Better Living Through Chemistry

 

My father tells a story about my grandfather, who was a kosher supervisor in a hotel in the late 1950s and early ’60s. The hotel management came to him with a question: Could they serve non-dairy creamer, which had recently been invented?

On one level, it’s an easy question. Jewish law prohibits eating meat and dairy products together, even in minute quantities. But non-dairy creamer, being non-dairy, technically should be safe to eat as part of a meat meal. On the other hand, there are various second-order regulations to protect against ignorance: It’s important to avoid the appearance of a violation, because people might not realize what they are seeing. They might come away thinking something is permitted that is actually forbidden.

My grandfather’s solution: The hotel could in fact serve non-dairy creamer, but not in the usual silver creamers. It could only be served in its original packaging, so diners would not mistake what they were being served.

I thought of the creamer story when someone forwarded me this article:

They are two words you don’t often find together on the same product packaging:  Bacon.  And kosher.

But the newest variety of Ritz crackers is a bacon and black pepper flavor, and ironically, the product which is certified kosher by the Orthodox Union, actually contains dairy ingredients.

And the animating spirit of my grandfather’s decision is alive and well:

When giving its approval to products of this nature, the OU is vigilant about proper package labeling. “One thing we do insist on is that it is clearly marked as an imitation, not the real thing,” noted Rabbi [Moshe] Elefant, [COO of the Orthodox Union’s kashruth division,] who said that there had been an issue approximately six months ago with a bacon flavored potato chip whose designation as an artificially [sic] product was not noted as prominently as the OU would have liked, a problem that has since been corrected.

I don’t usually snack on crackers, but these reportedly taste very much like real bacon, so I might try them just to see what this bacon hype is all about.

And I plan to give thanks — first, for the wonders of modern technology that gave us kosher bacon flavor in my lifetime. And second, for the authorities who decline to prohibit things on the basis of how they look, and instead permit things on the basis of what they are.

Published in General
Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 30 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    Here is a stupid question.  Is turkey bacon kosher?

    • #1
  2. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Z in MT:
    Here is a stupid question. Is turkey bacon kosher?

    In principle, turkey bacon can be kosher. It needs to be made from kosher ingredients, in particular kosher turkey meat. Turkey bacon that has been made with reliable kosher supervision is hard to find, but I see you can get it on the Web. I’ve never tried it.

    • #2
  3. user_340536 Member
    user_340536
    @ShaneMcGuire

    Let’s say you belong to a religion that says eating strawberries is a sin. Strawberry happens to be a unique taste, as we know, and it’s quite good. So scientists of that religion go about creating products that mimic the taste of the strawberries (taste-testing using subjects of another religion). 

    Aren’t these scientists trying to get around the law rather than abiding by it? One of the big reasons for banning strawberries was to set apart that group from all others, which is destroyed by fake-strawbery milkshakes.

    Let’s say I belong to a religion that says watching two strangers have sex is a sin. But an enterprising movie director of that religion creates movies where the strangers have simulated sex, not the real thing. Can I watch that?

    What if I belong to a religion that says adultery is a sin, but adultery is defined by traditional copulation. May I engage in simulated adultery?

    What if I belong to a religion that says it’s wrong to post witty things on the internet, but I make sure all my comments appear to be an attempt at wit without actually achieving that goal.

    • #3
  4. Podkayne of Israel Inactive
    Podkayne of Israel
    @PodkayneofIsrael

    Bacon Ritz crackers will never top that classic Ritz absurdity, the Ritz Mock Apple Pie. Sliced fresh apples are replaced by Ritz crackers doused with lemon juice.

    As a child, I spent many idle hours contemplating what weird circumstances would have to combine to make this combination I any way desirable.

    • #4
  5. Kim K. Inactive
    Kim K.
    @KimK

    I tend to agree with Shane McGuire. If your religion prohibits a thing, it seems like a work-around to use a realistic substitute. Weren’t the dietary laws instituted in order to achieve a people apart? Or is it the letter of the law and not the spirit that counts?

    • #5
  6. Scarlet Pimpernel Inactive
    Scarlet Pimpernel
    @ScarletPimpernel

    Funny!  Every summer I make lunch for my synagogue after Shabbat morning services. Usually I leave out a bottle of Bacos or such a product.  They are OU, and made out of soy!

    • #6
  7. CandE Inactive
    CandE
    @CandE

    You make me smile, Shane.

    I do belong to a religion that teaches not to drink alcohol, coffee and tea (of the black or green type, herbal is AOK), and these types of questions pop up all the time.  Should members eat food cooked with alcohol?  What about coffee flavored ice cream?  What about ice cream made with coffee??  What about decaf???  What about caffeinated soft drinks (since coffee and tea both have caffeine that must be the forbidden ingredient!)???

