Did you know that Coca-Cola was the first iconic American food product to seek and obtain kosher certification? In the 1930s, Tobias Geffen of Atlanta became the first American rabbi to investigate the hidden ingredients in mass-produced food and evaluate whether they conflicted with kosher law, setting the precedent for the application of these religious-based dietary rules to modern food.
Author and food historian Roger Horowitz traces the journey of kosher foods through the industrial food system, including the contentious debates among rabbis over popular products such as Coca-Cola and Jell-O; how Manischewitz wine became the first kosher product to win over non-Jewish consumers (principally African Americans); the techniques used by Orthodox rabbinical organizations to embed kosher requirements into food manufacturing; and the difficulties encountered by kosher meat and other kosher foods that fell outside of America’s familiar food preferences.
Horowitz discusses how kosher food fits into our contemporary food system and the successes, as well as the failures that occurred in the process of that culinary integration. His story—which also draws on his own family’s experiences—is filled with big personalities and surprising influences: chemist and kosher-certification pioneer Abraham Goldstein; kosher-meat magnate Harry Kassel; and animal-rights advocate Temple Grandin, a strong supporter of shechita, or Jewish slaughtering practice.
Horowitz is director of the Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society at Wilmington’s Hagley Museum and Library. His book Kosher USA: How Coke Became Kosher and Other Tales of Modern Food (Columbia University Press) is available for sale and signing.