Thursday, April 15, 2010

Kosher Kitsch

There are certain foods that I associate with my Jewish upbringing. So when my alarm went off this past Monday morning and I awoke to the distinct and familiar smell of chulent I was momentarily confused as to why I had set my alarm on Shabbat, or Saturday, a day when I don't have to worry about making it to class or to work on time. I quickly remembered that I don't make chulent, nor did I even grow up in a house where the traditional Jewish dish slow-cooked over Friday night. And yet the familiar smell wafting up to my bedroom conjured a warm nostalgia for a past that never was. (In fact it turned out my roommate had been making bean stew overnight.)

Apparently I was not the only one to make a fake kosher connection this week. In Tuesday's New York Times there were not one but two articles highlighting misguided philosemitic food trends. The first piece highlighted the growing number of consumers buying kosher products for quality assurance purposes, which must be satisfying to the Hebrew National ad men, who spent years trying to convince us that they "answer to a higher authority." I can assure you that the only thing higher about most kosher food items is the price.

Meanwhile, a second article that same day described a Jewish deli in Berkeley whose owner removed salami from the menu because salami did not meet his ethical standards. He was quoted saying, “It’s industrially produced meat that gets blessed by a rabbi...We all know that isn’t good enough.” Actually he's right, that isn't good enough. A rabbi's blessing does not a kosher food make. In short, the role of the rabbi in the kosher food industry is to serve as a supervisor to monitor that kosher dietary laws and practices are observed. And while the laws of kashrut are fairly complicated, at the heart of this article was the simple question: what happens when you replace all the ethnic foods from a Jewish deli to meet sustainability and health criteria? Seems like you lose something in the process...


  1. I can't believe you found a way to make Fiddler on the Roof relevant to your food blog. Bravo, Ms. Finkel!

  2. I had a similar experience yesterday. I was in Boro Park and smelled kugel everywhere. Chances are it was real, though...and funny, I always remember waking up to the smell of chulent at your house. Don't tell me it was specially made for me?

  3. Boro Park was likely the real deal. Reminds me of Thursday nights in Israel when people would go to the chulent factory. I've never been though. Anyone know more about this?

    And yes, is it any surprise that my mother made/makes chulent just for you? I didn't know what chulent and kugel were until we moved to Holliswood/Jamaica Estates. Til then I thought a kiddush meant Tam Tams, herring, chopped liver, schnapps and sponge cake. I feel another Fiddler on the Roof song coming on, but will spare you the video :)