    Sometimes I don’t know how we manage.  On the other hand, the Sunday School classes about this topic are always the most lively.

    -E

    • #7
  8. flownover Inactive
    flownover
    @flownover

    Oy from a goy !

    Reading the Torah was like reading Moby Dick for me. There are more rules than this presbyterian can remember .  I enjoy the narrative parts , but the technical parts were really interesting as you could see how a people respond to the demands of nature . In Moby Dick you saw the same thing with a narrower focus, like killing whales versus living . 

    There is a good reason for every law of kosher, all based in a nonrefrigerated world though . There is a good reason for every harpoon dimension , that is  if you’re a harpooner. Unfortunately we have more lampooners these days than harpooners . 

    When I’m not spending time arguing about the merits of one barbeque joint vs another with my reformed friends, I think of ways to cook pork . My first memorable experience with kosher was in grade school as I sat with my best friend’s grandmother at Friday night dinner and wondered aloud “what those balls were in my soup” .  Went to temple after with my buddy and his dad and uncle. The yarmulke sat easily on my blond goyische head. Good shabbos.

    Stay away from bacon flavored anything. Bacon is good by itself. Everything else should stand on it’s own as well, adding bacon is lazy .

    Try adding shallots or some fatback .

    • #8
  9. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Thanks to Z and Son of Spengler for posing and answering, respectively, a burning question that has plagued this house for days.

    • #9
  10. Metalheaddoc Member
    Metalheaddoc
    @Metalheaddoc

    Along similar lines, should vegans be eating vegan facsimiles of meat like sausage or burgers? Are they being sacrilegious by pretending to consume the flesh of beasts?

    • #10
  11. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Shane McGuire: Aren’t these scientists trying to get around the law rather than abiding by it?….

     With any religious commandment, there is discussion and debate around its meaning. Unless asceticism is a value, there is no reason to prohibit permitted things. So it may not be a case of trying to circumvent a restriction at all. It’s critical to look at context, any reasons given in the text, and any conflicting passages to understand the true contours of what is required.

    Is the Biblical prohibition on eating pork products fundamentally about the flavor? Or about the source of products (i.e. pigs)? Rabbinic Judaism understands it to be the latter. So there is is no circumvention of anything when eating pork-flavored products.

    Shane McGuire: Let’s say I belong to a religion that says watching two strangers have sex is a sin. But an enterprising movie director of that religion creates movies where the strangers have simulated sex, not the real thing.

    Again, is the essence of the prohibition the sex, or the watching? Mainstream Rabbinic Judaism would understand it to be the watching, because of the feelings it generates. So this simulation would be treated differently.

    • #11
  12. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Kim K.:
    I tend to agree with Shane McGuire. If your religion prohibits a thing, it seems like a work-around to use a realistic substitute. Weren’t the dietary laws instituted in order to achieve a people apart? Or is it the letter of the law and not the spirit that counts?

    It depends on the nature of the substitute though, doesn’t it? Consider the prohibition on mixing meat and dairy. I have a recipe that calls for milk chocolate, and I substitute dark chocolate. What have I done wrong? There is a prohibition on drinking an animal’s blood. Should I avoid corn syrup with red food coloring?

    It also depends on what you understand the spirit to be. Rabbinic understanding of the restrictions is that God told the Jews to separate ourselves by placing certain animals off limits, not by placing certain flavors or appearances off limits.
    We also have a requirement to live life to the fullest, and enjoy the bounty of the earth. If were were to be too strict on one thing (avoiding permitted foods unnecessarily), we would be violating a different religious commandment.

    • #12
  13. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Shane McGuire:
    Let’s say you belong to a religion that says eating strawberries is a sin. Strawberry happens to be a unique taste, as we know, and it’s quite good. So scientists of that religion go about creating products that mimic the taste of the strawberries…

    In case you were wondering what strawberry flavoring typically contains:

    Amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethol, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl acetate, ethyl amyl ketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl heptylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate, ethyl nitrate, ethyl propionate, ethyl valerate, heliotropin, hydroxyphenyl-2-butanone, a-ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butyrate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylacetophenone, methyl anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptine carbonate, methyl naphthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, neroli essential oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, orris butter, phenethyl alcohol, rose, rum ether, g-undecalactone, and vanillin.

    I’m with SoS.

    Whether fake strawberry flavor violates a taboo against strawberries depends on why that taboo exists. If it exists, for example, because strawberry plants are considered too sacred to be molested for their berries, then fake strawberry flavor, which does not molest any strawberry plants, seems OK.

    • #13
  14. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Oh, my…  Yesterday, my mom and I made pogasca, which is fantastic.  Yeast biscuits (kneaded and raised about a million times), intermittently sprinkled with toportyu, which is basically pork-fat cracklings.  Not sure I could handle the removal of all the meat/bread foods that I love so much!  Kind of eliminates most French cooking, too.  Yikes! 

