Whatcha Hiding?

In our recent blog on coffee shops, we discovered one large chain that not only certified [kosher] the coffee served and sold, but also had local kosher agencies (Vaad HaKshrus – a local Kashrus council) supervising their stores to “certifiy” that the shop premises (including machinery, utensils, dishware and procedures) satisfied all Kashrut guidance and dietary laws. This would certainly boost the acceptance of kosher-keeping patrons, and the method of conveying this extra step in Kashrus is by displaying the supervisor’s certificate in public display for all to see.

And so it is in knowing this that we happened by one of the most busily trafficked stores in California. Low and behold, what did we find? The kosher certificate (hekhsher) from the Vaad council was stuffed and hidden behind the standard Public Health Certificate found in American restaurants and eateries. This official kosher sanctioning is, in fact, a service that is being paid for by the coffee shop ownership, with costs most likely being passed onto the consumers. One has to ask if the certificate is properly serving the kosher observant community of patrons? Is it attracting non-observant patrons with its propaganda of being “more hygienic or healthy”? Or is it serving the ownership of the chain in some unknown way? When asked to see the certificate, we witnessed its authenticity, and the server then put it right back to its hidden location! Is this obfuscation, guile, or something else?

On June 8th we tweeted about cherry juice that was prominently displayed in a Costco retailer, with stacks of boxes attracting every passerby. We couldn’t help but scrutinize the label on the box, and found six bold icons on the front describing marketable attributes such as “No Preservatives”, “Gluten Free”, “Not From Concentrate”, “100% Juice” and finally “Cherries Grown in the USA”. Let the reader be aware that this juice product was certified kosher by the largest kosher agency in the world, but they chose not to put “KOSHER” or “KOSHER-CERTIFIED” on the front of the package to join its other attractive features. Instead, the small and obscure OU kosher seal was placed independently on the side of the box, ironically close to to a label entitled “Who Knew?” educating the public on the virtues of cherry juice. May we ask, simply, who knew that the circled “U” with the “D” meant that it is kosher-certified and contains some dairy ingredients (or is has shared dairy equipment in its processing)? So why hide the well-paid for kosher seal on the side of the box? Is this a case of obfuscation, guile, or something else?

Who knew the kosher seal was on the side of the box, while all other marketing seals were on the front and top?

Lastly in this blog, we found at the same store a large container of a popular dishwashing detergent. Now very few consumers realize that most of them are certified kosher, but in our case we could readily see the reason! The OU kosher seal was, in fact, on the front of the packaging. But it was so minutely small that it required a magnifying glass for anyone middle-aged or older to see properly. And since Americans are taking more than 50 years to learn about the mere existence of the kosher-certification industry, it doesn’t surprise us that these tiny “hekhshers” are eluding the public eye! Obfuscation, guile, or something else?

Can you easily notice the kosher seal, known as a “hekhsher” in the kosher community
Coming in at just under 2mm in diameter

We know that there are hundreds of different kosher seals finding their place on packaged food and kitchen products across the United States. With every agency sporting a unique trademarked symbol, we are not kidding when we say that consumers require a secret decoder to figure out what the seal represents! Wouldn’t it be more honest and ethical (especially as Kashrus belongs to a religious doctrine) for the administers of these kosher agencies to contractually insist on having these seals displayed on the front of packaging, joined by the bold word “KOSHER” or “KOSHER-CERTIFIED”? Is anything short of this just a matter of obfuscation, guile, or something else? Could it be considered a deceptive and unfair business practice, or a widespread case of misleading marketing? Oh, of course not! The entire matter is out of the realm for the Majority in America, and they are simply not privy to the subtleties in this ancient dietary practice. Let’s just call it another aspect of The Kosher Question – The KQ!

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