RABBI ED: And by extension, Oreos, gained the [INAUDIBLE]. It is a real pleasure to present this evening Professor Joe Regenstein, who also has to [INAUDIBLE] learning [INAUDIBLE]. So Dr. Regenstein, if you will.
JOE REGENSTEIN: Rabbi Ed, thank you. I thought I'd try to keep it a little more informal. I'm not used to talking sitting, because I am Jewish, and I talk with my hands. It's harder to do when you're sitting, I guess.
What I thought I'd do today is tell the story of Nabisco from my perspective, as somebody who was involved in parts of it, and how Oreos, and Fig Newtons, and Chips Ahoy, and much of the baked cookie line got to be kosher. It's a great example of all kinds of business things, food science, religion, and the whole thing. And then I thought the other thing I would do, and then open it up for questions, is talk a little bit about, how did a nice Jewish boy get into this job, which is a cute story.
I've been involved in many things, but my guess is that most of you have questions about kosher, whether it is a product here or there, or how something becomes kosher. Some of the current issues, as Rabbi Ed said, we are together studying what is really animal welfare and the role of animals in Judaism at this time. And that has been a fun thing to do. I'm heavily involved in issues of slaughter and some of the bloodier parts of our Jewish religion. But I thought I'd give just a little background how I got there.
But let's start with the Nabisco story, which is the story you came to hear. And I want to go way back since I'm older than most of you. I thought I'd see a few people who might compete. When I was growing up-- and I grew up in Newark, New Jersey, for anybody who knows Philip Roth and Portnoy's Complaint and Goodbye, Columbus and all that. He is a graduate of our high school and writes about our neighborhood.
Nabisco was a big baking company then already. I'm not quite that old. And they were often referred to in the Jewish neighborhoods as a lard house. And that was taken as a somewhat derogatory term, in the sense that it was like they didn't want anything to do with the Jews.
As I learned later, there are really good reasons for using lard. Lard actually, in baked goods, has some unique functional properties. And Rabbi Ed mentioned I do functionality. And what I mean by that is, how does an ingredient affect the end product?
And lard, actually, among the fats, actually does some really neat things. And so, in fact, from a quality product, from the quality of an Oreo, it made sense to use lard. And it had that wonderful other property, which no company can look askance at, which it was one of the cheapest fats.
So you had the absolutely ideal situation from a company's point of view. It was cheap, and it was better. So it does happen sometimes that cheap is actually better. So there was no real hope of that ever changing.
But life is funny that way. At some point, there was this guy-- I think his name was Phil Sokol-- who got off on this tear as we started learning about saturated fats and heart disease and all of this stuff. And he was one of these rich enough to buy his own ads in The New York Times, and was a perfectly good citizen where one doesn't allow science or facts to get in the way with your agenda, which is the best way to do things.
And so he took out full page ads talking about saturated fats, talking about lard as a particularly evil version, which, in fact, actually, beef tallow's a lot worse than lard when you look at it nutritionally. I know, as a Jew, I shouldn't say that, but that's the facts as I would take them. And so he took out these big ads.
And typical of big companies, they don't like to be in publicity. And they will do, sometimes, fairly stupid things, or they will capitulate to what is, in fact, not rational behavior for fear that that not-rational behavior will work its way through the consumer and lead to reduction in products. So they then, actually, took the product and substituted one of the oils from Southeast Asia palm, or palm oil. And they are different, I just don't remember which of the two it was at the time.
And at that point, I was already at Cornell now. This happened while I was already here. And at one point, we have an advisory council. Many of the departments here bring in people from the industry, the government, and things like that to give us advice.
And so they came, and one of the people who had a three-year term happened to be the vice president of Nabisco. And so I used to tease him about, well, so now that you've got vegetable shortening, why don't you go kosher? And he even went back, at one point, and he did ask some questions in the company.
And it turned out it would cost a humongous amount of money to go kosher, and they decided not to do it at that time. And when I heard the number, I said, I can't say that I can get you $8 million worth of business in a year to make the costs up. And that's where it stood for some couple of years.
And I go off one year to our national meeting. We have a national group, Institute of Food Technologies, IFT. Ft And they meet in various cities-- not too many, because we're so big that there's only about five cities that can handle us. And I'm not even sure what city it was.
And at the meeting, one of distant friends-- friend of a friend type of person I had known-- said, I need to talk to you. So you're playing with-- at a busy meeting, you're trying to get together. So she said, what time are you going to the airport? So she says, how about if we take a taxi? And I'll pay for the taxi, because I need to talk to you.
And so we took the taxi ride. And it was one of the places where the airport was far enough away that we could have time to make the conversation that we needed to have. And she was, at that time, the director of marketing for the institutional food service accounts, and the institutional ingredients was included. So she had a unique problem.
It turns out that a lot of companies wanted to make-- at that time, it was a new flavor-- cookies and cream ice cream. Well, cookies and cream is fine, but some of the companies said, well, we really want to make Oreo cookies and cream and advertise that it's Oreos because they make a better cookie. And it turned out-- and this is how you've got to understand the business world-- the cookies for Oreos cookies and cream weren't made by Nabisco. I never found out who, but my guess is, it would have been made by Sunshine Hydrox or somebody else as a private copacker, because it's a different cookie.
The Oreos that you would use in ice cream is a pure cookie-- and I'll come back to that in a little while-- and it was just a baked outer cookie, none of the cream stuff in it. And so it was baked somewhere else, and that plant was kosher. And it was sufficiently kosher.
And I don't know if it was under the OU, but it was certainly acceptable from a kosher standpoint by the OU, which is the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, which is now on 11 Broadway in downtown New York. They've moved around in Manhattan, but they've always been in Manhattan. And that is the largest kosher supervision agency, for those not familiar with the different agencies. And the cookies, you'll see, have a circle U on it-- and many food products do-- and that's the symbol of the OU.