    Interesting thought, though, about the connection between economic success and self-discipline.

    • #14
  15. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Ryan M:
    Oh, my… Yesterday, my mom and I made pogasca, which is fantastic. Yeast biscuits (kneaded and raised about a million times), intermittently sprinkled with toportyu, which is basically pork-fat cracklings.

     You get to cook food like that with your mom? That sounds pretty awesome!

    • #15
  16. user_340536 Member
    user_340536
    @ShaneMcGuire

    Spengler—Good points. 

    Let’s go from law to wisdom. If you want people to stay clear of pork, is it wise to turn them on to how tasty it is?

    Back to law—if the underlying reason for the proscription on pork is health, then should the law hold once we’ve made it a safe food?

    And if the proscription is for general health and not safety, then extending the law to include laboratory bacon seems wiser than letting fake bacon in.

    But, you know what? Not my call and really none of my business. There’s a reason Christians eat ham on Easter!

    • #16
  17. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Shane McGuire: if the underlying reason for the proscription on pork is health, then should the law hold once we’ve made it a safe food?

    The Orthodox Jewish understanding is that the kosher laws never existed for health or safety. We don’t know the reason, other than that God tells us avoiding certain foods will allow us to come closer to God as part of the covenant we entered. Any health or safety benefits are incidental.

    Since we don’t know the full reason for the commandments, there is a millenia-old debate among Jewish scholars: Should they encourage discipline (“I wish I could eat catfish, but I restrain myself because God tells me to”)? Or should they condition us to find the foods unpalatable (“I’ve kept kosher so long, catfish just seems gross to me”)?

    My personal belief is that both answers are true for different people at different times. There is a wide diversity of personalities, and people’s spiritual needs are far from uniform. One person may find bacon Ritz piques his curiosity, while another finds that the bacon Ritz satisfies his. Some need to go to greater lengths than others to avoid temptation.

    • #17
  18. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Son of Spengler:

    There is a wide diversity of personalities, and people’s spiritual needs are far from uniform. One person may find bacon Ritz piques his curiosity, while another finds that the bacon Ritz satisfies his. Some need to go to greater lengths than others to avoid temptation.

    Exactly. We Christians face exactly the same problem when confronting temptation, and must resort to the same sort of reasoning. We’re all human.

    • #18
  19. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Son,

    What your post needs is more visual aids.

    Kosher

    Gefilte Fish 2 Gefilte Fish Kirkpatrick's Mother Kosher 1

    Not Kosher

    The B Team

    Kosher

    GW imagesCAORRGCX

    Not Kosher

     Crowning Himself Emperor

    I Know Nothing

    BH

    I hope this makes the concept of Kosher more clear.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #19
  20. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    SoS, this post illustrates a truly elegant style of spiritual jiu jitsu on your grandfather’s part…thinking *inside* the box, er, container…Simply truthful and marvelous!  I continue to learn and enjoy…Thanks so much!

    • #20
  21. A Beleaguered Conservative Member
    A Beleaguered Conservative
    @

    In his book The Hungry Soul, Leon Kass makes an interesting argument about the meaning behind the Jewish dietary laws.  He begins by noting that, in Genesis, creation proceeds through separation.  Distinct beings are formed by being separated from the chaos.  But, as the biblical text indicates, there is always a danger of the beings slipping back into the chaos.  In other words, beings are in danger of losing their distinctiveness, of losing their essence.  Beings have a proper place and a proper form.  A being is corrupted when its place or form is compromised.   Many of the animals that are prohibited by the dietary laws are in-between beings, beings that have no proper place or form.  For example, amphibians have no proper place and jellyfish, since they are so fluid, have no proper form.  We should not make these kinds of being a part of ourselves by consuming them because they undermine the created order, which is always in danger of falling back into the chaos.   

    Just a theory, but in his book, Kass details how well supported it is by various parts of the biblical text.

    • #21
  22. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus
    @UmbraFractus

    A Beleaguered Conservative: Many of the animals that are prohibited by the dietary laws are in-between beings, beings that have no proper place or form. For example, amphibians have no proper place and jellyfish, since they are so fluid, have no proper form. We should not make these kinds of being a part of ourselves by consuming them because they undermine the created order, which is always in danger of falling back into the chaos.

     So, how do pigs fit into that theory?

    • #22
  23. Penfold Member
    Penfold
    @Penfold

    My first thoughts were of the cigarette vs. e-cig debate.  The Progressive religion would stipulate that, no matter how evident the packaging is, e-cig use must be banned because they give the appearance of violating the tobacco smoking taboo.

