Companies court Jewish customers with faux pork offerings
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Companies court Jewish customers with faux pork offerings

The taste of treif in a kosher package

Beyond Sausage is on the shelf at local grocery stores, offering a meat alternative for both vegetarians and those keeping kosher. 
Photo by David Rullo
Beyond Sausage is on the shelf at local grocery stores, offering a meat alternative for both vegetarians and those keeping kosher. Photo by David Rullo

When it was first introduced in 2016, the Impossible Burger was embraced by vegetarians and the Jewish community alike.

Suddenly anyone who had given up meat but was still anxious for the smoky taste of an afternoon barbecue could walk into a sit-down restaurant and order a burger without shame. Even better — Jews around the globe could now enjoy the most tantalizing of forbidden combinations — the prohibited, mythical cheeseburger!

It wasn’t long before other, similar plant-based burgers began to be found not only at restaurants but in grocery stores and fast-food restaurants as well.

Now that Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have given the world a taste for a beef alternative that looks, tastes and feels like the real thing (they can even make your burger “bleed” if you like), the companies have taken on a new challenge with implications not just for the vegetarian and kosher markets, but one that just might make an impact in the halal and Muslim community as well.

Impossible Foods call their new pork-styled offerings “juicy, savory, pre-seasoned meat, made from plants, designed for kosher and halal certification.” Beyond Meat’s sausages are already certified as kosher and are available at Giant Eagle and other grocery stores and can also be found on the menu of Dunkin Donuts (and not just suburban locations but at the kosher store in Squirrel Hill).

According to Melissa Crowe, an employee at the Murray Avenue location, the Beyond Sausage breakfast sandwiches are even more popular than the vegetarian sausage sandwiches that have long been a staple at the chain. “They go quick,” she observed.

While it’s possible to recreate the experience of eating pork or sharing a grilled non-meat substitute brat with the neighbors at a block party, observant Jews might question the halacha of eating a product that tastes so close to what has long been considered the calling card of treif food.

Rabbi Daniel Schon of the Kollel Jewish Learning Center points out that in the Talmud Jews are cautioned not to say they won’t eat pork because they find the animal or its meat repulsive, rather simply because it’s “a commandment from God.”

According to Schon, given that statement, if there’s a product similar to pork but not treif, then it is acceptable to consume.

Food either “is or isn’t kosher,” according to Rabbi Alex Greenbaum of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills. For the Conservative rabbi, if the food is kosher, it can be eaten. The real issue he said is “giving people the wrong impression. If one passed by Smallman Street Deli and saw a bunch of rabbis sitting around eating” a Beyond Sausage sandwich, it might give the impression that it’s OK to eat the same type of sandwich, unaware that it isn’t pork.

To combat this problem, Rabbi Mendel Rosenblum of Chabad of the South Hills points out that Jewish law and the rabbis have found solutions. For instance, “if one is drinking almond milk and eating meat,” you’re giving the appearance of mixing dairy and meat. The simple solution according to Rosenblum is to put a few almonds near the dairy-substitute showing onlookers that it isn’t cow milk being consumed.

As for whether he would eat a product like Impossible Pork, Rosenblum is quick to reply, “Absolutely I would, if it was certified kosher.” He noted, however, that it isn’t his taste, so he’ll probably skip the new offering.

Greenbaum, on the other hand, is a fan of Burger King’s Impossible Burger and will most likely sample the new product once the chain makes it part of its menu.

While observant Jews can decide for themselves whether they will taste the new, pork-modeled meats, one thing is clear: kosher grocery stores and catering companies have already decided to utilize the plant-based pork alternative.

Deena Ross, the owner of Creative Kosher, hasn’t had an opportunity to try the pork substitute yet but wouldn’t shy away from it. In fact, she already uses “veggie and veal bacon and makes a pea soup with bacon flavor. It sounds like a good product,” she added while noting, “they make a good burger, especially once you add cheese and veggies. It’s really invigorated the vegetarian market.”

Murray Avenue Kosher’s Aryeh Markovic said the store doesn’t currently offer Beyond Sausage on its shelves, but only because none of his suppliers are carrying it yet.

Markovic previously operated a restaurant in Miami and was one of the first locations to have the Impossible Burger on its menu.

In perhaps the best argument for both Impossible Pork and Beyond Sausage, Markovic added, “anything that will help someone keep kosher is good and something I’m all for.” pjc

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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