(An Unsavory Kosher Practice: Promotion to Non-Jewish Vegetarians and Vegans)
In the course of our research on kosher awareness, we couldn’t help but notice that kosher agencies have mainstream media on their side, with little to no counterpoints to this practice being published by anyone. Our surveys lean heavily towards 10% consumer recognition of the most ubiquitous kosher seal, the logo of OU Kosher, which certifies more than one million items today. However, even upon reading the content from professional Kashrus sources, one finds that there may only be one million orthodox followers of the kosher dietary laws in America. That’s only about 0.3% of the population. Accordingly, justifying the hassle and expenses of kosher certification to food manufacturers and others has become very creative, and yet it is very consistent among the certifying agencies in the industry. Outlets like the New York Times will pump out supportive articles to defend Big Kosher with titles like “You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Eat Kosher.” But in signaling the “virtues of kosher” on every kosher website and pro-kosher news article, where does one draw the line in marketing it for those outside the faith of Judaism? We strongly feel that line is with non-Jewish vegetarians and vegans, and we are shocked that not one vegetarian or vegan organization has taken a similar firm stance! But that’s what political correctness gets you these days, wolves and sheep.
Yes, there are observant kosher-keepers who refrain from meat, and there are countless recipes and articles catering to kosher-keeping vegetarians or vegans. But that is not the subject of this article. This is about selling “kosher” outside the synagogue or temple, promoting its religious services to secular companies in the free marketplace, and doing it all guilt-free despite there being no taxes paid, no financial disclosures for public view, and no patronizing companies or corporations free to openly discuss their kosher costs.
Kosher Certification Agencies Initiate the Marketing Pitch
We looked over the websites of six kosher agencies in America, and found them all exploiting the vegetarian or vegan edge to their marketing advantage: Star-K did so on their About Us page: The Kosher Food Market – “Kosher products appeal to the Islamic world, vegetarians, Seventh Day Adventists, and others, who look for a Kosher symbol on the foods they purchase.” OK Kosher brings it up by reprinting the New York Times article we already mentioned. KOF-K puts it in their introduction, What is Kosher: Kosher Certification Then and Now, and states “It is interesting to note that a significant sector of the market for kosher products is composed of people who are not interested in the kosher aspect at all. Kosher certification is a drawing card for many…fitness and natural food/health food enthusiasts, and vegetarians and vegans.” KSA brings up “vegetarianism” on their page What is Kosher?: How Much is the Kosher Market Growing? Interesting point on their pitch is this, “Market studies repeatedly indicate that even the non-Jewish consumer, when given the choice, will express a distinct preference for kosher certified products. They regard the kosher symbol as a sign of quality – a ‘Good-Housekeeping Seal’.” In fact, we already wrote about the problems with this claim in our article The Great Kosher Seal Comparison: Is it Just Chutzpah?. Or how about this from Seal-K: “People with food preferences or sensitivities, including vegans, vegetarians, and those wishing to avoid dairy ingredients, could use kosher status information to make decisions about what they choose to eat.”  Lastly, the largest kosher certification agency in the world, OU Kosher leads this push towards non-Jews in The Power of OU Kosher Certification: “The U.S. kosher market has become an unheralded boom for food manufacturers. Today, consumers are concerned about more than just the kosher status of their food. Over 12 million American consumers choose Kosher food products for reasons related to health, food safety, taste, vegetarianism, lactose intolerance, and other dietary restrictions. Generating over $12 billion in annual sales, the kosher food industry has become big business.” And boy are they right! May we inquire if one can even go into the food business these days thinking they could avoid kosher certification? Someone on the outside looking in at our supermarkets may even suggest that we are living under Kosher Supremacy!
Bishul Akum is a rabbinical proscription for orthodox observers of the kosher dietary laws. It is a man-made religious law that keeps kosher-keepers from eating substantial meals (fit for royalty) absent of having Jewish involvement in creating that meal, and it admittedly encourages segregation between non-Jews and Gentiles. Infringement of this law would likely present deep wounds to the religious spirit of that person, and it would be considered disrespectful to trick such kosher-keepers. In fact, a scheme that would deceive Jews on this matter would be reprehensible, but that’s why there are criminal codes across our nation protecting kosher keepers.
