Is it kosher? Uh, it’s not recommended

kosher_foodI found myself faced with an incredible challenge yesterday, it was a lull at work and the chef offered to pay for starbucks if I’d drive. I wish she would have said “lets get something at starbucks” and not offered to pay, because starbucks is gross. However, in order to stay true to my cheap, penny pinching, hook nosed heeb – mesorah I had to oblige and figure out what I could get at Starbucks that wasn’t water, even their water tastes over roasted (burnt, for all of you folks who don’t know taste guava, honeysuckle, leather, and citrus when you drink coffee) So I went on to the kosher starbucks website to see what’s actually kosher at starbucks, because I find most people will keep strict kosher, but when it comes to actually making sure something is kosher in a starbucks or bar, they suddenly become too pussy to figure it out. In reality all of the tea at Starbucks should be kosher, but I recently found out that most of the tea at Starbucks is just sugar powder with chemicals and loads of sweeteners, I didn’t want to uphold my penny pinching minhagim only to be over an isser of treif.

The Kosher Starbucks website reminds me of asking if something was kosher when I was in high school, the rabbi would never say it was treife, they would just say that “we don’t hold of it”. Unfortunately, the kosher starbucks website does the same thing, instead of telling me that my caramel coated coffee style drink isn’t kosher, they inform the reader that “it’s not recommended” which leads me to believe that it’s technically kosher, but not according to their standards. My theory is that it’s either kosher or not.

I know that you modernishe folks who eat vegetarian out and have a kosher home would love to believe about the varying levels of kasharus, but in the end a product is either kosher or treife, whether you know it or not. Unless, you really want to get into the dangerous practice of asking your neighbors (who are rarely experts) if certian products are kosher. I have a feeling that people are scared to ask their local orthodox Rabbi about Amy’s products because they know the answer will be “don’t eat it”, in fact I know of only one person in my entire existence who actually called up the Staten Island based rabbi and asked him point blank about Amy’s, this family now eats Amy’s. Of course, we cannot derive a proof from this one family, because the wife wears pants and the husband doesn’t wear a black hat ever and so their values are obviously degraded.

Still, if you can’t get a straight answer from your rabbi as to what’s kosher or not, why not call up the certifying agency and find out for yourself? I guess, it comes down to us being too pussy to just step up and figure out kasharus for ourselves. I also assume that once you call up the rabbi who certifies your favorite sort of kosher cheese, you aren’t sure what to ask him. Just because he’s got smicha from Rav Mosher and knows your cousin from Torah Vodath, doesn’t mean he’s frum or knows chullin and yoreh deah like all Rav Hamachshir’s should.

It seems like every community deals with this “it’s not recommended” thing, when I lived in Rochester, the yeshiva community didn’t hold by a bunch of things that the modern orthodox rabbi certified, yet we could eat at the Rabbis house and his son went to yeshiva. Of course, I do recall certian kids making fun of the son that his family drove to shul on shabbos, but no one ever said the donut shop or bakery was treife. I guess it’s kind of like not holding by an eruv, if you say it’s treife, you’re implying that every single person who holds of the eruv is mechalel shabbos mefarhesya (only if there are at least 2 people who don’t hold of said eruv that are in town on shabbos to witness the mechalel shabbos) I guess the same applies to labeling something that you don’t hold of as treife.

I got a call before pesach from a very frum cousin of mine back east, he asked me what I knew of the K-ORC, the bane of bay area kasharus. A classic example of something that no one knows or does anything about, a local hechsher, given by a local guy who happens to be frum and very learned, yet most folks don’t hold of the hechsher. “Have you ever spoken to him” is the question that people ask of me, as if my extreme bay area hocker qualities must mean that I’ve sat down with the rabbi from K-ORC and asked him about his hechsher and why it’s on all the best looking cheeses and why no one will touch it. Sure, I’ve said good shabbos to him, but no I admit I’ve never had the balls to sit him down and ask him about the cheese. The hechsher is on dozens of things, but that Redwood Hill Farms goat milk cheddar is anyone really cares about. Unless you happen to be on the east coast, where all the frum forums have some sort of debate as to whether or not it’s reliable.

Anyway, I find it troubling that a major website like kosher starbucks, which caters mostly to the hot chani and stay at home mom population to not tell you what is kosher or not kosher. Are the drinks not recommended actually kosher, but you don’t hold of them? Or are they treife? Or is it something else?

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