Long, Non-Comic Releated, Political and Religious Post – Because Hey, The Site’s Dead Anyway, Right?
I’m still working on new material for 2012, and hope to have the site back up and running smoothly. However, I want to take a minute to say something. I’m keeping it behind the “more” break, so that those who don’t want to deal with it don’t have to. Everyone else, see you there.
Welcome back. For those who follow this sort of thing, there is a slowly building “outcry” by some corners that Butterballs Turkeys are Halal. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it means that they are permissible for consumption by religious Muslims. Some people have found this offensive. The thing is, this is not the first time that the person behind this has tried to raise a firestorm about evil, nasty Halal. She did so almost exactly a year ago. At the time, her target was Cambell’s soup. I found the entire thing shocking, and wrote a little something. As it still applies, i would like to share it with you all.
It’s funny how food and memory are tied together. For example, a bite of lasagna reminds me of when my wife and I were dating. This is common and normal. What’s a bit odd though, is when food we never ate triggers that association.
As you all know, I keep Kosher. Kosher is the set of Jewish dietary laws. As with most things in Jewish life, there is no “one true vision” of Kosher. Everyone has different set of laws they accept, and sometimes stringencies on top of the law. Due to these intricacies, most people rely on “Kashrut Certifiers” – organizations that put their seal on a product to certify that yes, this is Kosher according to “our” standards. Every Kosher-observant Jew has the Kosher symbols they personally do or do not “hold by”. There’s a huge range out there, which makes sense when you consider the scope of the modern Kosher industry; When my father came to New York for college, there were two Kosher restaurants in all of Manhattan, and one of them Nice Jewish Boys didn’t go to. Nowadays, you can get all sorts of Kosher food in Manhattan, from Deli to Sushi to Indian to Italian to Middle-Eastern, and that’s just carry-out. Kosher is a massive multi-billion dollar industry in the US.
The crux of all that being that there are a lot of products I do not eat for reasons of religious observance. Many major products are Kosher certified these days (and I am sure there are lots that are technically “Kosher”, but not certified), but there are still lots that aren’t. One of the subgenres of food with somewhat of a relative minority of Kosher products is candy.
When I was a child, it was hard to find Kosher junk outside a specialty store. Hershey was Kosher, but only if the wrapper said “Hershey, PA”. There were no Kosher Mars products until I was in High School, when M&Ms became Kosher. Mars Bars didn’t get certified until I was in college. The coveted Oreo didn’t become Kosher until 1998 (despite having long ago ditched lard as a shortening). My wife and daughter find my knowledge of Monster Cereal trivia both odd and amusing, as cereal marshmallows are just about the least Kosher thing you can think of. Gum too, was a relative rarity, to the point that when my dad would go to Israel, he would come home with tons of the stuff.
As I noted above, not all Jews keep Kosher in the same way. One example was my grandfather. He would never mix milk and meat, and all the products he cooked were certified, but what could be non-Kosher about *candy*? This is generally considered “Traditional” Kosher, and many Jews observe this way, especially the older generation. We respected my grandparents and loved them, but we knew that while we could eat almost anything there, the candy dish on the table was forbidden to us. The assorted suckers and pinwheel mints, likely full of insect-derived colorings did not tempt me. What did, however, were the Tootsie Rolls. My grandfather, you see, was a Tootsie Rool *fiend*.
Throughout the years, whenever some famous brand would become Kosher, I’d hope that the next would be Tootsie Rolls. The issue, it seems, was complicated and seemingly minute, but it still kept the object of my desire away from me… until this year. In December of 2009, the Orthodox Union announced that they would be certifying Tootsie Rolls. I was probably more than excited than a grown man should have been. I kept checking the candy isle for that circle with the U in it, planning to take a trip up to Woodridge with the bag, and finally share that long-denied treat with him….
I never got that chance. My grandfather passed away in January of 2010. My wife and I took it upon ourselves to set up my parent’s house for my mother to sit Shiva (the traditional Jewish mourning). At the store, , almost by reflex, I stopped at the candy isle. Out of habit I checked the Tootsie Rolls… to find the “OU” symbol. We bought it, went home, and put it in a candy dish. I then sat on the living room couch, the same ones that my grandfather used to fall asleep on watching TV when I was little, and ate one. It was an instant connection with a man I will never see again, but never forget. And it’s not just me. When my mom came in, she saw the candy dish and smiled at me. She got it. Even now, I can’t eat this “childhood treat” without thinking of him.