Is it equally reprehensible to lure vegetarians into a religious labeling scheme that might be convenient for them, but coincidentally and in some small way support kosher slaughter? We find it very unsavory, to say the least. Nobody on the KosChertified staff abstains from eating meat, but we’ve known enough vegetarians to conclude that the purpose of this exclusionary diet runs viscerally within their spirit, as if it were a religion. It is similar to Bishul Akum of Talmudic Judaism. So if Tikkun Olam instructs Jews to “repair the world”, should they – themselves – act with more compassion and respect to non-Jewish vegetarians and vegans, and cease making this promotional marketing pitch to secular companies and consumers? Let’s look at one kosher certification agency’s response to a consumer inquiry on their support of Shechita, the religious slaughter of animals:
“STAR-K provides start to finish certification to Shechita, including plant design, humane handling compliance, shochtimand mashgichim recruitment, education and management.” Clearly, this one major kosher certification agency is intimately involved in a practice that vegetarians find offensive. But there’s a problem: the trademarked kosher certification symbols, of which there may be over 600 in the United States alone, do not tell the vegetarian consumer whether they are involved in kosher slaughter. Hence, the kosher labeling scheme, foisted upon them, may or may not be working against their interests.
So let’s hear what the powerful organization PETA has to say, given their mission as advocates for the ethical treatment of animals: “What About Kosher Symbols? This issue is complex, but vegans and vegetarians shouldn’t base their purchasing decisions on kosher symbols and markings.” (emphasis added) “Here is what they mean:…” Their article then goes into great detail explaining the kosher labeling scheme, and finishes with “If you have further questions regarding kosher symbols, please consult Jewish organizations or publications.” Question for our reader: By listing in great details the kosher labeling scheme (as we’ve included in our footnotes), does this not make PETA equal to that of the Enabler and the Alcoholic, allowing the vegetarian to merrily continue along his/her dietary exclusion of meat without carefully scrutinizing the essence of kosher certification symbols and associated industry? Is calling the issue “complex” an easy out, when they should actually be calling the kosher agencies to the carpet for the trickery they cultivate in their marketing? Or would this draw accusations of anti-Semitism as has happened recently: “Jewish Groups Condemn EU Ruling Upholding Belgian Kosher Slaughter Ban”?
Indeed, writing at PETA must be an act of managing cognitive dissonance, exposing “Extreme Cruelty at Kosher Slaughter Houses” on one day while on the next praising its virtues in pro-kosher articles like “Here’s Why Israel is the Vegan Capital of the World.” We read, “Judaism has a long, proud tradition of compassion for animals” – a message that has been resonating like an advertising campaign for Big Kosher ever since the 2008 fraud and related criminality of Sholom Rubashkin. It was then that Agriprocessors kosher slaughter house attracted the largest ICE raid in American history, embarrassing the entire kosher industry. (Note to reader: don’t be too concerned about Rubashkin’s long 27 year sentence. President Trump made it one of his first actions to commute his sentence and release him. Now that’s “compassion”!)
It was PETA that delivered to the public terrifying scenes from that very kosher slaughter house. But they also maintain positive messaging, like the litany of rabbinical quotes defending Judaism in the article “Kosher Meat is an Oxymoron.” Maybe they employ different writers for the diametric positions, but one thing is certain: they refrain from tipping the apple cart that exploits vegetarians and vegans for the purpose of promoting expanded market share to non-Jews. PETA’s lack of harder stance here will not just perpetuate Big Kosher, but help grow every part of it, even if the population of kosher keepers stays stagnant.
More on the Agencies
OU Kosher is literally in the business of “certifying” slaughter houses, and we also know that the same agency provides logistical expertise in the matter of Schechita. It is probably impossible to fill a shopping cart with packaged groceries without unwittingly supporting OU Kosher. So, with every purchase displaying the OU seal, consumers indirectly support this New York City based NGO in its efforts and interests. Do all kosher agencies partake in Shechita affairs? No. But read the response from one agency that doesn’t, and you’ll understand that cherry-picking the agencies won’t matter: “In reality, each aspect of a robust kosher community supports each other part; by the very fact that we help certify the other component of a kosher gastronomic universe…we support shechita.” – Yechezkel Auerbach, KSA Kosher Certification, Los Angeles, CA. This was an honest and sincere reply to a question sent out to many kosher agencies, one that few answered.
