Saturday, August 11, 2012

Kosher and the Politics of Food

A big part of being a religious Jew has to do with the religious dietary laws know as "Kashurt" or "kosher". Basically the Torah lays out a list of animals that can be eaten and those that are forbidden to eat. As most people know, religious Jews can eat beef and chicken, but not pork or shell fish. On top of that, the Torah has a cryptic line about cooking a baby calf in its mother's milk, which rabbis have interpreted to meaning that it is forbidden to mix dairy and meat products. So no cheeseburgers allowed either.

Of course as everything in orthodox Judaism, there was a need to make this more complicated. There are time periods to wait between eating meet and dairy. There is a need for separate tools and utensils. Then there are hundreds of different stringency added by different rabbis and groups over the years. All this has led to food politics in the religious Jewish world.

Kosher restaurants and kosher food producers must get certification that their food is kosher by some rabbi organization  In America there is the OU, the OK, the Start K and many others. In Israel there is The Chief Rabbanit, "Adah Charedi", "Bedatz"," Bet Yosef" and others. All of these different certifications mean the food is kosher. However, different people wont eat from certain certifications because it is associated with a specific rabbi, or not associated with a specific rabbi. Or even because one certification is given by rabbis of Middle-Eastern heritage as opposed to European heritage. Supposedly the places you will eat from say something about your connection to Judaism. People proudly say, "I only eat food from x certification", or "I would never step foot into a place with y certification".

Back when I was religious, I always hated the food politics. In my eyes, if it was kosher and tasty, I would eat it. If it was not tasty, or not kosher I wouldn't eat it. Why should their be politics involved in my food? Food is to be enjoyed and sustain your body. Nothing more. But now, somehow the politics of food has become a big deal in the U.S.

Recently, CEO of the fast food chain "Chick fil a", Can Cathy, came out and said that he is against marriage equality because he thinks it will piss off god and god will than take his anger out on America. It also became common knowledge that "Chick fil a" donates money to many anti-gay hate groups such as "The Family Research Council". In response, those that are for gay rights called for a boycott of the fast food chain. This  makes because if you would not want your money going to the groups Cathy donates to, why would you pay pay for his products. It does not make sense if you simply don't agree with his own personal beliefs. Chances are you buy stuff every day from people that you do not agree with. Everyone is different and won't always agree.

Rainbow Pride Flag outside Chick fil a in protest

The calls for boycott were followed by religious right-wing leaders like Mike Huckabee saying that people that support "traditional marriage" should go out of their way to support "Chick fil a". He even called for a national "Chick fil a" appreciation day. So now, people went out of their way to wait in long lines for mediocre fast food chicken, not because they wanted to eat the chicken, rather because they wanted to make a statement about their position on marriage. The politics of food has come to America.

People waiting in very very long lines to buy their chicken

Personally, if the CEO had stated his own personal belief and did not donate to hate groups, I would probably eat at "Chick fil a". I always said I will never deny myself a product because I don't agree with the politics of the provider. Nor would I go out of my way to get a product because I agree with the provider's politics. Food is food and mixing it with politics is silly. Millions of people around the world are starving while we have the luxury to chose whatever yummy food we may want. So why would we start denying ourselves food because of something like politics.


  1. i actually agree with you here. besides for the actual halachik differences between ashkenaz and sfard where it makes sense that sometimes one cant eat by the other, youre totally right.

    1. We were bound to agree about something at some point :)

  2. I agree with you 100%

    I also hate when they get into hashkafic issues and tell restaurants that they will pull their supervision for things like kids hanging out there on saturday nights or having mixed seating areas.

  3. I am starting to think Kosher is almost like a protection racket.