Generating over $12 billion in annual sales, kosher food is big business. It is also an unheralded story of successful private-sector regulation in an era of growing public concern over the government’s ability to ensure food safety. Kosher uncovers how independent certification agencies rescued American kosher supervision from fraud and corruption and turned it into a model of nongovernmental administration.
Currently, a network of over three hundred private certifiers ensures the kosher status of food for over twelve million Americans, of whom only eight percent are religious Jews. But the system was not always so reliable. At the turn of the twentieth century, kosher meat production in the United States was notorious for scandals involving price-fixing, racketeering, and even murder. Reform finally came with the rise of independent kosher certification agencies which established uniform industry standards, rigorous professional training, and institutional checks and balances to prevent mistakes and misconduct.
In overcoming many of the problems of insufficient resources and weak enforcement that hamper the government, private kosher certification holds important lessons for improving food regulation, Timothy Lytton argues. He views the popularity of kosher food as a response to a more general cultural anxiety about industrialization of the food supply. Like organic and locavore enthusiasts, a growing number of consumers see in rabbinic supervision a way to personalize today’s vastly complex, globalized system of food production.
An extremely valuable contribution to understanding the history, dynamics, evolution, and remarkable growth of Kashrus supervisory agencies in America.
Kosher is one terrific book. It’s a wonderfully entertaining account of the squabbles, finger-pointing, and cutthroat competition that turned kosher certification from scandalous corruption to a respectable—and highly profitable—business. Today, if a food is labeled kosher, it is kosher, which is more than can be said of most claims on food labels. You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate the fun in Timothy Lytton’s presentation of an unusually successful case study in business ethics.
Timothy Lytton’s wide-ranging account brings to bear a valuable new perspective on the kosher food industry. Harnessing the law and biochemistry, information technology and history—including, most memorably, the vinegar scandal of 1986—his lucid new book makes clear that keeping kosher has as much to do with the institutions of modern America as it does with age-old precepts.
- 240 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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