Why is it that nearly half of all the food in American supermarkets is kosher-certified?
There are roughly 6.5 million Jews in the U.S., just about 2% of the population. Maybe a million of them keep kosher.
A higher authority than the USDA
Kosher has become synonymous with purity and quality. It requires scrutiny and monitoring that exceed national standards, playing nicely in the current environment of heightened concerns about food safety. Labeling of kosher food is considered to be more trustworthy than mainstream labeling. Strict product labeling tells vegans and vegetarians when meat or dairy is present; Muslims can trust that kosher meat products contain no pork; and consumers with food allergies can safely monitor their diets.
The kosher label is so desirable that it now dominates new product launches. It is the number one label claim for new food and beverages, topping even organic, natural, and low fat. Mainstream retailers like WalMart and Whole Foods are hustling for certification to sell kosher chickens.
Of course the ancient, Jewish dietary laws stand for more than just food safety. Adherence is intended to connect daily living to a higher spiritual plane. For the typical kosher consumer, 85% of whom are not Jewish, faith is not a factor— just a lack of faith in the agencies that monitor our food system.
Pivotal kosher moments in US history:
- Coca Cola (certified kosher, 1935)
- Tropicana orange juice (1990)
- Oreos (1997)
- Kosher Pork (2011)
It’s like the Jewish version of the Holy Grail. It’s actually a Spanish variety of goose with a decided porkiness to its flesh.
Every one of them was a watershed. But nothing changed the way Americans look at kosher food like the 1972 Hebrew National hot dog commercial. As Uncle Sam munches on a hot dog, a disembodied, heavenly voice assures him that as a Hebrew National beef hot dog, it is free of the additives and by-products typically found in lesser processed meats. As the camera pans heavenward, the voice proclaims, “We answer to a higher authority.”
Kosher Quest has a guide to kosher package symbols and their certifying agencies.
Buck the trend and dine at Traif. Named for the Hebrew word for non-kosher, the Brooklyn restaurant is a celebration of pork and shellfish.
If you missed it the first time around, now’s your chance to view the seminal 1975 Hebrew National hot dog commercial.