modern food production now have to be investigated for their Kosherness, including things not even in the final product, like the grease in the baking pan that makes release of the food easier.

So there are now companies that do the Kosher legwork. One is OK Kosher Certification in Brooklyn. Their business is certifying a food is Kosher and they’ve done it for 114,000 products, including, we are told, 10,000 flavorings. That’s a lot of products to investigate thoroughly. How does anyone know how well they’ve really done it?

I guess we have to take it on faith.

Comments

  1. #1 Sharon Astyk
    April 5, 2010

    Eating kosher is actually pretty simple if you eat well, and don’t buy things like coke – which tastes like malted battery acid anyway. Fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes are all kosher. Whole spices are kosher. Unless you eat a buttload of meat, it isn’t really that hard to come by – and for those of us that care, local, organic kosher meat is even available in fairly isolated places. Given the way that one should be eating meat anyway, it isn’t that big a deal. The problem arises if you eat a lot of processed and industrial food – otherwise, it is incredibly simple, actually.

    Sharon

  2. #2 bsci
    April 5, 2010

    From my understanding, it’s actually pretty clear what the certifiers do. There’s also competition in the certification market and it mistakes mean lost business so there’s a lot of communal policing.

    The big legwork is to initially certify that the ingredients are kosher and that they are being products on machinery that didn’t have non-kosher stuff on it. With modern industrial practices, the difference between cleaning hardware for kashrut and for sanitation is fairly similar, but an extra set of independent eyes is probably a good thing.

    Once a factory/product run is certified, there’s not much else to do except periodically return to a factory to make sure nothing has changed, hence the minimal cost differences. Making the products more useful to Jews, Muslims, and vegetarians, easily covers that difference, which is why so many companies do it.

    The exceptions are wine, some hard cheeses, and meat which have some extra rules making true mass-market production challenging. They all have a higher price-markup and products marketed to non-Jews are rarely certified.

    I also fully agree with Sharon, that I diet primarily of fresh vegetables is pretty much kosher to begin with.

  3. #3 bsci
    April 5, 2010

    I don’t want to get into too much of a theological argument here, but a holiday where one of the central theological poems of the sedar says “if we were never made a nation, it would have been sufficient” is fairly hard to call a national orgy.

  4. #4 Liz
    April 5, 2010

    I’ve heard that Coke sold in Mexico is also sweetened with sugar rather than corn syrup, so the “Connoisseurs of Coca-Cola” can also find their preferred beverage in grocery stores serving a Hispanic clientele.

  5. #5 Andrew G.
    April 5, 2010

    My reaction, on my (so far) one and only visit to the US, on buying a can of coke was “Yuk! What is this swill they are trying to pass off as drinkable??”.

    (By that time I’d had coke in the UK, Holland, Denmark, France, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Australia, Thailand, and Singapore, all of which had been OK.)

    Only later did I find out about the HFCS thing, which is a perversion apparently confined to the USA (I’m told it’s due to artificial controls there on the price of ordinary sugar). Everywhere else I’ve been, coke is made with real sugar.

  6. #6 revere
    April 5, 2010

    bsci: I was of course giving my opinion and perception (I am likely of an older generation; I say that only because these days I seem to be older than most everyone). But I will note that it is possible to pick and choose bits and pieces from any liturgy or ritual and use it in many ways. In the US, Passover is frequently given a nationalistic cast. Interpretations of history that set one “people” apart from others, fosters a kind of tribalism I personally find objectionable and ultimately destructive in net terms. One can do the same kind of picking and choosing with Easter. I’m not impressed in either case.

    As for a diet of fresh vegetables being Kosher, perhaps. One thing for sure, though. It is outside the reach and affordable access of most people who dwell in cities (which is to say, most of us). It is a luxury.

  7. #7 K
    April 5, 2010

    I don’t know if this version is Kosher but it takes us back to a time when Coke had a different recipe

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/bolivia/6962746/Evo-Morales-launches-Coca-Colla.html

    Evo Morales launches ‘Coca Colla’
    Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president and known for chewing coca leaves at UN meetings, has launched a drink featuring the leaf called “Coca Colla”.

  8. #8 Jon
    April 5, 2010

    As a kid, I never liked milk very much and only had it with cereal. Except once a year, during Passover, when I thought it tasted delicious and would drink glassfuls. Maybe the food processing equipment was cleaner, or maybe there were just fewer foods from which to choose, I have no explanation. But I loved kosher for Passover milk.

