Friday, October 6, 2006

Kosher food scandal and anecdotes

The latest Kosher food scandal to be revealed has Jews all over the world reeling in shock and dismay, while others are smirking. Yes, smirking, and for all sorts of reasons. It, davka, took place of business that marketed itself as "extra-careful kosher," above the minimal standard. The people who shopped there considered themselves extra careful about the Kashrut of what they ate.

My Uncle Joe, Z"L, was a kosher butcher, and there was a time when my mother bought her meat from where he worked. This was in the 1960's when very few Jewish housewives did the soaking and salting at home. "Modern women" had better things to do with their time. So I was surprised to see my mother busy soaking/salting the meat. I asked her if it was to save money, but she said that Uncle Joe had told her, "if you really want it done right, do it yourself."

Before I became an English teacher, I worked at a bagel place. I was in sales, OK I wheeled ready-made sandwiches, canned drinks and pastries to offices and sold them. When I started working there it had a BaDa"Tz, extra "strict" kosher certification. I don't ever remember meeting or seeing that supervisor, who was supposed to be certifying it, though I did meet the "other" rabbi a few times, who only gave it a "city" certification. To get the BaDa"Tz, they had to use special BaDa"Tz ingredients. When everything was baked from scratch on the premises, it wasn't a problem. The young Arab man who had been trained in fancy pastry baking did a great job. (He also doubled as my driver and assistant, but that's another story. Remind me sometime.)

At one point the owner decided to cut down on expenses, fire the baker and bring in ready-made pastries. Did you know that very few places mix their baked goods from scratch? They just bring in frozen stuff. He discovered that the BaDa"Tz frozen goods were much more expensive than the "regular kosher." He decided to go with the "regular."

Another thing I learned at the bagel place was that if it's not certified parve, it probably isn't. There's a status called "chizkat chalavit," no dairy ingredients, but baked in a dairy oven. In your commercial bakery, it's not like the situation at home, where you may get stuck (according to your custom) waiting 12, 24, or 48 hours until you can bake something parve in your clean meat oven. The commercial ovens are used all the time, and they're covered with "baking paper," to cut down on cleaning, and the baking paper is only changed when there's no choice, like in ripped. So those cookies which may not have anything dairy in the batter can be baking on the dairy crumbs of a buttery Cheese Danish. Think about it. Let's forget about the kashrut issue, let's talk serious milk allergy. Be careful.

And back to that recent scandal, people buy in the specially certified shops because they expect a higher level of supervision. Obviously, that isn't the case. And greed is greed, just like it has always been. People are weak.

This wasn't the first Kashrut scandal and unfortunately it won't be the last.

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