Just a thought, but could the new food credo of “Eat food not too much, mostly plants,” be a threat to the Kashrut industry as we know it?
I just finished watching a promotional video from the OU. Targeted to the food industry, this video demonstrates the process by which a product receives certification. Using a fictional cake made by Drakes (of Seinfeld lore), the OU rabbi shows how, early in the process the ingredient list of the new cake is sent to the OU to ensure that all ingredients are kosher. Some of the ingredients are found to be problematic, the red sprinkles on top and the emulsifiers that in the words of Rabbi Moshe Elefant “make ingredients mix when they normally can’t.”
According to Rebbe Michael Pollan, food is defined as something your grandmother would recognize. I would bet a big bunch of kale that your grandmother didn’t use emulsifiers to make sure her cake was delicious.
Historically, Kosher agencies only began to spring up when food began to be manufactured outside the home. Before then, there was no need for it outside of meat certification and that was mostly done by local, individual rabbis. In the present age, the reason why Kosher is a multimillion dollar industry is precisely because things like mono- and di-glycerides, yellow #5, and carmine exist, and because food is made by scientists rather than chefs (the Drake kitchen in the video looks far removed from the kitchen I work in. In truth it looks rather like my college chemistry lab), in huge factories. According to Rabbi Menachem Genack, when an ingredient isn’t Kosher, the OU helps them find a Kosher substitute from their database of over 100,000 (!!!) ingredients.
What if we stopped eating those foods, as per Rebbe Pollan? Would the big four kosher supervisors be out of work? I am not calling for mass unemployment of mashgichim (kosher supervisors) worldwide. I also do not think that there is a conspiracy to ensure that manufactured food is a mainstay of the kosher diet to ensure that mashgichim are assured a good pension at the end of a large fruitful (fruit-less?) career.
However, looking at what is required to certify an ingredient list definitely brought home for me the fact that eating many foods means eating a chemistry set. Rather than eating a cake with a kosher butter substitute, or Kosher partially hydrogenated oil, I would rather just not eat that product. I can already anticipate an OU response to this line of thinking: “We’re just responding to the demand of the Kosher consumer” or “Our responsibility is to the Halacha (Jewish law), which states nothing about the Kashrut of trans fats”. To this I would say, What are you doing to prepare for the market shifting? Are you prepared to retrain Kosher supervisors to work in another field? Are you ready to face the fact that there is a Biblical requirement to maintain one’s health? If it would be required, would you certify cigarettes? Now that trans fats are banned in many places are you ready to refuse to certify trans fats?
My vision (natch), is perhaps in addition to calling for a decentralized system of produce and meat, we should be calling for local Kashrut organizations certifying local producers, and refusing to use ingredients sourced from China or South America. At the very least if we know where local food is available we should be voting with our stomachs and buying local rather than mass produced.
Watch the Video Here
Hat tip to Chef Laura for inspiration