But the companies didn't want to pay the slightly higher price for Oreo cookies-- the ice cream companies-- almost all of whom of the big companies are kosher, most of whom are actually OU kosher. The local folks aren't always kosher. Cornell is not kosher. Purity is not kosher.
But Breyers and Dryer's and Edy's and-- I'm not even sure of the brands anymore-- are all pretty much kosher. Ben and Jerry's is not OU, but is kosher. Haagen-Dazs is kosher. Pretty much everybody is.
And so she was losing a lot of money against her bottom line in her promotion, et cetera. And so that's where the process got hatched. And the decision was that I would come down and do what I call my stump kosher talk, which I do fairly widely, which you can see on CyberTower there. This would be a little different, because the formal talk is on CyberTower, and you can get an hour and 20 minute formal kosher halal talk. And then we would have some workshops, and I'd meet with some of the people, and we would talk about what it would take to go kosher so they would understand the principles of kosher.
And given the losses, the company went back and did its calculations. The markets had changed, there was more data. And the decision was, they were going to go ahead and go kosher. And so that conspiracy in a taxicab and that ride to the airport got the process started.
At that point, I was not directly involved in the process. But I do want to go through the process so that you get an understanding of what it took, because it was the largest-- not largest-- longest and probably most expensive conversion of a company from non-kosher to kosher. The problem is, Nabisco has ovens that are 300 feet long. Think about that. That's essentially the size of the football field.
And as I was pointing out before the talk started, when they make Fig Newtons, it is one Fig Newton going through the oven. It doesn't get cut until after it's baked. And then there's a device that comes around and cuts it as it's moving on this belt-- fascinating piece of equipment. But if you stopped the line at an instant, turned the ovens off, you'd have a 400-foot single Fig Newton-- actually, eight of them lined up next to each other.
And the problem is, they have belts, and the belts cost $150,000 at that time. When you make kosher an oven, you need to use a blowtorch. And these belts were made out of soft plastic. They would not survive a blowtorch.
And since Nabisco, at that time, as a rough estimate, had 10 or so bakeries, each of which had, essentially, somewheres around 10 ovens that would be involved in the cookie, and that would go kosher. So that's essentially 100 belts, to keep math real simple. At this hour, we all prefer it easy. And so they looked at that and said, 100 belts at $150,000 a belt, and said, no, we're not coming in in one day and buying all new belts. So the thing had to be phased.
And you now have to think about in three components. You mix cookie dough, you mix it all up, and you put it in, and you move it, shape it, form it, do all your magic, put it on a belt to go through an oven. At the other end of the oven, you need to do all the things, like separating-- because in some cases, the cookies, like Fig Newtons is one cookie-- you've got to cut it, you've got to package it, and you do all the things at that end.
And in fact, one of the horrible truths-- my wife almost divorced me for telling her this-- is how many of you like to separate the cookies and the cream and eat the cream separately from the cookie. Well, Nabisco, because of the nature of the cookie operation, they figure they break between 5% and 8% of the cookies before they get into the packaging, given the nature of the equipment. So they figure, as they do their dough, they throw back in 8% of the Oreo by weight is the cookies that were already baked. So it's already-baked cookies with the white stuff going back in the cookies.
And that's what they weren't doing in the industrial one. So the cookies you have here, the cookie part has the cream. So you're getting cookies and cream whether you like it or not. So I'm sorry to have disillusioned everybody who takes all the trouble to separate it and scrape it and do all those wonderful things we do with Oreos. It ain't so.
And so the way they phased it is-- and that meant they had to keep much more careful track of things-- is, as an oven, they made all the ingredients kosher. They started at the front, got all the ingredients kosher. So the stuff was 100% kosher in ingredients.
As the lines and belts got changed-- and there's redundancies in the system, so they could do this-- those lines that a belt broke, they went in, kashered the oven with the blowtorch, put in a brand-new belt, which, of course, was OK, and then had to maintain those lines as kosher. So they had to separate the mixing end, because they had to clean the mixers and all of that.
And so they then would-- you would go into a Nabisco bakery, and if they've got three ovens-- because they actually have the 10, but they're three in one room and three in another room. They actually have some partitions to give them a little control so it doesn't get totally haphazard at times. They had to keep track of all of this.
Eventually, at the back end, when all three or four ovens that we're making Oreos, or two that we're making Fig Newtons, or the one or two that we're making Chips Ahoy, or animal crackers, which are made in a sheet, and are actually cut, and you rework that, and that gets-- all of these things have to be taken care of in the sense that you're now operating with kosher and non-kosher, operating simultaneously, none of which is being sold as kosher.
At some point, the 10 bakeries and the 10 lines, which took about three and a half years, are now all kosher. So what's coming out of the ovens is all kosher from every one of the Oreo lines, from all of the Chips Ahoy, because they did this all at one time. And that's when they introduced kosher product. They put it into the package with the circle U on it. So after three and a half years of very carefully juggling and manipulating, they then had a kosher product.
One of the fringe benefits of this was that I got a care package, because Ithaca is not the first place Nabisco is going to bring their kosher Oreos. But I actually had the pleasure of going around to a few of my friends in the orthodox community who have never had anything but Sunshine Hydrox, which went out of business in 1973, once Oreos became kosher-- in 1993. They survived a while, but they've gone out of business because it's just not an Oreo. For those of us who've had both, it's not. And I had the pleasure, in Ithaca, of sharing with a whole bunch of people their very first Oreo.
So that's basically the story of how Oreos became kosher. It is a tremendous credit to Nabisco and the rabbis for making this happen in three and a half years relatively smoothly. And so we now have, essentially, I believe, all of the cooking line. We have the Triscuit line. We apparently do not have the Wheat Thins line.