  9. #9 Sharon Astyk
    April 5, 2010

    Revere, actually bulk bought whole grains and legumes and in-season produce can actually be much, much cheaper than much of the food typical eaten even by low income urban dwellers – it really depends on what you choose to eat. We ate this way as impoverished grad students living on less than 20K a year (with a child) in the then-second-most expensive housing market (60% of our limited income went to housing), and it was both kosher and cheap – it had to be. We had no vehicle, and lived in a food desert urban area, and so carried everything on foot and buses, and still were able to do it with minimal inconvenience. It is true that it does require an ability to cook, and some time devoted every week to cooking (although the use of a crockpot means this can be pretty minimal) and is tough to do among the truly low-income people, living in motels and shelters, or without any cooking facility. However, for most people it is entirely doable, and really quite simple. My claim is not that more people should keep kosher, but as you know, we tend to exaggerate difficulties due to unfamiliarity or bias.

    Sharon

  10. #10 revere
    April 5, 2010

    Sharon: I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. We’ve been looking at the food choices available in inner city neighborhoods and it isn’t even close to what you would find in the usual large supermarket, much less a Whole Foods operation, where the prices are higher. Many people are working two or even three jobs, have kids to take care of and don’t have the time or energy to hunt down and then prepare foods they aren’t keen on to begin with and their kids won’t eat (I speak from experience). As for bias and unfamiliarity, it may be true that I don’t know what is involved in keeping a kosher kitchen now, but when I was young it was arduous and required lots of time investment, not to mention the problem of dishes, etc. If you are just talking about eating a veggie rich diet, that’s one thing. If you are talking rules, it’s another. Even my mother gave up on it after doing it through two kids grown to adolescence. And she was Old World. She was a wonderful human being, but no better for being observant. And no worse, of course. It was irrelevant to her value as a person and not relevant to my life.

  11. #11 Sharon Astyk
    April 5, 2010

    Following the rules of kashruth can be extremely arduous – and was probably more arduous in a period where vegetarianism was extremely uncommon and when women did all their housework alone. At the same time, however, I know a lot of people who keep kosher (and I make no claim about its relationship to anyone’s merits, it is simply a choice people can make) and most of them don’t find it terribly strenuous. I don’t – it requires a few adjustments in practice that you get used to pretty quickly and then it is just a normal way of life. It need not be either more expensive or more work.

    It is certainly true that people living in food deserts (I live in a rural one, actually) and who are extremely low income face high barriers to eating well. I don’t dispute that this is absolutely true, but that’s not what you said -some cities have a majority poor population, of course, but the majority of American city dwellers are not the most impoverished Americans, and don’t live in food deserts. At this point, there are more American poor people in the suburbs than in cities, and the majority of city populations are not desperately poor – so when you said “most people who dwell in cities” that’s a different population from “the majority of impoverished people in poor urban areas.”

    I certainly can’t afford to shop at “whole paycheck” and most of the people I know who eat inexpensively of whole foods are low income. My family could get food stamps in many states in the Northeast, but lives and eats extremely well on very little – and did so long before we had the capacity to grow our own.

    In some cases, the barriers to people eating well are practically insurmoutable without substantial infrastructure shifts – for example, families working two or three jobs, relying on older children to do the cooking are going to need simple processed foods, and more, need help getting off that treadmill. Families living in shelters without cooking facilities or in transitional housing in motels aren’t going to be able to cook for themselves. But for most working class and lower middle class households, the central barrier is not time and access, it is knowledge, and that’s why I’m bothered by your absolute statements – when you say that something isn’t realistic for most, you deny the real possibility of enabling people to eat better.

    Sharon

  12. #12 cgauthier
    April 5, 2010

    Why, exactly, should anyone adhere to these dietary laws anymore? I understand the tradition thing, to a point. My forebears did all kinds of silly things that no one does anymore and I probably follow even fewer of my immediate family’s religious customs.

    If one really believes that Yahweh is waiting to punish Jews that cheat on his arbitrary rules, then yeah, maybe for one’s own safety, go ahead and skip the cheese-steak. But, if one gains no benefit from this, at greater personal cost, then why? Why? To show your neighbors how well you can rationalize a cruel desert-god’s priest’s ancient whimsy?

