I must admit that I have a huge bias, as Kosher Nation author Sue Fishkoff wrote something really nice about our OneShul, our online, lay lead synagogue. But even if Ms. Fishkoff hadn’t sung our praises, I would still sing hers, as Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority is my new favorite book.
Fishkoff travels from kosher wineries in California to the shmaltz-laden delis of New York City and even the food processing plants of China to understand the kosher food industry and the people who make it happen. Along the way, Fishkoff makes several amazing discoveries.
First, the kosher food industry is not just a Jewish thing. Seventh Day Adventists, vegetarians, Muslims and people with food allergies all benefit from the ancient food practices of the Jewish people, re-imagined in a canned, frozen and packaged food society.
The nature of kosher eateries is also changing. What was once dominated by eastern European fare is now heavily Japanese and fine dining, as kosher customers search out the foods that non-kosher consumers are used to having. This has a lot to do with the number of secular Jews who are becoming Orthodox (a spin-off book on baal teshuva would be very appreciated, Ms. Fishkoff!) Grocery stores as well have shown the power of the market force to shape the kosher landscape: gone are the old days of Morty and Sons kosher butchers, as large chain stores use massive capital and improved supply chains to meet the needs of kosher customers who don’t want to go to three shops to buy food for one meal.
Finally, the rules of kashrut and how they are practiced, are really more diverse than anyone can imagine. Fishkoff is brave in teaching readers about how lenient kosher eating was in early history (mixing meat and milk, using the same pots and pans, kashering meat at home, etc). According to Fishkoff, the kosher food industry is moving heavily toward the right, as formerly kosher meat is now declared unfit as it does not have the glatt stamp, traditional milk is now becoming cholov yisroel and kosher supervising companies consolidate into massive trusts.
If it’s not already on your summer reading list, I highly recommend Kosher Nation. You’ll never look at pastrami on rye the same.