Why Coca-Cola Aint Quite Kosher Yet - Consuming Passions for a 'New' Kashruth


By returning sephardim
February 24, 2010
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If what you consumed poisoned ground water and land or involved discrimination of fellow humans would you consider it Kosher? Kosher is derived from the Hebrew word "kasher," which means 'proper' or 'pure', 'ritual and life worthy'. 'Treif' derived the Hebrew word 'teref' which means 'torn'. We are guided against consumption of torn produce. There are many meanings attatched to 'consuming', pridominantly eating, but in modern society shopping too. I believe this is relevant to Halakha, for what in life is not? If we extend the notion of kashruth to how we shop in the broader spheres of our influence on food production we must surely embrace ideas of how people and animals and environment are treated along the supply chain with greatest scrutiny. 'Those who have the capacity to eliminate a wrong and do not do so bear the responsibility for its consequences'. (Talmud, Shabbat 54b). The official 'kashering' of Coca Cola demanded much tact and endeavour on the part of Rabbi Tobias Gefen who inflenced the company to use beef tallow glycerine or products of grain kernels in the drink. This lead to certification in 1935. All was ingredient based, not supply chain based but how much goes on in the supply chains of commerse? 1966 when Moshe Bronstein, of Tel Aviv, accused Coca-Cola of boycotting Israel to appease its Arab market. This echoed issues bought to the fore in 1961 when an Egyptian civil servant reportedly mistook Amharic writing on a Coca-Cola bottle for Hebrew, accused Coca-Cola of trading with Israel and was told that would never happen. Of course it did but its vital to look at the roots of something as well as its new branches. We have issues of Israel the people / nation state debate here so let us move to the larer picture before we loose ourselves:

In the last decade Coca-Cola production practices were accussed of polluting ground water in India with carcenogenic pesticides 30 times over safe levels espoused by the Economic Eurpoean Commission. The corporation was criticised in 2008 for their impact on the local water supply. In 2004 Coca-Cola sold the British Public bottled tap water as spring water under one of their many brands, 'Dasani' and had to remove all products from the shelves. Taking water from places where water is scarce, thus robbing land and mouths must render a food source 'torn'. 'One who destroys a single life is considered to have destroyed an entire world, and one who saves a single life is considered to have saved an entire world' (Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:5). When water sources and other resources are used up or undermind the corporation moves on, taking any jobs and revenue with them. On 10 December 2008, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that Coca-Cola's product Diet Coke Plus 20 FL OZ was is in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Full sugar Coca-cola is often blamed for tooth decay and obesity. If you subscribe to a translation of 'Kosher' as 'fit for life' or 'fit for ritual' you may start to see a problem here.

More sinister lawsuits and allegations abound. As this is the largest drinks company on the planet and worth a few coins we must take it all with a pinch of salt. International and widespread litigation, however, ranges from obesity and tooth-decay to maltreatment of staff and locals, to pollution and misuse of land and water, to collusion in intimidation and murder. It is surely within Halakha to be mindful of these issues and interested in finding truth beyond rumour to know whether we can feel a product fit to consume.

If the business of Coca-Cola and its innumerable incorporated companies is to make money above all else this condemnation hardly sets it apart and the global financial shabang we have been living through hints that perhaps looking only at profit margins is ultimately unprofitable as well as unethical. Many economists and business Leaders are beginning to understand this but we must understand it too and act accordingly. There is rising conciousness in the business world of the sustainable economic sense of looking at social and environmental need too, providing more stable environments in which to trade and more realistic resource management. Part of this evolution of business is bought about by the ethics and choice of the consumer. I believe kashruth principles looking into supply chain management have a great role to play within this. Monopolistic Business to me snacks of putting gold above all else and there is a distant echo of the desperate worship of a golden calf. Philanthropic guestures can nurture few and Coca Cola does give a infantasimal fraction of its inconcievable profits into worthwhile projects. Few of us would say that leaving the corner of the field for the poor makes it OK if all other land was rendered torn and useless. There are large corporations trying to stabilise themselves to empower local economies and communities by trading with or ethically incorporating small and medium sized businesses and working with stakeholders to try and make things fit. It is a massive undertaking. Corporations taking what they need and moving on, leaving nothing but destruction, social, environmental, economic must be a thing of the past. We are part of every business we buy from.

If we are looking at our 'way of walking' we must surely take into account our carbon footprints and any stomping on human-rights our purchasing choices may involuntarily have. Here we have Anavah" (Long-term rescue), "Hatzalah" (short-term rescue), "You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor" (Leviticus 19:16) You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). Certification processes thus far have been thorough in the areas they have looked at, yet this has limits and has yet to address many of these issues. It is up to us to seek and desemble too. The paradigm of 'Human Security' exists on the premise that unless everyone is free from extreme want and fear, no one is; that if some live in truly insecure environments then we are none of us secure. Treif lands, trief hearts, trief life.

We are not voiceless or powerless. Global voices so far resulted in the corporation joining the UN Global Compact in 2006 as they begin minutely to engage in discourse. There is hope, but they have a very long way to go. We are able and arguably called upon to change the world a little with each daily ritual, each purchase of a cup of coffee, each lighting of a candle, each peeling of a pomegranette, each choosing of a gift or shoes, or dress or how we heat and light our homes. We can ask where everthing comes from, who has held in in their hands, whether they were mindful, whether they were treated fairly. We can enquire what materials were used and their origin, what animals or habitats were harmed and how this can change. We may look at where and how we get rid of things past our use. If we throw something 'away', we may ask where 'away' is and what and who lives in 'away'. We must ensure we are not creating Treif Lands but enabling lands that flow with milk and honey for we are told 'It shall come to pass in that day that mountains shall drip sweet wine and the hills shall flow with milk.' (Joel 4:18). To my eyes there are issues of sustainability implicit in the rules of kashruth, including those rules less observed. From the time of Adam we were soverigns and guardians of the garden; a good ruler recognises that his power is no greater than his kingdom and thus greed within the garden looses us paradise. It is an odd kingship, being also a kinship, any sense of belonging expressed in Hebrew often considered more one of pocession but never ownership, ie belong with not to, have stewardship over.

