Monday, February 11, 2013

Kosher Dining: Traditions in Modern Food Service

    Today we attended Sodexo's Joint Class Day, hosted by Hebrew Home of Greater Washington.  This is a nursing home facility that caters to the Jewish population by serving completely kosher meals.

    Before today, I thought I understood what it meant to be kosher, but I realized I only knew the basics.  Even if I don't go into working in a kosher kitchen, I still think it is valuable to understand the eating patterns of different cultures and religions.  Here is an overview of the rules that apply to kosher dining.

#1: Don't mix dairy and meat.

    In any given meal, these two food groups should never exist together.  The meat designation includes poultry, while the dairy group extends to cheese, yogurt, butter, and any other dairy product.  You will never see a cheeseburger in this dining room.
    Beyond separating these foods at meal times, they cannot be mixed during storage or preparation.  As a result, the kitchen is split with two of everything; one for dairy preparation and another for the meat.  To clearly separate the two, each kitchen was color coded, blue for dairy and red for meat.  This included tags on utensils, pots and pans, dishes, silverware, and even the tiling fit into the color scheme.  This prevents any accidental crossing, and keeps the kitchen kosher.

#2: Restricted Foods

You may be familiar with the restriction of pork, but did you know that camel, rabbit, rodents, and reptiles are also prohibited?  Granted, these foods may not come up frequently in our modern day society, but the rule is that you may only consume animals that, "chew cud and have cloven hooves".  Shelfish, birds of prey and their eggs are also forbidden.

 #3: Butchering and Processing

    All butchering must be performed by Shochet- a butcher who is devout and knowledgeable in Jewish law.  Slaughtering animals is intended to cause as little pain and suffering to the animal as possible.  The Shochet must also quickly drain all blood and remove blood vessels, nerves, and fat.  These practices may not be routine in non-kosher meats so it results in a different taste. 
   After an animal is slaughtered, it must go through the processes of kashering- soaking and salting the beef to remove all blood.

#4: Proper Supervision

    The final piece to this operation is the Mashgiach, a Jewish religious leader that specializes in Jewish dietary law.  This figure oversees all production, has final approval on foods before they are used and is in charge of turning on all equipment including burners, ovens, and other appliances.

    After today, I definitely feel that I have a greater understanding for the amount of effort that goes into preparing a kosher meal.  These traditions date back to the Torah, and it is fascinating to see the commitment to them that still alive and well today. 

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