The Jew And The Carrot

Q & A: Sue Fishkoff Talks About "Kosher Nation" and Jewish Food

By Rebecca Joseph

  • Print
  • Share Share

“Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority”, the new book by Sue Fishkoff, which came out last week, is the first comprehensive study of the Jews who produce, regulate, and consume an increasingly vast selection of manufactured and home-grown kosher foods. Fishkoff traces kashrut from its biblical origins to the Agriprocessors’s scandal, to a bustling Shanghai trade show that features kosher products, and everywhere in between. Her accessible style and genuine interest in the people that she writes about make this book a compelling read for anyone interested in food and contemporary culture.

Courtesy Rudi Halbright, Sue Fishkoff at the Hazon Food Conference 2008

Fishkoff, who is a correspondent for JTA has covered food stories and emerging trends from the opening of a unique kosher culinary school in Brooklyn to the new generation of Jewish farmers. The Jew and the Carrot recently caught up with her on her book, the new Jewish food movement, and her changing relationship to food.

RJ: Why this book? Why now?

SF: It was fortuitous. I signed the contract a couple of weeks before the Agriprocessors’s raid. My JTA beat for the last 5 years has been Jewish identity. I’ve been coming across more and more examples having to do with food choices. I was especially struck by the lengths a family from California would go in Ukraine to get fresh milk for their children, “how far this Lubavitch couple would go for cholov Yisrael milk (watched from the time it leaves the cow)?” …I’m interested in how broad the spectrum of Jewish eating has become, also that so many things are coalescing in America at the same time. Americans are becoming more religious and more spiritually inclined.

RJ: Your first book, “The Rebbe’s Army”, is about Chabad-Lubavitch, which you call “a new entity…an ultra-Orthodox movement that attracts mainly non-Orthodox Jews,” and especially its legion of young sh’lichim (outreach workers). Your new book, “Kosher Nation”, addresses the encounter between fervent Orthodoxy, increasingly the controllers of kosher food production, liberal Judaism, and the young activists leading the new Jewish food movement. Are there certain questions that connect the two?

SF: Working on the first book made me much more aware of how much I have in common with a wide spectrum of Jewish practitioners. I’m more comfortable in my Jewish identity. We’re all Jews and have a base set of values and history… Of course, both books are about how deeply American Jews are searching for meaning tied to their Jewish values. We underestimate the amount that American Jews are searching for meaning. This is why Chabad makes inroads, and also the new Jewish food movement.

RJ: Is kashrut divisive, as some Jewish food activists claim?

SF: Divisions created are due to the personalities involved. We shouldn’t put the problem on kashrut itself.

RJ: You’ve written about Hazon frequently. It figures prominently in your chapter on the new Jewish food movement through interviews with current and former staff members, volunteers, and grantees.

SF: The Hazon “family” tapped into and understood early on the power and force of the new Jewish food movement. It’s become known as the center of the movement. When the Orthodox Union’s Seth Mandel said at Hazon’s food conference: “You guys really understand what kashrut is all about,” that was an extraordinary validation…That chapter is the last chapter in the book. It was intentional.

RJ: How has working on Kosher Nation affected your own food choices?

SF: I’ve been around slaughter houses now. We have a romantic notion of field slaughter but it’s hard to watch no matter what. I have tremendous respect for experienced shochtim (ritual slaughterers). It’s a dirty, hard job. Shochtim do it for the rest of us. We demand it of them. They really have a thankless job, get no respect and are badly paid… I don’t grab unthinkingly for the turkey sandwich anymore. I think there should be a special b’racha (blessing) for eating meat because of the life that’s been taken, “Blessed are You who has allowed us to take this life to sustain us.”

Editor’s Note: A review of “Kosher Nation” by Ingredients columnist Leah Koenig will appear in this week’s Forward Arts and Culture section. Check back on Thursday for the complete review.

Rebecca Joseph, “The Rabbi Chef,” is founder and owner of 12 Tribes Kosher Foods in San Francisco and creator of The Parve Baker, the original dairy-free baking blog.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Kosher Nation, Agriprocessors

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.