    Pork is soooo good. Ham and chops and pork-steaks and prosciutto and myriad sausages and bacon! When eaten in moderation it is a perfectly healthy meat and if it were health food I would eat it at every meal, because it is sooooo delicious. Oh my goodness, how can you not eat that stuff??? Cheese on meat is fantastic and shellfish are delicious too. What, exactly, is “unclean” about corn? There is a world of tasty nutritional variety out there and all this serious discussion about properly observing practices based in ancient superstition and absurd generational appeasement, leaves me very confused.

    I understand that a person can be religious and scientifically literate at the same time, but I have a hard time understanding readers on a science blog worrying about kashrut. These laws aren’t some kind of metaphor for the way to live one’s life righteously; they are very specific rules, arbitrarily set with no regard for basic food science and no unique enhancement of well-being and are, in fact, inconvenient, expensive and pleasure depriving.

  13. #13 Otto
    April 5, 2010

    “Pork is soooo good.”

    Just like dog! Silly cultural taboos.

  14. #14 Sharon Astyk
    April 5, 2010

    I can’t speak for anyone else’s motivations, but for us personally, we do it for two primary reasons. The first is that we like it, and find the mindfulness that accompanies it as a way of eating to be useful. The second is that we want all the people in our lives, including observant family members and members of our community to be able to eat in our home. It is extremely important to me that we be able to welcome everyone in our lives to our table. Do I think the rules matter in a deep sense? No. Do I find life without pork noticeably difficult – nope, and yes, I grew up eating the stuff, and shellfish too. Plenty of yummy things in the world.

    There’s nothing “unclean” about corn (actually, that’s not even a good translation of the language used for non-kosher animals) – but during Passover, many Jews don’t eat grains in memory of the Exodus (actually, Jews of Spanish descent do – it is custom, rather than law), and corn is a grain. Coke wants to sell coke during that week, so they do it. And since corn syrup is bad for you and the heavy growth of corn used to make it bad for the planet, this is not really a problem.

    Sharon

  15. #15 Marc
    April 5, 2010

    “We are now through with two major religious holidays, Easter and Passover. I dislike both holidays, Easter because it is soaked in images of cruelty and mythology, Passover because it is a nationalistic orgy. Now that I’ve offended half my readership”
    >>Don’t worry, most of your readership are atheists. Although I disagree with you on the iPad and the laundry robot, I agree with you here.

  16. #16 Maureen Rouhi
    April 5, 2010

    C&EN is delighted to share the story about kosher ingredients. However, please credit Bethany Halford for the piece. She is the author, not Mitch Jacoby.

  17. #17 revere
    April 5, 2010

    Maureen: Yes, my mistake. I made the correction. You are the 2nd person from ACS to note it (not counting the author) so I also have to give you guys credit for sticking together. It was good science journalism and I”m always anxious to give it support, so I doubly regret my error. I apologized to Ms. Halford in a separate email.

  18. #18 mk
    April 5, 2010

    Nothing more honorably commemorates the struggle of the ancient Israelites like a nice cold glass of Coca Cola next to your matzah!

  19. #19 mk
    April 5, 2010

    The first is that we like it, and find the mindfulness that accompanies it as a way of eating to be useful.

    Curious as to what you actually mean by this? Are you saying you’re proud of yourselves? That your way of eating is somehow superior? Forgive me, I may be completely misreading. Just not sure what you are saying exactly.

    Thanks.

  20. #20 Sharon Astyk
    April 5, 2010

    MK, mindfulness is a Buddhist term, actually, not a Jewish one, that simply means being as wholly aware as you can of what you are doing, rather than doing things automatically. What I like about kashruth is that it requires I cook and eat with some attention – otherwise, I think it is sometimes easy not to be fully aware of the pleasures of food, or of the good fortune I have in having some to eat. Observing kashruth is one way to do that for me and probably for some other Jews, but it is hardly the only one – and I’m making no claim that keeping kosher is better than not keeping kosher (in Judaism, keeping kosher is at best only better for Jews, it isn’t expected of anyone else anyway, and I’m a liberal Jew who has no business worrying about what other people choose to eat anyway ;-)), just that for myself, having something to remind me to pay full attention is a good thing.

    Sharon

  21. #21 Molly, NYC
    April 5, 2010

    Easter because it is soaked in images of cruelty and mythology, Passover because it is a nationalistic orgy.