There’s a bit of a kerfuffle on the internet today because a blogger has posted a piece about Campbell’s Soups “Going Hallal”. The supposition is apparently that the money will go to fund extremist Muslim groups. This is leading to a boycott of Campbell’s. I confess to not getting this. To me it sounds like the same logic that led people to try to boycott Trader Joe’s for selling Israeli products (because, you see, Israel is *bad*. Never mind that the boycott didn’t take off, helped call attention to what items *are* made in Israel, and if it was successful would have actually hurt Israeli Arabs, as many of those companies employ – and are in some cases run by – Israeli Arabs). It also reminded me of the “Kosher Nostra” slur often used on Jews. In a nutshell (long version on Snopes), it’s the idea that the Kosher certification is a “Kosher Tax”, being paid out to a bunch of Mysterious Jews who use the money for G-d knows what. It’s often used by the far fringe on both sides to show how the evil Jews control America, or how American Commerce is going to fund “that evil Israel” somehow.
Those theories, and I think the blogger in question, ignore that what it is this is about. Food. Not money or politics. But food. This may sound strange from someone who just explained how he won’t eat what you do, but food brings us together. Another story, by way of example.
When I was in elementary school, our bus driver was a religious Muslim named Ahmed. Ahmed may have been the best driver we had. One of our favorite things about Ahmed was that after a half-day on Sunday he’d let us stop at the Kosher pizza store on Amsterdam and get slices. This was a huge treat, since there was no Kosher pizza where we lived. When we were there, he’d always get a pie to take home. Like me, Ahmed couldn’t just walk into any pizza store. If his kids wanted pizza, or any food, he had to seek out special stores. Not Hallal stores – I don’t think there was any in the Bronx back then other than a butcher or two. No, Ahmad sought out Kosher. Under Hallal, Kosher certification is reliable. Not just for dairy, but meat as well. If a Muslim in New York wanted a pizza, his options were limited to the same places mine were. Not just Pizza. There may have been a Hallal burger joint somewhere, but I never knew of it.
Even today, with Hallal emerging as a multi-million dollar industry just like Kosher has become, we still see intermingling. It’s not uncommon to see men and women in traditional Muslim garb of some type walking through the Kosher aisle in New York area supermarket chains. I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that Kosher Delight does a good delivery business to Muslim customers (who I’ve also seen inside). When a friend of mine needed to take his students to a butcher to practice sh’chitah, the art of humane (ideally) ritual slaughter, he didn’t take them to Brooklyn, but to a small butcher shop in The Bronx, where the Imam gladly stepped away and let him and his students “take over”. The chickens they killed were sold to the public (no idea if they knew the back story, but the Imam had no issue, so I doubt they would if they accepted his certification).
Indeed, Hallal may be the *least* radical thing possible about traditional Islam. Radical schools of Islam are bad, (just like fundamentalism/blind fanaticism in *any religion* or ideology), but this isn’t an example of that. It’s an example of people wanting to be able to eat what everyone else eats. If anything, it’s about assimilating into American culture, not setting apart. The soups haven’t changed. Campbell’s, to my knowledge, never had pork soup to begin with. Indeed, they’ve been Hallal certified since January. This is the sort of “watering down” of Islam that the people who want American culture hate. This is what they don’t *want*.
Campbell’s being Hallal is not a loss for a world slowly being “Islamafied”, but a victory for people who want to sit down and eat and be part of the same American food culture as their neighbors, their friends, and possibly even their grandfathers.
That was last year. Nothing has changed. If anything, this issue being about turkey supports my point. Turkey is a quintessentially “American” food. In fact, there are some Jews who don’t consider turkey to be Kosher, because it’s a New World animal, and not something they had a tradition of eating. Wanting turkey to be Halal is not a reflection of extremism, but a desire to be part of the great tossed salad that is America.