Supermarket, August 11, 2010
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Sukkot is almost upon us, and as a people, we are reminded to give thanks for the harvest we receive. Sadly, however, this season may not be as thankful for many Jews.

The internet is replete with posts from exasperated Yidden who simply can’t afford what has become a luxury. Although it is understandable that kosher food necessitates additional, costly supervision, and kosher businesses – like all businesses – seek to maximize process, the exorbitant price of kosher products has reached an inexcusable extreme.

The cost of food is on the rise all over the world, and kosher food is no exception. Many Jews simply cannot afford a kosher celebration of the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Controversies about kosher facilities, coupled with an overall economic downturn, have made keeping Jewish dietary laws a growing challenge, and action must be taken to enable Jews to keep kosher without breaking the bank.

In most U.S. grocery stores, the kosher section is small, providing basic staples and traditional foods needed for Jewish holidays. But these items are often too pricey for many Diaspora Jews, who , like many other Americans, are struggling during these difficult economic times.

The cost of food is rising at an alarming rate worldwide. Wholesale food prices have jumped by approximately 3.9%, and kosher food is even pricier; by Passover 2010, kosher meat cost some 20 percent more than non-kosher meat, according to Slate.

The cost of maintaining a kosher facility is significant, and obtaining the Orthodox Union’s kosher certification is expensive as well, further inflating the price.

Is there justification for soaring kosher food prices? How is it ethical to charge so much for kosher products, that many Jewish families simply cannot afford to keep the dietary laws?

This above-and-beyond competitive pricing is a cheap way to gouge Jews committed to upholding Jewish traditions, while depriving many from doing so. It often seems like the price isn’t worth the product, and oftentimes, the quality is poorer than the less costly non-kosher equivalent.

Why buy kosher if it is both more expensive and inferior?

There may be hope yet for hard-on-their luck Jews who want to keep kosher. Hazon, a leading Jewish food organization, sponsors Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. These programs provide access to healthy, local produce, connecting recipients with their Jewish community. Jewish food banks provide sustenance for hungry families.

Although these programs are a great start, more initiatives are needed to keep the kosher food movement alive. Community food banks that provide kosher products, kosher food stamps, or discount savings programs would make buying kosher food easier and more viable option for people who don’t have the means to purchase kosher foods at retail price.

In addition to making kosher food more affordable, facilities must be made more sustainable, environmentally sound, and labor-friendly to ensure the quality of its products and its practices. Online programs can be used to promote healthy and budget-friendly kosher food.

Sukkot is meant to be a celebration of bountiful harvest and health, and there is no reason for Jews to go without kosher food on this joyous holiday. We must take action to sustain not only ethical business practices and fair pricing, but our cultural heritage as well.

Yael Miller is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

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