    The nice thing about coming from a long line of intermarriage is that you celebrate both holidays, and the general impression is that Easter is soaked in images of chocolate and more chocolate, while Passover is an orgy of brisket and matzo ball soup, with a lot of goofing around between courses.

    But you’re right, kashruth is a total racket. The easiest way to keep kosher is to go vegetarian–no meat, no muss, no fuss. But I have a friend with a small vegetarian catering business. She wanted a kosher certification–expand the clientele and all.

    So she asks around and it turns out, this religious obligation, this mitzvah that G-d requires, costs more than the business’s annual gross.

    Check out any rack of kosher meat–package after package of untrimmed fat and gristle, thawed and re-thawed, for which the per-pound price is maybe twice that of its non-kosher counterpart. And people buy it–apparently in an effort to fight the vicious stereotype that all Jews are smart.

  22. #22 Art
    April 5, 2010

    Kosher is, IMO, pretty much an anachronism. But a thousand years before there was an FDA or USDA or sanitation department or health inspectors; there was kosher. Food poisoning, and food borne illness used to be a regular thing. The Jews were pushing sanitation, clean water, and clean food long before germ theory. The Jews were clean before clean was cool.

    Now that the rest of humanity has caught up their rules based on primitive understanding, and cultural practices seem quaint.

    Of course if the modern western culture were to stumble and governments fall to chaos the USDA and FDA and health inspectors might go by the wayside. But the Jewish laws would still be there. As they have been for thousands of years.

  23. #23 revere
    April 5, 2010

    Art: I don’t think there is any historical evidence that kosher laws had anything to do with health. The pig doesn’t chew its cud is the reason given. These are later rationalizations for irrational laws meant to provide tribal identity and cohesion.

  24. #24 A Nonny Mouse
    April 5, 2010

    One of my friends points out that the little circle K (and the circle U and the other symbols on kosher foods) represent the “Jewish Tax” that we all have to pay in the increased cost for all of those “blessed” products.

  25. #25 bsci
    April 5, 2010

    One of my friends points out that the little circle K (and the circle U and the other symbols on kosher foods) represent the “Jewish Tax”
    Perhaps your friend was visiting neo-nazi websites where that term is frequently used. Put bluntly, the cost is insignificant on most products and companies simply wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t something that brought them more customers and profit.

  26. #26 Paula
    April 5, 2010

    Nice having this discussion now, dreaming of leavened goodies tomorrow evening. My own reason for eating “kosher-style”–i.e., don’t mix meat and milk products, no pork products, no shellfish, no Bambis or Flickas–is from some sense of what revere, in #23 here, calls “provid[ing] tribal identity and cohesion.” As for Passover, if one’s going to celebrate it, might as well do it right–recreating the experience of a certain level of hunger in remembrance of, and in solidarity with, that group of extremely distant relatives (and, for non-Jews, nonrelatives) whose experience reminds us we too once were strangers in the land. I mean, solidarity forever, you know?

  27. #27 Paula
    April 5, 2010

    And our solidarity with those freedom fighters need be by no means nationalistic. Anyhow, in Berkeley seders it wasn’t.

  28. #28 Lea
    April 5, 2010

    Having no experience with kosher this or kosher that let me say I share your sentiments directed towards Easter. It’s cruelty at its best to keep pushing on the public a particular religion. I too believe most people continue to support Easter and the like just so they can have time off of work!

    K: enjoyed the link you provided. Have read a few news stories on Bolivia lately and hope to hell they ignore the ridiculous rants of idiots that continue to disrespect another country’s choices. What got me at the end of that article was the last sentence: “The International Narcotics Control Board has called for years for a ban on coca leaf chewing”.

  29. #29 Art
    April 6, 2010

    [i]Art: I don’t think there is any historical evidence that kosher laws had anything to do with health.[/i]

    Seeing as that the Jewish culture of the day had no concept of germ theory, disease, environmental control of vermin, or sanitation as a health measure I doubt there could be any “historical evidence that kosher laws had anything to do with health”. They didn’t have the language or conceptual framework to make a case that would satisfy your criteria.

    But the simple fact that so many of their laws seem to deal with subjects which might, in some context, be health measures cannot escape notice. The cultural explanations are not important. Nor is it important that these behaviors might help unit the community. Culture, and the evolution of culture, is not necessarily designed and the benefit may be be in an area entirely unexpected.