So that's the story. And I'm happy to take a few questions at this point if anybody has a question. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: I don't really know a lot about kosher, so what does it mean, really?
JOE REGENSTEIN: OK, kosher are the Jewish dietary laws, and they have four big categories. There are allowed animals that you can use for food. They have to be killed a certain way that doesn't-- well, the pig is not one of those animals. So the lard is a problem because the pig doesn't qualify under any circumstance. But once they're in vegetables, we're talking about a product in the vegetable aisle.
In addition, a third of the major areas is the separation of milk and meat. "Thou shalt not seethe the kid in the milk of its mother." So anything that might be actually kosher on the meat side cannot be mixed with the milk side.
In the food industry, once you're outside the meat industry, it's not a big deal. The question is, are you going to be neutral, neither milk nor meat, because eggs and plants and honey, they're not meat or milk. So you've got that-- so you would have what is called parve, and you would have what is called dairy. And if you'll notice on the Nabisco, all of their products on the cookie side have a little d next to it, because they are dairy, because in baking good cookies, you want to be able to use milk.
But what they had to do is and in taking equipment from its regular uses. Some of it had been used from back when they did pork. When they switched from pork to vegetable oil, they didn't go through a ritual cleaning. So those ovens still, in theory-- in theory, not in modern sense, but in a religious sense-- still had accumulated lard adhering to the metal.
And so that's why you have to take a blowtorch. Because you've used this very high heat for baking, you have to use a blowtorch to clean away the forbidden materials. And so they had to do that in each one of these ovens.
And they waited till the belts broke, because that gives you two advantages. The belt breaks, you'd rip out the belt. You now physically can get somebody in with a blowtorch, makes it easier to get in. And then you put the belt in after you've blowtorched the entire inside to burn away the forbidden material. OK?
JOE REGENSTEIN: They were the same material, but they were brand new, so they had never been used with anything prohibited. And so that's the process. Good?
AUDIENCE: And so all the new belts had to be installed before the product could be labelled kosher. If one of the belts was kosher, could that be used for kosher products?
JOE REGENSTEIN: It could, in theory, be used. But the rabbis, in that, took a hard line, because one, given the nature of these bakeries-- and I visited one before I was directly involved with kosher, so I have a physical picture of it-- it's a little hard to keep track of things carefully. It was hard enough for the rabbis to do it in terms of making sure that things were going to be converted OK.
But for plant people, you've got two identical cookies coming down the row. Something goes wrong, somebody grabs a cookie from the other side. And so the rabbis wouldn't allow it.
And the OU, in general, has a policy. And that was part of the problem is that they don't want to confuse people. So the Oreos cookies and cream ice cream, which could have been made from day one, but that was like saying, OK, Oreos are kosher.
But the consumer will say, well, here's kosher Oreos cookies and cream ice cream. Well, that must mean that Oreos are kosher, even if there's not a label on it. And so they wanted it all. So once Nabisco rolled it out, everything was kosher.
AUDIENCE: Two questions about blowtorching. One is, how long does it take to blowtorch a 350-foot oven? And the other question is, what did people do in the days before blowtorches?
JOE REGENSTEIN: They couldn't exist before blowtorches. I mean, in the old-- remember, in the really old days, you threw the oven away because it was clay. If you look at the Talmudic period, these are all pieces of clay, and you just threw it away.
And that's what the archaeologists, then, have fun trying to reassemble it. You threw it away and smashed it, and the archaeologist comes back 1,000 years later and thinks they can reconstruct it.
You didn't really have home ovens until-- probably, you had the blowtorch before you had the home oven. One of the fun things we worked on at one point-- which I realize, yeah, I hadn't even put it on my little list of things that might come up-- is we actually did fire safety, because rabbis are running around all over the place with their blowtorches and there are certain types of fire extinguishers that, if they started a fire, there's an A, B, and C type fire extinguisher. You don't just use any fire extinguisher if you blowtorch something and it doesn't work right.
The key here is this has got to be red-hot. My guess is, you don't do 350. You have a rabbi, and he goes down the length of it, and waits till it's red-hot and you can see the glow. And there's a certain amount of judgment in that kind of a facility.
But they went in with the blowtorches. And they may have not used the little burn somatics. They probably went in with in with an acetylene blowtorch, so they had a much larger gas supply so they could really do this whole thing. That was one question.
AUDIENCE: No, that was the whole question.
JOE REGENSTEIN: OK. OK. The other thing I thought I'd just give a sense on a little more personal-- how did I get into this crazy business? Believe me, I did not go for a PhD in biophysics to become an expert on kosher. What actually happened was, I came to-- well, going way back, I met my wife on was then the tennis courts, and then became a parking lot, and is now noise center. It was a pick-up in summer school at a square dance. And it's one of those summer romances. It never works out.
And it turned out she was kosher. My parents, my mother and father, were both German Jewish refugees just before the war. And my mother came from what was a relatively religious family.
My dad was a butcher. His son is nowhere near as good a butcher, but does work in that field. He worked slaughterhouses, drank blood, which is a prohibited item, had very little religious background.
My mom tried to start a kosher home. By the time I was conscious, I knew we had a kosher home once upon a time because we had two sets of silverware, and they were totally integrated. But we had a meat set of silverware and the dairy set of silverware, and one was red and one was yellow. I still remember that.
But she tried to raise me with a more traditional view of kosher, always spoke well of it and talked about the meaning of it. And so I was favorably inclined to it, but didn't expect to. But when I met Carey, my current wife of 42 years, she came from a kosher home. And so we made the decision we'd probably keep a kosher home.
Of course, because of that, the first time I met my mother-in-law, I was looking around the kitchen, and she served a wonderful meat meal on their best China. Of course, I was the guest. And then at the end of the meal, she had this kosher non-dairy creamer that she was going to serve for the coffee. And unfortunately, that's one of the products that is probably the most misunderstood.