Others Organizations Chime In
Promoting the kosher symbol scheme to the non-Jewish vegetarian community doesn’t stop with kosher agencies, but continues in myriad Jewish news outlets:
“Mara Friedman, editor-in-chief of The Jew & the Carrot, a blog about Jewish thought and food tradition, along with contemporary issues like sustainability, organic eating and nutrition (jcarrot.org), stated, ‘Vegetarians navigating a world of confusing food labels know that innocent-sounding ingredients in conventional products are often animal-derived. A kosher label on food is one of the most trustworthy guarantees that certain animal products will not be present.’” (emphasis added)
Jiv Daya, an Indian philosophy of “being kind” to “life” has a resource center that elaborates on the kosher labeling scheme: “What About Kosher Symbols?” they ask. “What Advantage [does it offer] to a Vegetarian or a Vegan. “Kosher” is meant for observant Jews. [So] how can it help any Hindu or Jain? The answer is that the word “Parve” (also spelled as “Pareve” or “Parevine”) is very functional. It means a guarantee that the food product does not contain any meat or dairy products, and it has not come in contact with either. So it is very useful for all the vegetarians and vegans. But this website also forewarns: “It is clear that the various Kosher symbols have no specific relation to ethical vegetarianism or veganism, but are designed partly to certify that animals meet certain standards of slaughter, and largely for keeping the meat and dairy products in separate meals, not primarily from a desire to avoid them altogether.
Moreover, the degree of strictness certified by the symbols is far too lax to be dependable for vegetarian or vegan purposes. (emphasis added) For example, in the Kosher system, fish and fish products are not considered ‘animal’ and thus can be included where you might not expect animal products.”
Kosher Agencies Ally with Vegetarian Organizations
Allow us to re-emphasize our point that nobody in the mainstream is taking a firm stand to stop the exploitation of non-Jewish vegetarians and vegans for the furtherance of the kosher certification industry. To make matters worse, alliances are created by kosher agencies with the non-religious food certifiers, enhancing the perception of “kosher” as healthy, high quality and meeting other dietary restrictions. For you may not know that Quality Assurance International has used rabbinical supervisors from Star-K Kosher to certify organic products, or that a subsidiary of OU Kosher performs the gluten-free certification for that famous trademarked GF seal you’ve grown accustomed to recognize.
The network of food certifiers is almost getting incestuous, as follows here:
“OU Kosher and the American Vegetarian Association (AVA) are pleased to announce that they have recently partnered to more easily provide their clients who produce both kosher and vegetarian products with the opportunity to obtain OU Kosher and AVA Vegetarian certifications for their products.”
“Research has shown that obtaining such certifications greatly enhances the perception of quality among consumers. Even those who do not keep strict kosher or vegetarian diets are often reassured as to the quality of food products when they see well known symbols on the labels. As the respective leaders in their markets, OU and AVA present food producers with the ability to differentiate their products from the competition, by adding both well-known emblems that signify quality to millions of consumers. According to research from Mintel, the top three reasons why consumers intentionally purchase kosher food are quality (62 percent), healthfulness (51 percent) and food safety (34 percent). (http://www.thestar.com/living/food/article/785423—kosher-food-market-growing). Likewise, the Vegetarian Resource Group reports that health is the most common reason for consumers purchasing vegetarian products.”
Ah, that one Mintel study seems to be the magnum opus of research repeated by almost every kosher certification agency, ad nauseam. But we would like the reader to know that we have done some studies of our own…
Our first survey tested 200 Costco members on symbol recognition related to labels, and only 10% could recognize the ubiquitous OU Kosher seal (the most common kosher seal in the world). This strongly refutes the claims that any kosher seals are “well known symbol[s]” that consumers particularly seek out. In fact, Costco stores are literally saturated with the OU kosher seal, even sometimes on the bulk boxes where they store their products. But consumers just don’t notice them, and our respondents’ three most common guesses to the meaning of the OU symbol were “United Aluminum Certified”, “Usable With Food” and “U.S. Department of Agriculture Certified”. How wrong they were! Also, only 1.5% in this survey recognized the Canadian “COR” kosher seal that is largely displayed on the Kirkland dishwashing detergent sold in this big box wholesale store.
