“I Keep Kosher, But I Eat Dairy in Restaurants”

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How many times have you heard that one? Growing up, it wasn’t a big surprise: our family would go out to the local Chinese restaurant, only order things that began with “egg” or ended with “vegetables,” and we’d inevitably be surprised when a chewy, tangy piece of General Tso tasting suspiciously like chicken popped up.

My mother would call over the waiter. Profuse apologies would ensue. We’d get a free dessert (score!). And then, the next week, we’d go right back to the same place, and the exact same thing would happen.

Whenever you go out to eat, you’re putting your trust in the kitchen staff — not only that they won’t pee in the food, but that they’ll give you what you ask for. And when certain things don’t turn out to be exactly what was advertised — ending up with milk, eggs, and shrimp, as in the photo below — well, let’s just say we shouldn’t be surprised.

fake vegetarian food

The website QuarryGirl.com has been keeping track of a bunch of restaurants that were officially vegetarian or vegan. A bit of lo-tech hacking (okay, let’s just call it dumpster diving) resulted in discovering packages like the above. For the next phase of their plan, the QG team tested the actual food for traces of egg, dairy protein, and shellfish. And guess what they found?

not really vegan food secret non kosher ingredients

Scan down about halfway, and you’ll find the juicy bits. Their investigation led them to a bunch of Taiwanese manufacturers who were linked to a news story — the headline, Over 50% of processed foods for vegetarians found to contain meat, really says it all. But just in case you need more elaboration:

DNA tests revealed that in the two most serious cases, the vegetarian patties and ham of one vendor and vegetarian dried shredded pork from another vendor contained at least 20 percent beef or pork, Pu said.

And their original investigations took place at restaurants that are supposed to be vegetarian. If you’re eating at a regular old non-veggie restaurant, and there’s shrimp sitting right next to that plate of Vegetable Kung Pao you’re ordering, what are the chances that your main course is going to have a few extra crustaceans in it?

Thanks to Milhouse for this one.

Posted on July 23, 2009

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8 thoughts on ““I Keep Kosher, But I Eat Dairy in Restaurants”

  1. Reb Yudel

    That’s why I don’t feel comfortable eating out in Chinese restaurants. Nore eating soup.

    But when I eat somewhere that hasn’t been approved by an Orthodox rabbi, I know what I’m not getting. I’m not subsidizing chillul Hashem. I’m not endorsing the notion that the Torah has something to say about kashrut but nothing about paying workers. I’m not financing the Orthodox Union’s lobbying against Proposition 8.

    So yeh, when I eat out, I increase the possibility on ingesting a particle of pork. But God knows there are worse sins than that.

  2. matthue Post author

    So instead, you’re discriminating against Chinese people…?

    There are hekshers that aren’t run by Orthodox rabbis, by the way. And one could also argue that, by saying “Orthodox rabbis” when you’re talking about a few #*(%ed-up folks and applying that judgment to everyone in existence.

  3. laysygal

    I think there’s a big difference between finding dairy product in your food than meat. The website you linked too was looking for purely vegan foods, and that’s not necessarily the same thing.

    Your family probably should have checked what was in their food, not just used the words eggs and veggies as guidelines.

  4. Reb Yudel

    Within the context of kosher certification, I don’t think you can consider the OU just “a few #*(%ed-up folks.” They define the genre.

  5. matthue Post author

    Well, when people order “vegetarian lo mein” or an egg salad sandwich in a restaurant, I think they expect it to be meatless. My point being, when you’re in a kitchen where multiple meals are being cooked, stuff almost inevitably falls from one dish into another.

  6. Jnas08

    Interesting article, but I think the pictures are a bit misleading. The picture of the item that includes “Shrimp, Wheat, Eggs, Milk” was from the control item they used. In other words, the one item they deliberately bought that included all the ingredients they were testing for.

    As far as the whole article goes, you make some good points, but the Kosher food industry has had its faults throughout the years as well (as recently as March when a Glatt restaurant in Brooklyn got caught serving non-Kosher hot dogs). We live in an imperfect world, and people do the best they can sometimes.

  7. matthue Post author

    Jnas, I think you hit it on the head:

    People do the best they can sometimes.

    We just hope the people behind the scenes are doing the best they can, and we try to do the best we can ourselves.

  8. Milhouse

    There are indeed worse sins than eating pork, but paying workers less than some arbitrary amount you think they ought to be paid is not one of them. And I think you mean the OU’s lobbying for Prop 8, which you may not want to finance, but the Torah certainly has something to say about it, and it’s firmly on the OU’s side.

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