A non-dairy creamer-- Cremora and its competitors-- in the US, in most cases, are dairy products, because they contain sodium caseinate, which casein is milk protein. Sodium caseinate is precipitated milk protein. The government, as a tariff barrier against the New Zealanders and the Australians, put in a law that if you use sodium caseinate, you have to label it non-dairy. It's a punishment to New Zealand and Australia.
And so Cremora and most of it, they're kosher, but they're kosher dairy. And in those days, the labeling was not as clean-cut. So here's my mother-in-law trying to impress me. I'm trying to behave mys-- no, my wife would say I wasn't trying to behave myself. And I'm explaining to her that--
I can tell you a little secret. I get along well with my mother-in-law. When I was going into New York, which is where, of course, the kosher activities were, I would often stay with my mother-in-law alone, without my wife joining me.
But it was at least 25 years into our marriage-- and she kept a kosher home-- before she ever asked a kosher question. She did not want to discuss kosher with me. That was just not going to happen for a long, long time.
So we kept a kosher home. I was in Boston. I was going for a PhD in biophysics at Brandeis. There were a few Jews at Brandeis, as you might expect.
And in the Boston area, being kosher and Jewish was no big deal. And come to Ithaca, and a lot of people in the ag school hadn't a clue what it all meant. I was just a pain in the neck because I didn't eat certain things. I've never eaten pork intentionally, And that was a major issue at all kinds of social events.
And that started me having to begin to say, well, how do I explain all of this? Because here, I would get questions-- what is kosher? What does this mean?
I then was assigned to teach a few lectures in the ANSCI 290, which is the meats course, which actually does slaughter, because you realize, we have a US Department of Agriculture official slaughterhouse on this campus. In fact, my lab and my office are on both sides of the slaughterhouse. You come visit me, if they're slaughtering, you'll hear animals squealing. I have the only lab in the entire universe who has a meat rail.
And I gave the talk on poultry and on fish. At that time, I was doing the poultry and fish lectures. And I noticed-- I'm teaching the course, so I sat in on a few lectures. And there was one lecture I was really looking for-- the guy had kosher on it.
And I went, and I will say, it was one of the best lectures I ever heard. I was fascinated. It was all the details of the kosher knife, all of the fancy rules about not pausing, not burrowing, and all of that interesting stuff, to me. I'm crazy, it's OK.
And I looked out at the class, and I had the biggest set of blank eyes, because he started with, Jews kill animals a certain way. It's called kosher. Here's how they do it. And they had the same problem you had, hadn't a clue what it was all about.
So I said something to the professor afterwards. And he said, well, why don't you give the lecture next year? Sounds like you could do a broader job. So I spent the year studying, because I really didn't have a systematic organized view of kosher. I knew bits and pieces.
We all know we don't eat pork, we don't eat shellfish, we don't mix milk and meat. That's the part we all know. And somehow, he had all these details of slaughter, and I hadn't a clue how to put this. So it was a real effort, and it was the beginning of a learning process. And the point is is that learning process keeps continuing.
I gave the lecture. It seemed to have worked. But I was not tenured. And what is the university all about from a professor when you're not tenured? What's the most important thing? Publish or perish.
So I figured, what the hell, let's try to eke out a publication out of this damn thing. I spent a couple of years, now, learning something, let me organize it. And I did. And it went through peer review.
Well, who was a peer reviewer for an article on kosher? Turns out, in the IFT, there were a few rabbis who, because they're working with food, had joined the IFT to be involved in the food business. And the head rabbi at the OU was one of those, Rabbi Lipschitz, at the time.
And he reviewed the paper, and 90% of what he did, I agreed with. And a little bit, I didn't agree with. And that's an area where there's always a little tension, because most rabbis know they have the right answer. But some of it is one point of view. And in a professorial mode, you've got to look across different points of view.
And sometimes, in that, some of the challenges of writing for Kashrus Magazine, which we wrote for many years, is the conservative movement didn't exist. This was the fervently orthodox community, which, on a good day, would recognize the OU and the normative mainstream, and maybe a rabbi took slightly more lenient. But the conservative movement didn't exist. So when certain issues came up, I could only write half the story. So it was always a little bit of tension in there.
And so I went to meet the rabbi. And he was-- we had a good conversation. And he started asking questions on the food side that he needed information, so that dialogue began. In the meantime, this Kashrus Magazine was out there.
And I came home one day, and I said, Carey, I have good news and bad news. We'd writ-- Carey was a co-author on the paper. Since she grew up Jewish, it was really helpful to have her insights as we wrote the paper.
And I said, I've got good news and bad news. And she said, well, OK. I said, well, the good news is that the editor, who I didn't know at the time, had nothing to do with at the time, of Kashrus Magazine said, this is the best article in the English language explaining kosher to non-Jews.
So Carey said, what could be so bad? I said, he is so fervently orthodox, he decided that there was only one author-- me-- and the wife didn't count. And then a little while later, he asked me to write an article for it.
My wife has been co-author throughout that writing. The first time it got published, it got published without her name on it. So we had to have a little heart to heart with the rabbi, and now, both names finally appeared.
About 10 years later-- we pay for our own subscription, by the way, to the magazine. It's a low-budget operation. He had decided that we had done so many columns, he was talking to my wife and said, I need to do something for you. And what that ended up being, eventually, was a set of tefillin, phylacteries, the prayer you would put on your arm and your head in the morning for morning prayers-- for me. That was what he did "for you" when he talked to my wife.
What has happened is, this thing has just become-- I call it an octopus with 50 legs, or arms. It was like nature abhors a vacuum. And it was just like, there were so many bits and pieces that weren't coming together where somebody could make an impact.