That was our first check on Big Kosher’s assertions, and perhaps there were few kosher keepers in that initial survey. But this article is on vegetarians, and we wanted to check if they really are a core segment of the non-Jewish consumer who seeks out kosher seals, as the kosher agencies regurgitate. To get an approximation, we surveyed over 450 “self-identifying” vegetarians or vegans, and the results were oddly similar to our Symbol Recognition survey. While 66% of them claimed to “scrutinize product labels when shopping for food”, the OU Kosher seal was ranked fourth out the five kosher seals we presented when asked which “they’d expect to find more frequently when shopping?” Think about it, 4th-out-of-5, and only 11% of respondents choosing the OU seal. On the other hand, one response that stood out strong received 42%: “I’m not too familiar with common kosher seals” (49% when excluding self-identifying Jews, Muslims and Seventh-Day Adventists). Anybody who is truly kosher aware, familiar that kosher certification permeates nearly every major food category and brand, knows well that OU Kosher seals are the most common to be found. They are everywhere! And if vegans or vegetarians were actively looking for kosher seals, then they’d be more “shopper wise” than our Costco respondents. Instead, the 11% correct response (9% for Christian respondents) better reflects recognition reality and general kosher awareness.
In that same survey, The Veggie Shopper, we did present to them a visual display of four common certification seals – two that are strictly vegetarian, one gluten-free, and the OU kosher seal. While being instructed to select as many of these that they “regularly seek out” when shopping “to support their diet”, the Vegan.org certification was most popular coming in at 52%. The gluten-free seal came in next with 36% of respondents. AVA displays a carrot within a triangle representing the American Vegetarian Association. They received 26%. Finally, the widespread and pervasive OU kosher seal was selected by 22%, the lowest of all four trademarked symbols, while 10% simply do not look for any of these. Perhaps they shop more at farmer markets than supermarkets. Interestingly, when our survey was filtered out by religious faith or ethnicity, only 28% of the 25 Jewish respondents chose the kosher seal, and only 14% of veggie eaters outside of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Seventh Day Adventist (or preferring not to state their identity) did the same.
There were plenty of other questions that gauged the shopping behavior of vegans or vegetarians, but our final one was this: “How would you feel about financially subsidizing religious organizations (and their interests) that reside outside your faith/congregation/identity through the purchase of food products at the supermarket? (Example: You buy a Halal certified product for $5, and the food company that produced it is paying a Muslim agency 5 cents for that certification, but you are Hindu).” Our results were interesting. First, we’d like to share with you that we posed a similar question on a previous consumer survey, and this general population appeared to be more displeased with the scenario. Veggie shoppers, we found, are instead fairly indifferent with 32% neutrally stating that they are “neither satisfied or dissatisfied”, while about 14% reported firmly negative on this. Call it irony, though, that the most bothered group to this question that did identify religiously or ethnically were those claiming Jewish identity, coming in with 20% marking “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied”. Maybe we should reach out to this self-concerned group for answers on The Kosher Question given their deeper conviction on the differences between religious freedom and religious intrusion. Indeed, the inquiring consumer has historically been met by utter silence, obfuscation or deflection when questioning non-profit organizations and companies on the details of these secular/religious partnerships, and this could lead to kosher delusion.
On the web page titled “The World’s Best Known Kosher Trademark”, and supporting the Orthodox Union of Jewish Congregations, they proclaim “The logo indicates that a product may be consumed by all those who observe kosher dietary laws, as well as by many others who have special dietary requirements…It also serves as a guide to millions of individuals who are vegetarian or lactose intolerant. Well, we can now call this prideful embellishment at best, shameful gratuitous lies at worst. The OU symbol was ranked near the bottom of popularity when presented five choices, and claims like this are used to justify the pervasive expansion into every brand seeking to grow in the supermarket chain. A sincere promotion of this religious trade to our avoiders of meat might include a clickable warning such as this simple facet of Kashrus, as read off of a kosher certification website:
“Another kosher procedure [is] the mandatory salting and rinsing of meat and poultry…There are many steps that have to be completed before a piece of steak is considered kosher…First, meat has to come from a kosher animal source. It’s pretty well known that beef is a kosher animal source, and pigs are not. But after the cow is selected, it needs to be checked for overall health. Then it must be slaughtered according to the Torah guidelines by a shochet, a rabbi expert in this area. The Torah’s Extra Health Requirements: But this meat is still not yet considered kosher. It needs to be checked by a specialized rabbi for internal signs of ill health. For example, if he finds certain lung “adhesions” — growths that show there was once disease in that location, it is a problem. Such a cow, or a cow with any other Torah “health” issue, will be sent to a different line to be processed as non-kosher. Its area and equipment must be cleaned well so that the next cow does not come into contact with any residue from the non-kosher beef…If the animal passes the test, then the blood must be removed from the meat, since the Torah does not allow the blood to be eaten. This has to be done within a certain time limit. Once the meat is cut into pieces, it will be rinsed, salted, and rinsed again.”
