An exploration of the evolution of kosher food and certification in the United States.
Freelance journalist Fishkoff (The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch, 2003) argues that kosher food has become more prominent because of a “perfect storm of increased religiosity, a strengthening of Jewish ethnic pride, and a growing obsession with healthy eating.” As evidence of its wide presence in the marketplace, she points to the “one-third to one-half” of all processed food that is certified as kosher and to the fact that 11.2 million Americans intentionally buy kosher food, with only 14 percent doing so because they keep kosher. Though people of many religious stripes and with various dietary preferences eat kosher food, Fishkoff focuses mainly on the Jews who produce, certify and consume it. Her interest is in how the meaning of “kosher” has changed and its popularity has increased in recent years. Kosher food has a definite spiritual meaning, but the author examines all aspects of the industry, from certifying agencies to kosher butchers to the effects of globalization, presenting general trends through anecdotes about individuals involved. This makes the book more relatable, but at times the anecdotes are repetitive and the transitions are sudden. Nonetheless, Fishkoff accessibly presents information about current trends and their historical precedents. She shows how definitions of kosher change in response to intra-Jewish developments—e.g., increasingly conservative religious practice—as well as to trends in America at large, such as industrial farming, the ascendance of big-box stores and ethical concerns like sustainable agriculture, animal welfare and working conditions. The author is careful to define all terms that might be unfamiliar to readers without a Jewish background, and she provides a helpful glossary at the end of the book.
Thorough and approachable.