And it's just taken me in all sorts of directions in more recent years, including in the Muslim community. So here is a nice Jewish boy in the mosque at the east end of London the summer giving a talk on kosher and halal slaughter in what is one of the most controversial mosques in the UK. I had a wonderful time. I was a guest, for the entire week, of the Muslim community and had an absolutely wonderful time.
I've now been invited to Malaysia. I've been in Turkey a few times giving talks. I've given, for the government of Singapore, a kosher talk.
And not only did I give a talk, but they decided that they wanted their introductory slide, their official-- the Muslim Certification Agency of Singapore, which is part of the government. And there it is with "kosher and kosher processing, Joe M. Regenstein" in their system. They even printed all the slides and put it in their booklet with the official seal of the Muslim organization. So that's been a lot of fun working in that community.
And that's how I got into it. And it's just been a tremendous learning experience. I had a very normal Hebrew school twice a week, misbehave in the afternoon kind of background. And it was not very sophisticated.
And so I sometimes tease about my Jewish knowledge as being the spike when it comes to kosher, to the point where I do argue halakha with the rabbis in the fervently orthodox community, and know nothing else. The curve has gotten a little more bell-shaped over time, thanks to people like Rabbi Ed, when we study broader sorts of things. But it is a secular program here. It serves the food industry.
40% of your packaged foods have kosher certification. The kind of process that a Nabisco went through is an extreme, but the whole issue of how commercial interests, the rabbis, consumer protection agencies, federal, and state interact. And consumers, 80% of the consumers of kosher food, are not Jewish. And that's a slightly distorted figure in that the dollar volume is still Jews who are buying kosher all the time.
But there are many non-Jews who buy kosher intentionally with an understanding of why they're doing it, whatever their personal reasons are. And some of these are for vegetarian, vegan, Muslim, Seventh-day Adventists, and some are just consumers who think that there is a quality perception advantage of kosher, which there is, but not for the reason most consumers think so.
The big piece of that is that to do kosher, you've got a rabbi looking over your shoulder, and you've got to follow some rules, and you've got to be a little more organized. So for a small company that's kosher, they're probably running better than a non-kosher company, because they got the rabbis coming in two or three times or five times or six times a year, while the FDA visits you once every 10 years.
So anyway. Open for questions, comments.
AUDIENCE: About the symbols that we use, the OU and the subscripting and stuff, how long have there been a set of symbols that people recognize, as opposed to just using text in packaging.
JOE REGENSTEIN: My understanding is that, in fact, the first commercial kosher product was Heinz vegetarian beans, which Heinz, actually, for a period, was actually advertising on their label. And they did that, essentially, just pre-World War II, as I understand it. And so the OU was the first in there.
And the OU, the circle U, which you'll see on the Oreos, is an organization of about 1,000 synagogues. So it's a communal organization nationwide. And they really started the process. Today, this year's issue of Kashrus Magazine's kosher symbols, I think we were at 952.
The key is that these are trademarks. The symbol-- and if you look at the green T, it has a cuff K on it. I can look at what other products symbols might be out there. Those are trademarks. They are owned by somebody within that religious community.
If the letter K is used on a product-- K is a letter of the alphabet. Our government has declared, in its infinite wisdom, that you cannot trademark a letter of the alphabet. So the K doesn't tell you who's responsible.
The OU, there's an organization-- KOF-K, circle K. I can give you an address. And what that symbol means is, that says that we're doing it to the standard of the OU, and the OU takes responsibility for this product.
And it is different than in Europe, where the rabbis went into the plants and said, we looked at the plant and it's kosher. And it actually changes the whole halakhic status, because if the company were to change something in Europe, you sometimes can fudge it in terms of halakha because you had no control over it. But if the company has a contractual relationship, it puts the company relationship to the certification and its kosher status, actually, in a different category.
And you can't do some of the hand-waving that the rabbis have in their battle of tricks. They can't pull some of that because you can't treat it as a mistake, because they are taking responsibility.
AUDIENCE: A friend of ours who has a class at this time wanted to know-- he said that there's some flavor of Pop-Tarts, and an identical flavor of, I guess, Pop-Tarts on-the-go. And the Pop-Tarts are kosher, the on-the-go aren't. He wants to know why.
JOE REGENSTEIN: I don't know the specifics.
JOE REGENSTEIN: No, that is not an uncommon occurrence.
AUDIENCE: Pop-Tarts are not [INAUDIBLE]
JOE REGENSTEIN: Pop-Tarts to-go are the ones that are kosher.
AUDIENCE: Oh, because every time I go to the grocery store, I look to see if the Pop-Tarts are made kosher.
JOE REGENSTEIN: I didn't think Pop-Tarts. That's right. That's a Kellogg's product that does not have a K on it. That's a case where it is likely that the manufacturing of that product is different.
So the two products may have the same name, doesn't mean they're manufactured on the same equipment. They may not be even made in the same plant. My guess is they're not made in the same plant. The plant that's making Pop-Tarts to-go is probably a Kellogg's plant that is operating as kosher.
Kellogg's is one of the two, I call them the exception to the rule. I said nasty things about the K, not telling you anything. Kellogg's uses the K. But it's actually under a normative mainstream supervision, and they're a big enough company. Everybody knows that Pepsi and Kellogg's are fine, even though it's a K.
But the plant where they would make it, if it's all kosher, it may be easier to just keep it kosher, and it may have different ingredients. One of the problems you have with Pop-Tarts-- and I don't know the Pop-Tarts to-go product at all-- one of the things they use is gelatin as a glue. Gelatin is used-- is a complicated item, for both the Jewish and Muslim community and the American food supply.
And the rabbis, collectively, not any one organization, have made it more confusing for everybody, because Jell-O brand-- there are rabbis who will accept some types of gelatin that other people would not accept as kosher. But the gelatin, actually, in the icing serves as a glue to hold the icing to the dough. And if they're using gelatin, the main stream, which the K, in this case, is, would not accept that. So it can be either the ingredients are different, probably both the ingredients and the plant that actually makes it.
