By Rabbi Rachel Esserman
That headline got your attention, didn’t it? Well, the teaser in the e-mail, “Kosher certified pork-flavored potato chips to be discontinued,” certainly got mine. The Orthodox Union revoked its certification after receiving complaints about a product that featured a cartoon pig as part of its design. I was reminded of something I read years ago about a kosher bacon-flavored cracker. I loved the article because when someone complained it tasted too close to real bacon, the certifying rabbi said that he didn’t know if that was true because he’d never tasted bacon.
Anyone else remember beefry? I’m not sure if that’s how it was spelled because a search of the web gave no results for beefry and I don’t know anyone besides my late mother who might remember the product. It was a kosher beef bacon-like food that I haven’t thought about in decades. That doesn’t mean that there are no similar products: if you google kosher beef bacon, a ton of sites selling kosher beef bacon pop up.
Vegetarians have long eaten non-meat, meat-tasting products, such as fake baloney, turkey, pork, sausage, hot dogs, bacon, etc. that are made out of soy, beans, mushrooms or wheat protein. Some people become vegetarian for health reasons and others out of ethical concerns (they prefer not to kill animals for food). A third group offers a combination of these reasons and others. The question then becomes, “If you don’t want to eat animals, do you want to eat foods that taste like animals, even if they aren’t made out of animals?” I know folks who won’t if something tastes too much like the real thing. Others don’t care and happily eat something that reminds them of their past. (By the way, no judgments on any of these choices. As someone who had to put up with unhelpful comments when I went on health-related diets, I have no problem with someone doing their own thing.)
Organizations that offer certifications may be faced with another dilemma when a new type of meat appears that is still meat, but doesn’t come from a live animal. I don’t know the specific science of this, but if there are no pigs involved, would the meat be kosher? Or would those certifying these products claim the principle of marat-ayin (when something is technically not a violation, but could appear to be one) to say the meat is not kosher? (One example of ways to avoid this principle occurred when non-dairy creamers first became available: people would bring them out in their original containers – even at very fancy dinners – so no one would accidentally assume it was OK to mix meat and milk. Now that non-dairy creamers are well known, most no longer feel the need to do that.)
I have no idea what will happen after scientists develop these new types of food and how certifying agencies will approach them. What I can guarantee is those of us who find food culture and customs fascinating will be eager to read about those decisions and the reasoning behind them.