Thanks to The Jew & The Carrot contributor, Jeffrey Yoskowitz, for his great article “Thinking Outside the Bun,” in The New Jersey Jewish News. Read the article here and see the full text below.
Also – check out The Jew & The Carrot’s new “Jcarrot in the News” page.
Thinking Outside the Bun
By: Jeffrey Yoskowitz
New Jersey Jewish Week
I just ate a kosher Whopper from Burger King in Tel Aviv on a soggy, white sesame seed bun that oozed with mayonnaise, tasteless pickles, subpar mustard, and wilted lettuce. I made sure to add an extra packet of ketchup to enhance the flavors of the meat patty.
Israel was ahead in terms of kosher fast food, but the United States is catching up. A kosher Subway has opened in Livingston, one of 15 kosher Subways expected to open this year throughout the United States.
When large corporations take an interest in kosher food, the Jewish community responds with jubilation, a sense of triumph, and an opening of their wallets. More exciting than the typical Jewish products (read: anything made by Manischewitz or Streits) are American products that go kosher.
It began with Crisco vegetable shortening, which in 1914 was certified kosher and advertised itself as the product for which the Hebrew race has been waiting 4,000 The pareve replacement for butter and chicken fat was warmly welcomed by Jewish housewives.
Following World War II major American producers were rolling out kosher products on a regular basis. But perhaps the biggest announcement came in 1998 when Nabisco made headlines. Rabbi Joshua Hammerman wrote in The New York Times Magazine that the Orthodox Union endorsement represented a telltale sign that Jews have finally made it. After eighty-five years in the gentile larder, Oreos have gone kosher.
Subway is following in Proctor & Gamble’s and Nabisco’s footsteps, selling American legitimization to Jewish consumers. The kosher consumer has long watched Jared Fogle Subway’s everyday-guy spokesman” laud Subway’s health benefits and its superior fix-ins on TV. Now they’ll be able to enjoy yet another forbidden fruit from which Jewish children have kept their distance, as Hammerman described the Oreo.
Meanwhile, the classic New York kosher deli has fallen on hard times. The Greater New York Delicatessen Dealers Association, which in the 1960s counted 300 kosher delis in the metropolitan area, is defunct, according to the New York Times Magazine. The 2nd Avenue Deli, which reopened Monday, Dec. 12, in a new location, after shutting down in 2006, is merely the exception that proves the rule. Even kosher consumers show a preference for a nationwide fast-food chain over a traditional kosher restaurant embracing the fast-food convenience even if the quality is mediocre and the food is expensive. (One of the most critical components of fast food, its cost effectiveness, is all but lost with a kosher franchise.)
Is the kosher community losing sight of classic Jewish value and quality? As Jackie Mason exclaimed, “A sandwich to a Jew is just as important as a country to a Gentile.” On the Jewish food blog The Jew and the Carrot, chef Laura Frankel expressed her confusion as a Jew and one who values the long tradition of Jewish food: “Why should I be happy and even celebratory over another fast food chain that opened kosher outposts? The food just isn’t good, period. These fast food restaurants are all about everything that is bad in American pop culture.”
Frankel and groups like Hazon, which sponsors The Jew & The Carrot blog, are suggesting that we widen our definition of Jewish and kosher food. Instead of celebrating our co-option by corporate culture, they are promoting efforts such as community-supported agricultural (CSA) programs. Such programs, often run through synagogues, Hazon, and other groups, put congregants in touch with area farms, which provide regular deliveries of organic, local produce to subscribers. In addition to supporting sustainable agriculture and local farmers, a Jewish CSA, writes Hazon, offers a chance to re-examine and potentially redefine what it means for food to be “fit” not only for us, but for the community and the earth as well.
New Jersey’s thriving Jewish population should be fully confident in its place in American society without having to seek validation from Jared Fogle. Kosher consumers have the potential to join the new Jewish food movement. Just imagine being able to say Mazal tova on your new kosher farmers’ market!
Ken yehi ratzon (May it be so).