    It was noticed when the RRs were advancing west that Irish workers were generally more prone to disease than the Chinese. It has been suggested that the predilection of the Chinese workers to take their water in the form of tea from boiled water protected them from waterborne diseases. The Irish tended to drink freely from standing water. I doubt the Chinese were fully aware of the biological basis of waterborne disease. But their cultural bias paid dividends in survival rates and capacity for work.

    It matters not a whit that the Jewish dietary laws were not based on science. It is the behavior, and the consequences of the behavior, that is beneficial.

  30. #30 wrpd4
    April 6, 2010

    My local Home Depot just outside Los Angeles had a cooler last week marked “Mexican Coke”. I checked the ingredients and realized that it was kosher Coke. I thought this was an odd marketing scheme. The bottles of Coke have since migrated into a cooler without the labelling. It seemed very odd to me.

  31. #31 Cate
    April 6, 2010

    Food is not just food. Our behaviors regarding food are a transmission of important cultural values. Revere, I am sure you benefitted from the values your mother brought to her food preparation, and transmitted those values to your own children without the aid of Kosher traditions.

    But other families are not transmitting values regarding food to their families. Two thirds of our well-fed nation think/feel they are starving, and so they eat into obesity.

    If we were more observant about the meaning of food: e.g., sharing, mutual effort to produce and prepare food, etc. we could find a way out of the epidemic of obesity. This does not mean that any particular set of rituals need to be followed, but values need to be served with the foods on our tables.

    I often try to explain what the gift of shortbread means: that it is a wish for prosperity from the giver to the receiver, made of simple inexpensive ingredients: butter, flour, only enough sugar to taste rich not sweet, and salt. Most commercial versions are too sweet to be authentic.

    Because I know the meaning of shortbread as a symbolic gift, I would never eat more than one or two pieces. I treat other cookies the same way. Other people tell me that an box of cookies in their house does not last more than a couple of hours – they eat wildly as though they are starving. That has become the norm, but it is far from normal behavior or thinking.

    As a consequence, I appreciate Kosher food and the practice of keeping Kosher.

    And I trust the rabbis far more than our U.S. food inspection!

  32. #32 Sili
    April 6, 2010

    Marvin Harris has an interesting book about food taboos. He ascribes the ‘abominable pig’ to being an issue of economics. It was simply not efficient use of foodstuffs to fatten pigs in the Middle East of yore.

  33. #33 Sili
    April 6, 2010

    Also, would glycerin as the byproduct from making biodiesel be kosher?

  34. #34 Revere
    April 6, 2010

    Cate: No, food is not just food. Mrs. R. has a theory that the reason it is the mother’s ethnicity that governs in many instances (e.g., to be born Jewish your mother has to be Jewish; it doesn’t matter what your father is) is because culture is passed down through the kitchen. Mrs. R. is Italian and my son thinks of himself as Italian (sometimes). But rabbiis are not there to protect your health when certifying food as kosher. They are there for a different reason and you can choose to trust that they make good on that or not but it won’t protect you from getting food poisoning. Kosher food is potentially as dangerous or as wholesome or as nutritious or as good as any other food. It’s the product of ritual and isn’t based on anything rational. And for me, it’s a silly anachronism. For others it plays a part in their life and I’m OK with that. But it isn’t any different in that respect than “being a loyal Yankees fan and watching all the games with your Yankees hat and jersey on.

  35. #35 Cate
    April 6, 2010

    Revere: Wow — when I buy food from Asia, I only buy if it is Kosher, thinking that makes it safer. I had known about the problems in China with adulteration of food years ago, and thought I was being very careful. Not so?

    Some in my mother’s family kept ‘quasi-kosher’ in the south which I know is a very unsettling, upsetting impossibility to those who are observant — no truer a dhichotomy, I’ve been told. My mother nearly fainted when she discovered I had cooked meat in the pot she reserved for dairy. She served cheesburgers, but eating dairy with meat was not ok — ignoring said cheesburgers because . . . whatever. Southern Jews have a tough time of it in general, and eating a pastry in the south is likely an ingestion of pork. So they ‘made do.’ I was told that trichonosis was the devil in pork, so with proper preparation pork is ok to eat. Avoiding pork identified someone as Jewish, and Jews could not be professors in southern public universities, hence our family ate pork. The physicians in our family were more open — a deam of a southern medical school recently said of my gggfather to me: “But he was a J . . . . oh, hum, do you know . . . uh, never mind.” I said I knew, and we laughed, wryly. A century of little change.

