I’ve never been offended by a salmon fillet.
But this week “non-offensive” (a term used to describe food served at a Jewish function, supplied by non-supervised caterers but not featuring so-called “offensive” ingredients like pork or shellfish) caused me great offence.
Tasked with arranging the food for a 12 person birthday lunch, I set about calling several kosher caterers for quotes. Each conversation followed similar lines. On top of any quote, the caterer would explain the additional Kosher London Beth Din (KLBD) fee, to pay a shomer to oversee all cooking.
They lamented the fact that these charges, totally out of their control, often pushed affronted customers towards cheaper, “non-offensive” and therefore non-kosher alternatives.
When quoted fees of several hundreds of pounds, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
I was frustrated that the KLBD, the institution that exists to enable Jewish life, was pricing its community out of the market it controlled.
But then something didn’t add up. Reviewing the quotes together, each caterer’s shomer charge differed from the next, varying sometimes by hundreds of pounds.
The KLBD confirmed to me that the charge for my lunch, factoring in potential extras, would be around half the price of most of the quotes I’d received. It explained that it offered discounted rates to caterers on request, to ensure an affordable kosher option is selected.
The only conclusion I could draw is that some are marking up the KLBD charge; a charge we as observant Jews so observantly, unquestionably pay.
It feels a particularly cynical move, especially as it seems these inflated charges are actually pushing people who simply can’t justify kosher mark-ups to opt for non-kosher alternatives.
The answer is more transparency. If the KLBD published rate cards, it could ensure that consumers were fully aware of the fees they could be expected to pay, and that the charge was being passed on by caterers without addition. Other Batei Din have set and published per-head fees, taking the mystery away completely.But we also need our caterers, restaurants and butchers to engage. It’s in everyone’s interest to ensure people teetering “on the fence” opt for kosher over “non-offensive”.
I fear we’ll be left in the position where the people who dedicate their lives to creating our kosher experience inadvertently push us away from it. That’s the most offensive option of all.