Kosher Jews and Muslims ponder: is it OK to eat plant-based pork?
Two of the country’s biggest plant based meat manufactures, Impossible and Beyond Meat, have introduced a new plant-based product: pork.
“My initial response to the product itself was somewhere between disinterest and disgust,” said Leah Koenig, a Jewish food writer and cookbook author who describes herself as “Kosher light.”
Koenig wrote the article Is It Kosher To Eat Fake Pork? for Tablet magazine, a Jewish publication. Meanwhile, Slate staff writer Aymann Ismail, a Muslim who has never tasted a bite of pork, wrote the article Impossible Pork Is Testing My Faith.
There is now a vegan product designed to taste like pork, a food that has always been strictly forbidden by Jewish and Islamic law.
“Yeah, as a Muslim you’re not supposed to eat pork because God said so,” laughed Ismail. “That and also because it’s such a part of how you practice your faith. In a place like America, part of your practice is all of the things that you don’t do, that you see people doing — drinking alcohol and getting drunk, gambling. All of these things make us Muslim. Pork is one of those top things because it’s seemingly everywhere. You spend so much of your life trying to avoid it. So it’s very engrained in how you practice Islam in the country.”
Ismail was curious if people in his community would be open to the product.
“I love pushing people’s buttons, especially other Muslims,” Ismail said. “So the first thing I did when I found out about this is I called my mom and I was like, ‘Mama! They’re selling pork that’s halal now.’ And she was just so turned off by that and I found that to be so entertaining.”
But these fake pork products are not officially halal. They’re not certified kosher either.
“Impossible Pork and all other plant-based pork products are completely kosher in the spirit of the law,” Koenig explained. “They’re made of plants. There’s no way they could possibly violate any of the kosher laws. But, interestingly, Impossible Pork reached out to the Orthodox Union, which is the most mainstream kosher certification organization that gives you the stamp of approval for your product.”
“And the OU actually turned them down. They did not turn them down because the product itself was inherently un-kosher, they turned them down because having the word ‘pork’ in it felt too problematic. They decided it wasn’t worth the potential fuss or trouble of giving it kosher certification. Anybody who keeps by the traditional kosher laws, my in-laws included, won’t eat anything without that certification on it unless it’s a raw fruit or a vegetable. By not getting the OU, people who keep kosher are not going to buy this product.”
Ismael says there are other reasons a religious person might abstain from plant-based pork.
“I have a friend who would never go near it because she’s so conscious and aware of the way that pork played a roll in Islamophobia in this country,” Ismail explained. “Several instances of people leaving raw bacon on the door handles of mosques as a form of intimidation or the Texas gun shop owner who dipped bullets in pork blood as a way to promote his shop to the anti-Muslim crowd.”
When Koenig saw that Ismail had written a similar article, she sent him an email to connect. Impossible also saw his article and mailed him five pounds of Impossible Pork. Ever curious, Ismail invited Koenig to his New Jersey home to cook it together.
“We made some halal pork gyozas, pot stickers, and they were actually not half bad,” Ismail said.
Koenig said they were delicious but…
“If I was going to use [the product] again it would have to be transcendently good,” said Koenig. “It would have to be the best thing I’ve ever eaten because I’m sort of settled in how I feel about pork. I don’t need it, I don’t want it, it doesn’t add anything to my life, whether it’s vegan or actual pig pork. It’s nothing against the product at all. For people who don’t have the religious baggage, I think Impossible is doing a great service.”
Muslims can eat every other meat except for pork, so Ismail doesn’t feel like he’s missing out on much.
“I’m like a Muslim pork snob who’s never had pork, it’s funny,” Ismail joked. “But I really needed it to blow my mind for me to ever entertain cozying up to this product and introducing it to my diet. Frankly it just wasn’t that.”
So far, Impossible Pork is currently only available at select restaurants and Beyond Pork is only available in China.
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