    But I was expressly told that Kosher food was safer, and I believed it. I never ever once believed in the tooth fairy, or Santa . . .

  36. #36 Otto
    April 6, 2010

    “As for Passover, if one’s going to celebrate it, might as well do it right–recreating the experience of a certain level of hunger in remembrance of, and in solidarity with, that group of extremely distant relatives (and, for non-Jews, nonrelatives) whose experience reminds us we too once were strangers in the land.”

    Funny, I thought it was celebration of a historically undocumented event that involved retributive slaughter.

  37. #37 bsci
    April 6, 2010

    Also, would glycerin as the byproduct from making biodiesel be kosher?

    If the glycerin byproduct of biodiesel came from vegetable products, it could definitely be kosher. Biodiesel made from animal products is also fine since it’s not food. I know a rabbi who got his biodiesel from the deep-fryer of a local, very non-kosher restaurant. The gylcerin from that deep fryer would probably not be considered kosher for eating.

    Otto, I’m not sure anything that has been written about for over 2 millenia of books could be called “historically undocumented.” Perhaps “not supported by current archeological evidence,” but historically undocumented seems to be a bit extreme. I’ll also challenge you to find anything in the seder liturgy that celebrates retributive slaughter. The primary mention of the ten plagues is paired with spilling some wine to mark a decrease in the celebration when noting the pain that happened to even persecutors. In traditional liturgy, there is a particularly angry passage later in the seder, but it’s directed at those who are currently, persecuting Jews.

  38. #38 bsci
    April 6, 2010

    Revere,
    I completely agree with you that there’s no evidence supporting kashrut for modern health, though there is no reason to discount historical health benefits. The very few biblical laws of kashrut were codified as the modern, very detailed, laws of kashrut over a millenium-or-so. There are definitely things that might have been added due to health/sanitation benefits (i.e. rigourous keeping of stoneware that contained raw meat separate from stuff used to prepare non-meat dishes).

    Pulling the health benefits question aside, if you are a fan of brined meats, like pre-brining a turkey for dinner, kosher meat is actually a reasonable way to do this because they are all pre-salted.

  39. #39 mk
    April 6, 2010

    “I’ll also challenge you to find anything in the seder liturgy that celebrates retributive slaughter.”

    Did Otto say that the Seder liturgy celebrates retributive slaughter? He appears to say that the event has some retributive slaughter in it. Which is true enough.

  40. #40 A Nonny Mouse
    April 6, 2010

    @bsci – Put bluntly, the cost is insignificant on most products and companies simply wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t something that brought them more customers and profit.

    Misses the point entirely. Why should I pay a dime, or a tenth of a cent more so an “insignificant” portion of the populace (~600,000 based on the estimates of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs http://www.jcpa.org/dje/articles2/demographics.htm ) can indulge their superstitions?

  41. #41 Otto
    April 6, 2010

    “I’ll also challenge you to find anything in the seder liturgy that celebrates retributive slaughter.”

    Perhaps I misinterpreted that bit of the Haggadah about the smiting of the Egyptians.

  42. #42 kaleberg
    April 6, 2010

    The Kosher rules were developed by the exiled Jewish elite during the Babylonian captivity. They enforced a level of cultural cohesion that allowed the religion to remain intact through their relocation. This means that Moses, and the Jews he led from Egypt, did not keep Kosher since the Exodus took place well before any Kosher rules. Maybe Jews should get a break from the Kosher rules for Passover to commemorate Jewish life in ancient Egypt and on the road, so to speak.

    K: Actually, Coca Cola used coca leaf products well into the 1980s. I remember an article on Stepan Labs in New Jersey which was the only laboratory licensed for cocaine processing in the U.S. Apparently, cocaine is used by ophthalmologist to relieve certain types of severe eye pain. They processed about 50 tons of coca leaves a year. Coca Cola bought a non-narcotic extract of those leaves for use in flavoring their cola drink. When Coca Cola switched to New Coke in the mid-80s, they quickly switched back, but I never liked the New Old Coke as much as the Old Old Coke. My guess is that they stopped using the coca leaf extract then, possibly in response to government pressure during that decade’s cocaine and crack spree. I’m not sure when they ditched sugar, but sugar has been socialized in the U.S. since the 30s, so its price here has always been higher than the market price.