Gelatin, by the way, is an interesting one. And that also-- I actually have a talk, which I call, specifically, kosher for Muslims, because the normative mainstream, which is the de facto standard in the United States, and it's not a-- it's an observational judgment of mine. I don't define that standard as better or worse than any other standard, it is just the standard that is.
That standard will not use any gelatin from cattle-- it won't use any pork gelatin. It will not use any cattle gelatin unless-- and there is one process that is done where it's made from only the hides of animals that have been approved as kosher for the meat side. So the animals that are kosher on the meat side, their hides can be used to make gelatin.
The other one is what I do for a living, which is fish gelatin. And we're starting to see some products come through with fish gelatin. So on the barbecue that Rabbi Ed runs and Hillel runs at the beginning of the year, they can have s'mores because they bring in the special marshmallows that have fish gelatin that is probably from fish coming out of Africa, out of Lake Victoria, that go to Israel, made into gelatin. The marshmallows are made in Israel, and they come over here, and we can have s'mores that are strictly kosher.
On the other hand, Jell-O products, Jell-O brand products, Yoplait yogurt, all have a K, and they have the word "kosher gelatin" on them. That kosher gelatin may be pork gelatin.
In the Jell-O brand products, there is no question that it is pork gelatin. Comes out of the Atlantic gelatin plant in Woburn, Massachusetts, which is a pork gelatin plant.
JOE REGENSTEIN: You don't really want-- the rebbetzin in town says to me, Joe, I don't want to know what you're working on. I don't want to hear it. I don't want you disrupting my life.
By the way, the most popular cereal among students is also the one cereal that General Mills makes that is not kosher, the Lucky Charms.
AUDIENCE: Then why do have a K if you know it's from--?
JOE REGENSTEIN: Good question. You're asking the absolutely right-- the kosher laws, unlike the halal laws, are about food. They are about the flesh of the animal. The bone and the skin of an animal is not considered, religiously, an edible product. It is not a food. And so things derived from them are not considered under the laws by most rabbis.
And you see that there are laws in Judaism of, what happens if you make a mistake, and what can you do after the fact? And that's the issue between Europe and America. Is this an after the fact or intentional beforehand?
After the fact, if, for example, you have a big pot of soup, and your servant, housekeeper, somebody who might handle pork in their life, for some reason, had snuck out at lunchtime, gone shopping, came back with a big ham hock, and by some unbelievable circumstance, it fell out of its package and ended up in your kosher soup, you then go through a bunch of very complicated calculations based on volumes, which weights would be so much easier, in many cases. But it's all based on volume. And volumes are not additive, so you get into all kinds of interesting problems. And you're trying to figure out these volumes.
If you had that ham hock, the bone is not a food. So the bone gets added to the volume of the kosher soup, and no rabbi would argue that. I mean, even the very right-wing, fervently orthodox would agree that when you're doing those calculations, the bone is part of the kosher part. It is only the meat part of that ham hock bone that you have to get the right volume for. And that, again, is establishing the fact that the bone is not a prohibited food.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] like meat-based stock, but it's made out of--
JOE REGENSTEIN: But it's intentional.
AUDIENCE: Oh, OK.
JOE REGENSTEIN: But the rabbi-- but if you have bone stock-- if somebody went and ground up, got rid of the blood and all that, and you had dry bone, which is how you make bone gelatin, and they took that up and ground it into a fine powder and put it in your product, it would not affect its kosher status, in theory. Now, the modern rabbis simply don't accept that as a practical matter. The OU, KOF-K, Star-K, the big ones, and their normative mainstream will not accept any gelatin from any of these questionable situations. But some of the more lenient rabbis will.
And Yoplait and Jell-O do that, to the point where, at one point, one of the more orthodox members of the Kraft-- at the point, it was before it was Kraft, but now, Jell-O is Kraft today. They actually put out a list of the kosher products, an official list, and their entire Jell-O line was left out, because the company knows that's marginal. And the person who put the list together was more traditional. And the company let that list go out as an official list for the seriously orthodox community, and left their entire Jell-O line, everything in the Jell-O line, off the list. So it's a unique complication that drives everybody crazy.
AUDIENCE: Where did marrow fit in?
JOE REGENSTEIN: Pardon?
AUDIENCE: Where did marrow fit in?
JOE REGENSTEIN: Marrow would have to-- meat goes through a koshering process, which is after the rabbis do the kill, and they do the inspection of the animal-- and there is a post-slaughter inspection that is different than a USDA health inspection-- they then remove certain veins and arteries, and then you do a salting and soaking of the meat. If you want to use a bone in a traditional Jewish orthodox home, you will soak and salt the meat, and you would soak and salt the bones. The bones have to go through the koshering process. Once they've gone through the koshering process, they are fine, and you can eat whatever is there.
AUDIENCE: If you could have pork and gelatin, do they have to kill the pig in a certain way, then, if they're going to use the bones to make gelatin?
JOE REGENSTEIN: No. The bones of any animal would be considered in that. And if somebody had bare bones or whatever-- in fact, one of the more complicated ones that some of the rabbis actually accepted that wouldn't except pork bones was Indian dry bones. In India, they don't slaughter cattle in the Hindu community.
And so many of the cattle die and are left to decay. Bones don't decay very quickly. That's why we have skeletons in the closets. And so the untouchables, the lower end of the economic spectrum, would collect these bones. And they were then shipped to Belgium, where they were actually converted into gelatin.
And there were rabbis who were not normative mainstream, but were only a little bit over, who sometimes accepted those, because they were over a year old, they were natural, the animal had died, it was not slaughtered for somebody else's purpose, it had gone through aging. I mean, it was clearly not a food, and they would accept that. So there are a lot of gradation.
