Do You Buy Kosher Meat?

An interesting article in Wednesday's New York Times reported that more and more consumers are buying kosher meat products in the belief that they're safer and/or more humane than standard meat. A Seattle food blogger quoted in the article said, "I prefer to buy local and organic, but when I get to the market late and they have sold out of the chicken, I end up buying kosher because I feel it is the second-best thing." A Whole Foods meat coordinator said that a new line of kosher chickens have proven popular as a more affordable alternative to organic.

According to the article, the jury's still out on the science behind these beliefs. Some of the requirements of Jewish dietary law, such as careful handling of the animals and a special diet, can mean better care, but at large factory farms this is not necessarily the case. The kosher rules for slaughter, which require that the animal's throat be quickly cut, are not inherently more humane than other slaughtering methods. The post-slaughter processing rules, which involve cleaning the meat with coarse salt and water, can sometimes help rinse off bacteria, but a 2007 study by the Department of Agriculture actually found more listeria on kosher chickens than on conventional ones. (Though the kosher birds did have less salmonella.)

I personally am a fan of kosher chickens and turkeys in some situations: Like many cooks, I'm convinced that the salt added during the koshering process makes the meat juicier and more flavorful. But all other things being equal, I'd still prefer an organic or heritage bird from a local farm. An overnight soak in a salt and herb rub (also known as "dry-brining") will yield much the same result as koshering.

But I do understand the appeal of kosher meat, even if you're not religious: There's something about the idea that a product has been approved by a strict religious authority that gives it an air of purity and cleanliness. As Hebrew National hot dogs claim in their classic, and brilliant, slogan, "We answer to a higher authority." When given the choice between an all-beef Hebrew National frank and another brand filled with goodness-knows-what, it's easy to see why so many consumers choose the former.

Do you buy kosher meats? If so, what are your reasons?

By Sarah Kagan


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