Many Jews offer much of ourselves as this is custom, honour and joy. The sacrifice of a calf once meant much of a family's livelihood together with an animal a righteous man will have known the soul of. 'The Righteous man knows the soul of his animal' (Proverbs 12:10). If what we offer G_D and our neighbour echoes this generousity of spirit and humbling of pride in the giving then we might be cooking kosher again. Until that time, coca cola will not be on my menu until they can sing Anavah in 12 tongues. Change runs slow for the largest drinks company in the world and it needs our exacting standards prodding it into action on manufacture as Rabbi Gefen began with content. The same is true of many Corporations. I am not suggesting for one moment I have either knowledge or authority to dictate the interpretations into minds nor onto tables other than my own. I do, however, want to throw some observations into the pot and see what cooks. We are guided against not just eating meat and dairy together but also fish and meat. Beyond health benefits this sings to me of not wasting but instead respecting life asking how needful are we of so much protein and telling us to limit how much life we take. There was a time when most fishing came from sustainable fisheries but now we have to seek and choose. I am happy to say that a friend's father, an Orthodox Rabbi expounds the virtues of kosher dolphin friendly tuna. This makes spiritual and logical sense to me. I ask whether eating too much fish and meat together means we run the risk of spiritually 'consuming blood' through the splilling of it unecessarily? It is beneficial to separate these things for the health but also for the heart and soul, to preserve a balance that was in nature in the time of our forefathers but elludes us today in this time of climatic change, over-fished, rising and acidifying oceans, hormone fed, mass bred cattle and birds and toxic soil. A world where much of our food is grown in arid regions, with fragile and unreliable irrigation systems.

Keeping the ritual and joy of food; keeping kashruth, is surely at least in part about awareness and attention to detail? Should we not be world leaders in fairtrade, in organic and local produce and in more ethical larger enterprises? Attention to detail is not something the Jewish people shy away from. There was a time when observance of kosher was based on trust and interpretation of the heart. If you did not trust a slaughterer you would not eat the meat. Halakha illustrates the intricacies of the effects of our actions and that there is no such thing as non-action but rather unconcious action and conscious action, passive action or empowered action. If we know the far reaching implications of how we choose to live, eat and trade the arm of positive, empowered, concious action must surely seek to fit the reach of each choice's consequences.

How can Coca-Cola be considered kashruth when we become aware now in ways Rabbi Gefen could not possibly have known in the 1930s; of the spheres of action and consequence in globalised commerse? Coca-cola is considered kosher and yet we question the kashruth of each other's table. There are 'kosher' certied products, inadvertantly propping up unjust international trade laws, poor practice and unsustainable and even inhumane methods of growing, rearing, harvesting and transporting foods. These cannot be fit for ritual, not 'pure' or ' proper'; not truely kashruth. For example, it is written, In Exodus 22:30, "Do not consume meat from an animal torn in the field." We may ask if battery farming, intensive rearing or hormone fed birds and beasts can be considered Kosher. Surely only organic and free-range animals in the field not the barn fit the word and then in small amounts, if any. We are in danger of bowing to the idolatry of commerse and loosing the very essence of the laws that mark food as a blessing and a joy. I love coffee and chocolate and sweet things and am not suggesting a world where we live off lentils (though I have a wondrous spice lentil soup recipe for anyone who wants it.) My call to Rabbi, cook and executive director alike is simply this, re-examine enterprises in the light of Halakha, examine foods, examine trading practices and farming practice even more deeply, look at what is health-giving, and work out whether you can deem each product as 'pure', 'proper' and ritual fit, or if lives and lands have been torn to bring it to your table. My soul is calling for us each to do what we will and what we are able to keep food, within reason and enjoyment, a sharing, a ritual, a blessing for those beyond our dwelling places as well as those within them. Invite the world to your table this shabbos!

http://www.nus.org.uk/PageFiles/491/Coca-ColaColombia_Summary.pdf
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/Kashering_Coke.html
www.flex-news-food.com/.../Coca/.../india-legal-action-looming-against-c...
www.business-humanrights.org
www.unglobalcompact.org
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3809539.stm
www.fairtrade.org.uk/includes/.../jewish_community_resource.pdf
www.organickosher.co.uk

COMMENTS

returning sephardim

Wed, 02/24/2010 - 20:22

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please note am finding it hard to edit blogs. Rabbi Gefen helped convince Coca-Cola NOT to use beef tallow or grain kernel products.

Also I ask that we look at 'larer' issues. ?This was a typo, I meant 'larger issues'


moshetzarfati2 (not verified)

Thu, 02/25/2010 - 08:18

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As no one allegedly knows the "secret ingredient" in Coca-Cola, how can it be kosher?


returning sephardim

Thu, 02/25/2010 - 22:05

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If I am fair here Rabbi Gefen was apparently given all ingredients just not proportions, when he certified it in 1935. It has changed a few times since then though.

My point is more about consumption, clean and unclean and kosher (pure, proper) verses torn foods. Sainsburys, Coca-Cola, globalisation in general throws up new questions and challenges regarding what is kosher. Free-range and organic and local and were the norm in the past, they are not now and this throws up evolving issues. 'Consuming' has more complex meanings now.

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