But the fact is, you could make gelatin from bear or from tiger, or any of those animals, and that would be as kosher as the pig gelatin. And I don't think anybody has ever figured out how to properly slaughter a lion or tiger, though there is actually-- I've actually been in a cooler with lion and tiger meat. I was in a cooler, at one point, with 25 different exotic animals.
I have a friend in Boston who is good at get-- she's even better than I am at talking their way into strange places. The first time I met-- there's a halal butcher in Pittsburgh, which is where my wife is living at the moment. And we went there and had lunch there. By the time lunch was over, I was in the cooler with all the sheep carcasses.
And the real epitome of, really, how sick I am, I guess, is, I celebrated my 60th birthday by going to a poultry slaughter house-- used to be the Hebrew National plant. It is now a natural halal slaughterhouse doing both natural and halal slaughter in South Fallsburg. I spent two hours in the blood pit, immediately after slaughter, measuring time to insensibility, that is, how long it took the birds to die. That was my 60th birthday.
It was actually nice birthday, because the person I went with was really a nice person. And it's three hours each way. And we did stop and have a nice dinner. And so it was as good a birthday as any other one.
AUDIENCE: So what is the official, I guess, Talmudic definition of what food is?
JOE REGENSTEIN: I'm not qualified to answer that. But what I know is that the meat piece of the thing is stuff-- it has to do with normal edibility. Again, I can't do it halakhically. I don't know you want to tackle it or not.
But things that aren't at the-- the other one that always-- and now I'm going to gross you guys out. One of the most expensive types of coffee is a special kind of coffee that is made by taking coffee beans, and running them through a cat, and collecting the beans, the hard bean, from the feces.
AUDIENCE: How is this coffee marketed so we know to stay away from it?
JOE REGENSTEIN: It's not-- it's--
AUDIENCE: This is an ice cream flavor, too, now?
JOE REGENSTEIN: Pardon?
AUDIENCE: It's just an ice cream flavor now?
JOE REGENSTEIN: There may be. I'm not a coffee drinker. I don't even remember its name because I don't drink coffee, period. It's a grown-up beverage. I refuse to grow up.
But that product, again, there is no problem. It's coming out of something that's not a food, that's disgusting, which it is. But if you're going to eat it after that, it's fine. And people pay good money for this. I mean, it's amazing what people will buy. What?
AUDIENCE: Who thought of the process?
JOE REGENSTEIN: That probably happened by default because the cat ate the beans.
JOE REGENSTEIN: Get some.
AUDIENCE: I thought that was a coffee [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: Because if it was only the cat, I could get to the [INAUDIBLE] and then when they brewed it, had a second taste.
AUDIENCE: Who would attempt that, thought?
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] that's why it's so expensive.
JOE REGENSTEIN: Other questions? Rabbi.
RABBI ED: One of the great highs and lows of kosher food was a few years ago when Twinkies suddenly had a Triangle K hechsher. And I was quite elated, only to find, shortly thereafter, that they had lost that hechsher. So can you clarify the joys and sorrows of Twinkies?
JOE REGENSTEIN: I'm not at all familiar with the kosher issue that you're referring to. I do not know the story that was in. I've never seen it published or written up.
There is a book called Twinkies, Deconstructed, which is a great food chemistry text. It talks about all the ingredients. And the person actually went out and traced where all the ingredients came from on Twinkies.
And apparently-- he and I had some conversation, because I'm actually acknowledged in front in the acknowledgements. I don't remember the conversation at all. But if you want to know all about Twinkies, there's a book that tells you anything and everything you wanted to know, but not it's kosher status.
RABBI ED: Why would some symbols, such as the Triangle K, not be accepted by some people, and accepted by others?
JOE REGENSTEIN: Again, there's a-- I keep talking about this normative mainstream, the de facto standard. Some of the rabbis do not go to the same standard. Triangle K is slightly to the more lenient side.
Some of their products-- you might, if you went to 104 West!, to our kosher dining hall, I believe the Minute Maid juices are accepted when we were still Coke. We're now Pepsi, and I'm not sure if that's affected Minute Maid or not. That is a Triangle K, but the rabbis know that they don't disagree with the rabbi.
The rabbi in head of Triangle K, the father-- who has, I believe, since passed away, and now the son has it-- did not follow the strictest rules when it came to the transport of oils. And that was where the other rabbis moved him over. The other issue is Hebrew National.
Now, some of you may have seen the great ad, which sometimes reappears, which was famous when I was growing up. In early TV, they had a person dressed up as Uncle Sam representing the US Department of Agriculture, which inspects all of our meat, sometimes. Well, I mean, one of the problems with this big meat recall is that if that meat recall is real, it means that the USDA didn't do its job right.
It was really not the factory, and a big part of the blame is with the government. But the whole thing may have been staged. I actually spent half an hour with the plant manager of that plant last week on Friday afternoon, quizzing him. And he was prepared to talk to me about that.
But the point being is that they inspect. So you have this Uncle Sam character saying, all meat reports to me, but Hebrew National reports to a higher authority, and the bolt of lightning comes down. That plant is under the Triangle K at this point.
The Triangle K does not require the extra stringency on the lung inspection that has become normative in America and is referred to as glatt kosher. So the meat in Hebrew National is not glatt kosher. All of the normative mainstream is glatt kosher. And it deals with lung adhesions-- growth on the long, keep it simple.
The other thing is that there is a debate in the orthodox community. And again, most of the orthodox community-- remember, religious slaughter is a live slaughter. The animal is not stunned ahead of time. And most of the rabbis, after slaughter, also do not permit stunning.
Hebrew National animals are stunned immediately after slaughter, and that is simply not acceptable to the normative mainstream. So there are major differences between the Triangle K, specifically on Hebrew National, and what is normative mainstream religious slaughter. So they're to the more lenient end of kosher standards.