As much as PETA can post apologetic quotes from rabbis indicating the religion’s humane compassion for animals, only mass control of the media can hold back the facts that kosher ritual slaughter is an integral part of the kosher certification business, that its methods are quite different than traditional slaughter, and that enough of the general public finds these differences so outrageous that entire countries ban it. So if European countries are so inclined to ban this practice from their territory, is it “kosher” to push kosher certification on vegetarians and vegans?
Our surveys conclude that only 9 to 22 percent of this dietary class even know what the most common kosher seal looks like after nearly one century of craftily putting these tiny symbols on labels! A casual look into American vegetarian demographics indicate anywhere from 2 to 6% of our nation. On the low end of this data, there may be 0.2%, and on the high end, 1.3% of U.S. adult demographics, who are vegetarians, actively engaging the kosher seal scheme for the benefits of health or general identification of ingredients. And so other than attempting to grow this market “perception”, the pitch that vegetarians are looking for hekhshers (kosher seals) is weak.
Sure, the animal lover of 1923 may have been pleased that the Heinz Corporation produced a version of their famous baked beans minus the pork, Vegetarian Baked Beans – but they probably didn’t notice the accompanying OU kosher seal. For with all our research of newspapers from that time, it didn’t appear that “kosher” was being marketed in the mainstream ads towards the non-Jew. This Heinz product did, however, signify the beginning of a new realm, thanks to technology. And even as more of the general public may complain about the industry, the industry will continue to employ more marketing strategies to bring the entire food market into kosher singularity. Think we’re kidding? Did you know that Impossible Foods partnered with OU to certify their Impossible Burgers as OU Kosher’s newest kosher products. Won’t that make the vegans happy! Perhaps the closer we get to kosher singularity, the easier it will be for industry lobbyists to fend off any intolerant anti-kosher slaughter movements like that in the EU? Who knows, maybe all slaughter houses will eventually be kosher certified?
So you’ve seen the PETA videos of kosher slaughter on YouTube. Which do you find more sickening, these videos or the trade practice of promoting “kosher” to the non-Jewish vegetarian? We at www.TheKosherQuestion.com believe the line of decency has been crossed, just as 20% of our Jewish respondents felt strongly about not supporting the interests of outside religions.
We dedicate this article to the inactive account of @CursedSalad on Twitter, whose profile page quotes a famous Jewish propaganda guru, Edward L. Bernay:
“Opinions of the masses are manufactured by mechanisms unseen.”
His account, boldly critical of Jewish influence in our society and history, includes a lengthy thread on the kosher certification business. And even though much of what he wrote there was understated compared to the research we’ve produced, we find this particular tweet sums up our own sentiment, and represents this article’s core issue:
This is shameful!
Finally, for the 45% of our Veggie Shopper Survey respondents who reported a Christian identity, we leave you with John 2:16:
“Get these out of here! Stop turning my father’s house into a marketplace!” – Jesus [Christ cleaning the temple]
Originally published at The Kosher Question.
