Hebrew National, the iconic producer of kosher deli meats and hot dogs whose slogan is “we answer to a higher authority,” has posted videos on its website touting the use of its kosher hot dogs in high-end recipes that include bacon, shellfish and other non-kosher ingredients. But are OU supervised food companies any better?
Hebrew National Promotes It’s Kosher Hot Dogs To Be Eaten With Bacon, Shellfish And Other Non-Kosher Foods, But Is The OU Any Better?
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Hebrew National, the iconic producer of kosher deli meats and hot dogs whose slogan is “we answer to a higher authority,” has posted a video on its website touting the use of its kosher hot dogs in high-end recipes that include bacon, shellfish and other non-kosher ingredients, the JTA reported.
“Our hot dogs follow very strict kosher standards in terms of the preparation of the hot dogs themselves, and keeping that kosher process is very important to us. But our consumers eat the hot dogs for a number of reasons. Some stick to our hot dogs for kosher reasons, and some eat our hot dogs for reasons of taste and preference. For those consumers we have presented recipe options that are not necessarily kosher recipes in the strictest sense,” Dan Skinner, a public relations manager for Hebrew National, which is owned by the giant food conglomerate ConAgra, told the JTA.
The videos were reportedly produced in partnership with Tasting Table, a company that produces video and other content for food companies and runs its own cooking website.
Many food products that are kosher supervised are used in non-kosher recipes and are promoted for such use by the companies that produce them, and this is true no matter which of the major national kosher supervision companies puts its seal on the product.
Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the kosher division of the Orthodox Union (OU), said the promotion of the use of these food products in non-kosher recipes may be perfectly fine. It all, Genack told the JTA, “depends on the context” of that use.
“It depends on the context. A kosher product that’s sold to the general population, if it’s not confusing in any way, that would be OK. If it’s a company that’s selling kosher meat and there’s a real potential for confusion, that would be a problem.…Kosher supervision does not only relate to the kosher food; it’s also the ambiance. A lot of these things are judgment calls,” Genack said, and noted the OU does not offer kosher certification to restaurants or caterers which violate Shabbat or to strip club restaurants and the like. The OU’s standard contract with food companies also has a clause that limits advertising that could damage the OU, he said.
But Genack may be being a bit disingenuous.
Because the OU chose decades ago to not provide kosher supervision to regular kosher meat products like those produced by Hebrew National. Instead, the OU only puts its seal on much more expensive glatt kosher meat products. And, although this was not the OU’s intent when it eschewed standard kosher meat products, the higher price of the glatt products it supervises limits the sales of those products almost exclusively to Jews who keep kosher – meaning Genack can safely cite the example of kosher meat being advertised for non-kosher use as problematic without negatively impacting his company’s income. However, the OU supervises many other food products, from wine to mayonnaise, whose producers regularly promote them for non-kosher use.
Hebrew National is certified kosher by Triangle K, which is headed by a controversial rabbi, Aryeh Ralbag, who is also the rabbi of the Young Israel of Avenue K in Brooklyn. Ralbag also heads a controversial beit din (religious court) and was until the last few weeks the Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam. He was also linked to the Rabbi Mendel Epstein get (Jewish divorce) extortion ring.
Ralbag did not answer the JTA’s requests for comment, allegedly because he is on vacation.
A 2009 consumer survey found that only 14% of US consumers who buy kosher supervised food do so for religious reasons. Instead, most buy the food because they perceive it to be cleaner or safer – although in reality that is not usually the case.
Most kosher food in America is produced on the same production lines in the same plants and by the same people as non-kosher-supervised food, and the primary role most kosher supervisors play in food production is to make sure the ingredients used are free from non-kosher components like lard or bacon. That is done primarily by checking invoices and production codes on large containers of ingredients, not by watching the actual production closely. And even when violations of USDA regulations are spotted by kosher supervisors, they are rarely reported to the USDA by them.
Like Hebrew National, kosher supervision companies “answer to a higher authority.” But that “higher authority” is not the USDA, food safety or food purity.