April 17, 2024
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April 17, 2024
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In today’s world, imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery. It also is the newest type of food. These days, it feels like nearly every type of meat has a non-meat counterpart, a fake food facsimile designed to mimic meatiness. Such fake meat is sort of like the food version of a stunt double and is known by many names including meat analogue, meat alternative, meat substitute, mock meat, faux meat, imitation meat, vegetarian meat or vegan meat. In Yiddish, it arguably would be called meshuga meat.

The world’s leading fake meat companies, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, really have gone above and beyond meat and have seemingly accomplished the impossible. They have created a fake burger delicious enough to fool the average fresser. Such fake meat typically is made from mixtures of pea protein isolates, rice protein, mung bean protein, canola oil,, coconut oil, potato starch, apple extract, sunflower lecithin, and pomegranate powder, among other ingredients. Some recent reports, however, note that fake meat also contains certain levels of fat and sodium that are not necessarily healthier than real meat. In fact, many experts argue that while fake meat might help reduce humankind’s carbon footprint, it may do little if anything to help your waistline. If that is true, then it seems that purely from a health perspective, a faux burger might have a similar adverse effect as a real burger made of chopped liver, gribenes, salami, tongue, stuffed cabbage, kishke and cholent.

The question, however, is whether the false beef products developed by companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have a place in Judaism? Should Jews accept phony fleishig?

For example, if the Holy Temple were rebuilt and the practice of sacrificial offerings was re-instituted, would Jewish law permit the giving of an “Impossible” sacrifice? Would a “Beyond Meat” sacrifice suffice? Typically, the “korban” (sacrificial offering) involved an actual animal such as a bull, sheep or goat. So, would an Impossible Goat do the trick? Would a Beyond Bull fit the bill?

Let’s leave the answers to such complicated questions to rabbinic scholars. So putting sacrifices aside, phony foods should be perfectly palatable to the average Jew, right?. Is there anything wrong with bogus brisket? Absolutely not. Should you object to pretend pastrami? Why would you? Pastrami is pastrami is pastrami, correct? Could you enjoy simulated tzimmes? Yes, you could. Is there any principled reason to oppose fictitious falafel? Probably not, except for the inconvenient fact that falafel is not fleishig to begin with so there is no need for fabricated falafel just like there is no need for pretend pita.

Truth be told, the phony food issue should not be viewed in isolation. While phony food currently may be an artificial exception to the genuine, real McCoy rule, it may soon become the rule. This brings up a larger question: even if fake meat is acceptable, would the Jewish world condone other forms of imitation, however sincere they may be?

In many cases, the answer certainly would be “no, no way!” For instance, the average synagogue congregation probably would not accept an imitation rabbi. Even if the fake rabbi looked, sounded and delivered sermons just like a real rabbi, there is a certain level of authenticity (not to mention rabbinic training) that is required. The same would be true of a fake chazzan, even one who sounds exactly like the real deal. When comes down to authenticity and training, the average congregant likely would not tolerate a counterfeit cantor.

What about a professional matchmaker? Would you trust a sham shadchan? What if the person who sells you meat is a bogus butcher? What if your child’s teacher is a make-believe morah? All of these hypotheticals should alarm you because there are many unwanted risks attendant with non-professionals acting as professionals. A fake financial advisor should make you think twice, a fake brain surgeon should give you cause for concern and a fake operator of a nuclear facility should have you running for the hills.

Fake people and fake things might work in other aspects of daily life. Would you tolerate imitation machatunim? Perhaps, especially if you like them more than your real machatunim? Would you put up with an imitation kiddish? You might, as long as you were not asked to sponsor it.

Other facets of Judaism can easily be fake without compromising any meaningful standards. Fake dreidels? Sure. Imitation gragers? Of course. Artificial sukkah decorations? Knock yourself out. Fake fasting on Yom Kippur? Absolutely not… but nice try.

Final thought: Making meat out of plants is genius and potentially planet-saving but the reverse, making plants out of meat, would be just downright disturbing.

By Jon Kranz

 

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