There are justifications for it. It is simply not accepted. As my wife always says, two Jews, three opinions. And I always point out that I disagree with her because I have three opinions of my own.
AUDIENCE: So if it has a Triangle K, how do you if it's a questionable product or not?
JOE REGENSTEIN: As an individual, you basically don't. What an orthodox person would do would go to their rabbi, and their rabbi would call the OU or the Star-K, and somebody who tracks this stuff would say, yes, you can use it. And in this case, we do know. I mean, if you went normative mainstream, they would tell you, no, you cannot use Hebrew National, yes, you can use Minute Maid.
The other one that we have as is Kikkoman. Kikkoman uses the Half-Moon K. And if you go down to 104 West!, you'll see plenty of Kikkoman. Kikkoman has, essentially, an open door policy with the rabbis. The nature of that kind of a fermentation is fairly controlled.
So for both of those reasons, the rabbis know there is nothing to worry about in Kikkoman. They don't care who the rabbi is. If I were to supervise it-- I'm not even a rabbi-- they wouldn't care. They've been in the plant, they're welcome anytime they want. Whoever's got the symbol on is irrelevant, because the people we want to be sure that it's right can send somebody in and make sure it's OK.
So you'll see Kikkoman, but you should not go into the kitchen in 104 West! and say, oh, I've seen the Half-Moon K, must be OK. It's not accepted, though 10 years from now, it may well be. They are working hard to actually be normative mainstream.
They've decided-- the person who founded the organization has passed away and the business has been sold-- these are businesses, in many cases-- has been sold, has new management. The new management wants to bring it up to normative standards. But they're not quite there yet.
AUDIENCE: You said that Hebrew National stuns their animals after they slaughter them. Now, what exactly would that do?
JOE REGENSTEIN: It makes-- when you do kosher slaughter, you have a higher incident of something called blood splash, which is rupturing of capillaries, which leaves little red dots in the middle of your meat-- highly undesirable. And that meat ends up having to go into processing, as opposed to being a roast beef. Most modern Western countries do not process hindquarter into kosher. It goes into the non-kosher market for practical reasons.
It's not a religious thing. It's just too expensive to process the hindquarter according to all the rules. And so it's a real economic loss.
The stunning immediately post-slaughter significantly reduces the incident of blood splash. And so most of the non-glatt houses, both Sinai Best and Hebrew National, use the post-slaughter stunning. The conservative movement has a teshuvah, a written document, accepting the process.
But there [INAUDIBLE]-- well, there's the rabbi who set it up who was orthodox. The predecessor to Rabbi Ralbag's family was Rabbi Stern. And he has written a response, but nobody in the orthodox community has accepted it, even though he was an orthodox rabbi.
I'll take one more question. I'm happy to keep talking. We've got lots of Oreos and we've got some fruit. And so why don't we-- we'll finish the formal session, and I'm happy to continue to talk to anybody who wants to ask questions.
AUDIENCE: So if you could actually-- the hind part of that cow that's actually kosher is just too hard to make it kosher, is that what you're saying?
JOE REGENSTEIN: In Israel, you can buy hindquarter. In the countries-- Jews, during the Middle Ages, Dark Ages, were separated. There were those living in Muslim countries, and there were those living in Christian countries, and they didn't talk to each other.
And they also ended up with some different practices. In the Muslim communities, where meat was more rare, the extra work was worth it. And so the tradition of using the hindquarter remained in those communities.
And the key process here is the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs the entire length of the hindquarter. It goes back to Jacob's bout with the angel in the Bible where, after that, Jacob limped.
And it's called the-- and it's a tongue twister, as far as I am always concerned-- the sinew of the thigh vein is prohibited. And that's in the Torah text. And that's prohibited in commemoration of that event.
Well, it is very, very difficult to remove the sciatic nerve from cattle and sheep. And so it's just so labor-intensive that it makes no sense. And given that the better meats are in the hindquarter, the non-Jews are very willing to take the hindquarter.
Historically, in the New York area, it was a wonderful situation, given Jews only eat the front quarter. In those days before we knew about facts, they loved the high prime quality, which is the highest fatty marbled. Restaurants want prime, but they want the hindquarter. They have no use for the front quarter. So it worked out fine. You went to any-- in the old days, if you went to Four Seasons, Tavern on the Green, wherever you were, you were probably eating kosher meat, kosher-killed meat, because the front quarter was going to the kosher market, and the hindquarter of this very high-quality meat was going into what we call the white tablecloth restaurants.
Deer, by the way, are easy to remove the sciatic nerve. So we do have kosher hindquarter with the deer-- some of the agencies will permit it. There's been a debate.
And there was also a rumor floating around at one point that the state of New York got involved because it does kosher enforcement. And they have no regulations to deal with kosher hindquarter, so they assumed it was not kosher, legally, even though they knew, by law, they had to seize it. And it got to be an embarrassment because, in fact, it is kosher.
It is easy to remove-- easy is a relative term. I certainly couldn't do it, and I doubt that any of you could do it. But it can be done relatively easily by somebody who knows something.
And so there is kosher hindquarter deer available in the traditional orthodox community, which is slaughtered kosher, which also suffered a PETA break-in. But it really wasn't that badly done. It was not as bad as some of the other PETA [INAUDIBLE], People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
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Joe Regenstein, professor of food science at Cornell and director of the Cornell Kosher and Halal Food Initiative, tells the story of how Nabisco's famous Oreo cookie was converted into a fully orthodox kosher product.
The costly transformation, which took more than three years, began when the country's major ice cream companies--most operating under kosher standards--wanted to make a product with authentic Oreos.
The event was part of Cornell's Jewish Faculty Lecture Series, sponsored by Cornell Hillel and supported by the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust.