Jewish Journal


July 5, 2010

The American kosher craze


Speaking of the Fourth of July, The New York Times had a delicious op-ed with the patriotic and Jewy headline of “Red, White and Kosher.” (I would have preferred “Red, White and Jew.”) In the op-ed, Sue Fishkoff recounted the linchpin moment in kosher cuisine, and looked at just how pervasive and diverse kosher offerings have become.

Of course, it started with a hot dog.

N 1972, a TV commercial changed the way Americans looked at kosher food. It showed Uncle Sam munching on a Hebrew National beef hot dog as a heavenly voice assures him it is free of the additives and byproducts present in lesser processed meats.

“We answer to a higher authority,” the voice proclaims. Trust us — we’re kosher.

That message resonated at a time when Americans were growing increasingly mistrustful of the government and were starting to worry about what dangerous hidden substances might be on their dinner plates. Today, a majority of Americans believe that kosher food is safer, healthier, better in general than non-kosher food. And they’re willing to pay more for it. Kosher is the fastest-growing segment of the domestic food industry, with bigger sales than organic. One-third to one-half of the food in American supermarkets is kosher-certified, representing more than $200 billion of the country’s estimated $500 billion in annual food sales, up from $32 billion in 1993.

Given that Jews make up less than 2 percent of the population, and most of them don’t keep kosher, it’s clear that the people buying this food are mostly non-Jews. While some consumers probably aren’t aware that their pasta or cookies are kosher, many are folks who believe that “higher authority” promise.

Fishkoff puts the Hebrew National commercial in the context of a new sense of American Jewish confidence following Israel’s successful defense in the Six Day War and the growing prosperity of American Jews. She also talks about how—no surprise here—Americans eat more hot dogs than any other people on the planet.

Personally, I’ve never been too fond of an all-beef Bruin Dog or the hallowed Dodger Dog. But they’re not kosher. Then again, neither am I.

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