Appendix: Extraneous Quotes
“Who Buys Kosher?: In addition besides religious groups, the greatest boon in the industry has been people seeking out kosher food for health reasons: vegans [and] vegetarians…who favor kosher foods because the industry’s labeling practice are considered more rigorous. – https://kosherorganics.com/kosher-certification/why-certify/
“Why Go Kosher? In addition, Muslims, Vegans, Vegetarians, Seventh Day Adventists, Lactose Intolerant and Celiacs all look to Kosher certified products to support their religously inspired, moral or health informed way of eating.” – Earth Kosher
“Why is Kosher Food Soaring in Popularity? It also offers certainty for vegans” – BBC News (1/16/2020)
“VegeCert’s inspections are performed by COR – The Kosher Council, one of the largest and most respected kosher certification agency. COR – The Kosher Council has been servicing the food industry for over 60 years and now certifies over 65,000 products at over 1000 facilities around the world. There is considerable crossover between kosher certified food products and vegetarian and vegan diets, so VegeCert is proud to benefit from COR’s considerable expertise.” – https://vegecert.com/about/
 “You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Eat Kosher”, New York Times, by Sherry Day, 6/28/2003
 Star-K Kosher Certification, Baltimore, MD
 The Organized Kashrus Laboratories, Brooklyn, NY
 KOF-K Kosher Supervision, Teaneck, NJ
 Kosher Supervision of America, Los Angeles, CA
 Seal-K Kosher Certification, Chicago, IL
 The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, New York, NY
 Rabbi Zvi Holland, Star-K Kosher Certification, from email correspondence passed to us by supporter
A “K” or “OU” kosher symbol basically means that the food-manufacturing process was overseen by a rabbi who, theoretically, ensured that it met Jewish dietary laws. (There are actually dozens of symbols used by different kosher certifying agencies.)
There may be additional letters indicating the presence of meat, dairy, or fish. A “K” or “OU” by itself could indicate that the food is pareve, meaning that it doesn’t contain meat or dairy, but it may contain fish, eggs, or honey. For example, kosher gelatin, like that used in kosher gelatin dessert and marshmallows, usually comes from a fish source.
An additional “M” or “Glatt” symbol means the product contains meat.
An additional “F” symbol means that fish ingredients are present, but if “fish” is in the name, some products don’t display the “F” symbol. Please note: Some foods that contain small amounts of fish, like Worcestershire sauce, aren’t labeled with an “F” if the fish comprises less than 1/60 of the product.
An additional “D” or “DE” symbol means that the food either contains dairy or was produced with machinery that handled dairy. For example, a chocolate and peanut candy may be marked “kosher D” or “kosher DE” even if it doesn’t list dairy products in the ingredients, because the dairy-free chocolate was manufactured on machinery that also made milk chocolate.
The additional “P” or Passover symbol means that the food is suitable for consumption during the Passover holiday, when leavened grain products may not be eaten.
 Email correspondence passed on from KosChertified supporter
 The Kosher Symbol: A Seal of Trust, by Ted Powers, Jewish Herald-Voice, 8/12/2010 https://jhvonline.com/the-kosher-symbol-a-seal-of-trust-p9497-148.htm
 Jiv Daya Resource Center https://www.jivdaya.org/kosher_parve_certification_what.html
 https://www.jivdaya.org/kosher_and_vegetarianism.html; Also from this site regarding their take on vegetarianism: “We put a strong emphasis on a strict plant-based vegetarian diet. We are also against using animals as ingredient or for testing cosmetics and other household items. We believe in simplicity of life that is friendly to us, animals, and environment…We can live, even in this country, without exploiting poor animals…We aim at helping members of the Indian community to live by the principle of Ahimsa – fundamental to Indian philosophy”
 AVA to Benefit Clients with Kosher, Vegetarian Products, by OU Kosher Staff, 11/28/2012 https://oukosher.org/blog/consumer-news/ou-ava-partner-to-benefit-clients-with-kosher-vegetarian-products/
 https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-LGSHWNLX7/ ; In this Consumer Recognition Survey, 54% of respondents either wanted above average transparency in religious-secular partnerships (23%) in the grocery market, or no such intervention at all (31%); also in that survey, only 14% properly recognized the OU kosher seal/symbol
 The World’s Best Known Kosher Trademark, by OU Kosher Staff, 12/18/2006 https://oukosher.org/blog/corporate/the-worlds-best-known-kosher-trademark/
 We’ll define this as the outcome of Kosher Supremacy, a point in time where growth of the kosher industry becomes so large and uncontrollable, that it will signify irreversible changes to society
 Impossible Burger: Now Kosher!, by OU Kosher Staff, 6/5/2018 https://oukosher.org/blog/consumer-news/impossible-burger-now-kosher/