Several years ago, I was working in a hospital kitchen when the head chef gave me an earful about Brussels sprouts. Chef was a native Italian, extremely passionate about food, and rather knowledgeable about kashrut, because he'd previously run the kosher kitchen at a hospital in the Bronx. He was the sort who wanted to elevate hospital food, and it was his personal mission to make it both healthful and tasty. To that end, he worked with a lot of fresh produce, and that's how we got on the subject of Brussels sprouts.
Chef knew I kept kosher, so when I mentioned how much I adored Brussels sprouts, he demanded to know why the mashgiach at his old hospital told him they weren't kosher.
"They're vegetables," he'd exclaimed, "all vegetables are kosher!"
I explained he was correct, they were indeed kosher, but that the mashgiach was probably concerned they wouldn't be checked sufficiently for bugs in a high-volume kitchen run by a predominantly non-Jewish staff. Chef mentioned that, come to think of it, there were other vegetables he could use frozen, but not fresh. He wanted to know if this was also due to the bug factor. (It was.)
I also reminded him that the hospital in question served a large Ultra-Orthodox community, and that the mashgiach needed to make sure he employed kashrut standards that would satisfy the strictest interpretations of kosher law. Chef seemed relieved to finally have a reasonable explanation. But I left the conversation wishing the mashgiach had entrusted Chef and his staff with a more accurate, detailed explanation about why they couldn't use certain fresh vegetables. They all knew something was hairy about the assertion that they simply "weren't kosher."
Now it seems kashrut-observant Jews are getting well-meaning but incomplete information about vegetables like Brussels sprouts. Orthodox certifiers have almost universally declared that fresh sprouts are "not recommended." There are plenty of detailed articles explaining the rationale behind similar kashrut debates, such as this one on parasites in fish.
I'd like to see kosher agencies offer similar details about the issues surrounding "questionable" foods, rather than provide blanket statements about their kashrut status.
What's your take? Do you appreciate the simplification? Do you want greater detail about the halachic (Torah law) issues involved in these decisions? Please share your thoughts!
Photo © Miri Rotkovitz