  43. #43 bsci
    April 7, 2010

    Otto, It definitely talks about killing Egyptians, but I’ll repeat the challenge to find where it is celebrated (your comment #36). The closest I can think of is the talmudic discussion regarding the precise number of plagues inflicted on the Egyptians.

    A Nonny Mouse,
    Kashrut certification is advertising. It is something companies do that costs money, but is assumed to bring in more revenue than cost. The cost of getting a sports star to endorse a pair of sneakers is probably more than the cost of kosher certification for an entire line of food products. Do you get up in arms that a few dollars of the cost of a pair of sneakers is going to advertising? Do you get angry at other types of targeted advertisements to populations or only if they’re Jews? Do you police your purchases and avoid companies that spend too much on advertising?

  44. #44 Vicki
    April 7, 2010

    My partner, who isn’t Jewish (long line of English and a few Irish immigrants), is pleased to buy Hebrew National salami and hot dogs because another set of eyes can’t hurt, given the known lapses in the FDA-mandated safety rules.

    As for most of the non-meat stuff that’s kosher, like Coke and Entenman’s cookies, the pricing in the American supermarket or convenience store isn’t so precise that a hypothetical tenth of a cent difference per package in manufacturing cost is going to turn up in the retail price. I can walk three blocks from my office and have a choice of kosher Indian buffets for lunch–all vegetarian, so kosher is a matter of a rabbi inspecting the kitchen, and doesn’t affect the price of the okra and chick peas and rice and milk and lentils and such that go into the food.

  45. #45 M. Randolph Kruger
    April 7, 2010

    Revere, I am interested in your mother who had to have been six kinds of unique with you around.

    You were born, did she quit practicing her faith at that time? Its not snarky and its a general question because you didnt cover it. I know she has passed on but did she go in her faith?

    Amen Vicki…. Its like that even in aviation. My inspections people follow up on their inspections and we find that the inspectors werent inspecting at all in a lot of inspections…Get my meaning?

  46. #46 revere
    April 7, 2010

    Randy: No, she remained relgious in the way many women of that generation were religious. She obeyed ritual (she continued to only eat and serve food considered kosher but didn’t keep a kosher kitchen after I was born; I’m the youngest and have a brother and sister a dozen years older, so they were brought up in a house with a kosher kitchen; both are now atheists). Did she believe in a God? Never talked about it. She recited ritual that had prayers but I don’t think heaven or a deity were much on her radar screen. Don’t know, really. She was just an observant Jew, which could mean a lot of things. I’m neither religious nor an observant Jew. I don’t believe in any of it and think Israel is just another state, better than some, not as good as others. It has no loyalty from me, any more than Italy or France or Russia or Ukrainia (all countries I have some kind of second degree tie to in one way or another). She was very different than me in one way. She never joked about any other race or religion and didn’t permit us to, either (just goes to show you it didn’t affect me). She had more respect for cultural identity than I do. I consider it a barrier between people and not a source of pride. As for her funeral, yes there was a rabbi officiating, although he was pretty inoffensive even for someone like me. But I’m good about things like that. I go to all sorts of religious services for family (my wife’s family are Catholic and both of my kids were married in a church). It means nothing to me so why make an issue of it? I do it that way because I love my family and religion isn’t important enough to endanger that. I’m a very staunch and unrelenting atheist but what other people do isn’t my concern unless it affects me or a lot of people adversely.

  47. #47 caia
    April 8, 2010

    Revere — You mean Coke has pig extract in it? Does the non-kosher version still?

    Cuz I’m neither kosher nor vegan, and however distilled and rendered and whatever it may be, my instinctive reaction is still “ew.”

    Good thing I don’t drink Coke very often.

    in Judaism, keeping kosher is at best only better for Jews, it isn’t expected of anyone else anyway,

    Actually, scripturally it’s expected of everyone in a Jewish household, including non-Jewish servants, etc. (IOW, handy as it might be to have a shabbos goy come over and turn on the stove, strictly speaking it’s not allowed.)

  48. #48 revere
    April 8, 2010

    caia: No pig in a Coke (sorry!). The issue was high fructose corn syrup, since corn is a grain not allowed at Passover (at least for sephardic Jews).

  49. #49 caia
    April 10, 2010

    *obligatory groan*

    (I actually thought it was rather good.)

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