    • #23
  24. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    I thought that this was an excellent post, and greatly admire your clarity and precision in comments, too, SoS.

    I’d like to note that it is not only rabbinical Jews, but the overwhelming bulk of Old Testament scholars of various faiths who find the claims that the various eccentric demands of the Mosaic covenant were intended as a sort of guide to practical healthy living.  I almost used the word respectable in there, but withheld on the basis that it would be partly circular (I would consider a scholar’s adoption of that meme to create a rebuttable presumption that the scholar was not respectable, a presumption that would not be rebutted by the scholar appearing in the NYT, Reader’s Digest, The Daily Show, or other areas where these claims prosper).

    • #24
  25. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Umbra Fractus:

    A Beleaguered Conservative: Many of the animals that are prohibited by the dietary laws are in-between beings, beings that have no proper place or form. For example, amphibians have no proper place and jellyfish, since they are so fluid, have no proper form. We should not make these kinds of being a part of ourselves by consuming them because they undermine the created order, which is always in danger of falling back into the chaos.

    So, how do pigs fit into that theory?

     Pigs have cloven hoves, but do not chew the cud.

    Leviticus 11:7: “And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you.”

    Deuteronomy 14:8″And the pig, because it parts the hoof but does not chew the cud, is unclean for you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch.”

    You will note that it does not say “Pork, because it is not a healthy meat such as one finds in a Shawarma, should only be eaten in moderation, and must always be well cooked”.

    • #25
  26. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    James Of England: I thought that this was an excellent post, and greatly admire your clarity and precision in comments, too, SoS.

     Thank you!

    • #26
  27. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    The reason for kosher and unkosher animals is quite simple.

    The Torah tells us that G-d divided the world (separating the waters, and light from darkness). These are NOT called “good.” 

    Then he spends the rest of creation fixing the problem. WE, the people, are the means to the solution. G-d invests us with his own power to finish the job, to reunite body and soul, heaven and earth. We do this by lifting the physical into the spiritual plane: that is holiness. 

    Kosher animals have to be properly created (meaning they can fully digest grains – the Torah says that is what they are to do). Only animals who chew their cud or insects can do this.

    And then the animal has to be incompletely connected to the earth, with a gap between themselves and the earth. Cloven hoofs. Or in the case of the grasshopper: “jointed legs with which to leap up from the earth”. We eat them, and further elevate them in doing so.  

    By eating kosher, we help to complete creation, to finish what G-d started.

    • #27
  28. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    Son of Spengler: #17 “The Orthodox Jewish understanding is that the kosher laws never existed for health or safety. We don’t know the reason, other than that God tells us avoiding certain foods will allow us to come closer to God as part of the covenant we entered. Any health or safety benefits are incidental.”

    I was under an impression that when the Law was given, it was given to a people on the march (much like an army if you will).  If the food that those people ate was undercooked, and I am thinking of pork, or of shellfish being dangerous to eat at various times of the year, there was a real health risk for the people who ate that food.  It would make them sick, and possibly kill them.  If they were sick, it would slow down the march of that people in order to permit them to care for the sick.

    I don’t remember reading that was the reason given in the Law, actually I don’t remember any reason being put forth, but the facts certainly fit.  Human beings with worms gnawing away in their guts are in trouble.

    • #28
  29. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Donald Todd:
     I was under an impression that when the Law was given, it was given to a people on the march (much like an army if you will). If the food that those people ate was undercooked, and I am thinking of pork, or of shellfish being dangerous to eat at various times of the year, there was a real health risk for the people who ate that food.  

     This is not the Orthodox Jewish  perspective. The Torah is our path for time immemorial. We consider it to be as relevant and fresh now as it was when it was given. 
     

    • #29
  30. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Donald Todd:

    ….I don’t remember reading that was the reason given in the Law, actually I don’t remember any reason being put forth, but the facts certainly fit. Human beings with worms gnawing away in their guts are in trouble.

     The facts do not fit. Regarding the health focus, firstly, as you can see in comment #25, that is not the reason given in the Law. Instead, the reason adopted by Orthodox Jews is, not completely coincidentally, the reason in the Law.  Secondly, there’s a lot of Kosher law, most of which cannot be considered to be nutritionally focused. There is no health basis for banning the consumption of hares, or of calf meat boiled in its mother’s milk, or for preferring monkfish to eel. Jewish practice is not scripturally praised for its health; the health impacts are only mentioned in Genesis, where it is noted that circumcision causes sickness (allowing Jacob’s children to massacre converts). There are many religions with dietary restrictions, almost none of them health focused (see, eg., Hindu cows).
    Regarding the Sinai focus, the Mosaic covenant bans ostrich meat and appears to explicitly permit giraffe (although there’s some debate over that).

    • #30
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.