Dealing with Lack of Promised Kosher Food

Dear Beyond BT

I was wondering if anyone could share stories of the frustration of going to events at which they were previously told there would be kosher food for them only for it to turn out that there wasn’t.

For example

1) being told that an affair was kosher when in fact it is not
2) being promised separate kosher food that turns out to not be kosher
3) other kosher related issues

How did you or how would you handle the situation.


25 comments on “Dealing with Lack of Promised Kosher Food

  1. Seems like this discussion calls for mention of LaBriute packaged self-heating meals–they have a website so even out of towners can buy the product and store it or carry it around for emergencies. Probably doesn’t solve the family affair problem, though:

  2. Years ago, I was invited to give a technical presentation to a chapter of an industry group that would be meeting at a non-kosher restaurant in Burlington, Massachusetts. The food solution, which worked well for me, was for me to give them guidelines about appropriate/permissible groceries (I described the OU symbol) and plasticware the organizer could get at any supermarket. They brought me a shopping bag full!

  3. In the best of all worlds, Kosher food under proper supervision at functions hosted by not yet observant hosts or employers is the best solution. When options (1) and (2) are present, it always is best to see what if anything, such as fruit or cold drinks such as Coke, etc is available, in addition to “brown bagging” the affair in as discrete a manner as possible without alienating the hosts.

  4. I would rather that non-observant hosts tell me outright that there won’t be kosher food available than to promise it an not delivery.
    I certainly don’t expect people to provide for me, but if relatives specifically PROMISE kosher food, despite my protestations not to go out of their way I expect people to be good for their word.

    Once at a relatives bar mitzvah, the hosts insisted that they were getting kosher food for me and two other Orthodox guests. I didn’t feel like I was putting them out as
    A: I didn’t ask for it, they offered.
    B: There were two other kosher-keeping guests, not just me.
    Turns out that the kosher food, was vegitarian from the same treif caterer.
    When I couldn’t eat my relatives just shrugged, but the caterer apologized profusely saying that they “misunderstood the request.”

  5. Our AirFrance trip to Israel forgot all the kosher meals… yet the many kosher travelers amongst us (as we were all going to Israel) had more food than anyone, which we had all brought with us “just in case”! Everyone was offering to one another – “i have some extra bagels, etc.” We still laugh about that…

  6. Potential problem with eating ahead before a family gathering when special kashrus arrangements are unpredictable:

    If they really do go the extra mile and get the food and utensils exactly right for the kashrus-observing family member(s), it would be an insult not to eat this food.

  7. It’s so frustrating.
    No matter how much you are assured there will be kosher food, it just doesn’t happen unless you live in a MAJOR Jewish community.
    I have hit this snag many times & I live in LA where there’s a multitude of kosher options.
    ALWAYS eat before & bring non perishable snacks to tide you over if there’s a mixup.
    I’ve found the easiest way to assure your request is met is to give the host/hotel/nursing home/hospital, etc. a list of local restaurants who will package & double wrap kosher meals & instruct that they need to be served in original wrappings.
    If this is not feasible, come at the end of the dinner when it’s more common for one to avoid dessert (for family gatherings we bring kosher dessert).
    If none of this works, make yourself scarce during dinner or get into a long conversation away from the dining area to avoid attention.

  8. There are some BIG differences between family and business situations – some obvious, some less so.

    IN BUSINESS situations, you are setting a precedent for other religious Jews. Even if you are less stringent, you have to be careful how you field questions – so a more observant person is not perceived as “unreasonable”.

    Another is that it is probably more important to stand up for yourself – or give constructive feedback – in business situations, when what was promised was not delivered. Again, this may get better handling of subsequent requests. It’s useful to see how vegetarian or gluten-free requests are handled by the same venue.

    You can help the next Jew with comments like “for the future, you might want to know that people who are likely to order kosher food will probably not eat bread or other baked goods that are not certified”.

    Always remember to deliver these comments in a tone appropriate to the efforts made for you. And notice the “likely” and “probably” in that sample text.

    IN FAMILY SETTINGS, you have the advantage of knowing the other people, what’s available to them, and their attitude to your observance. Gauge your expectations accordingly – sometimes it would have been better to request or expect less, than to accept promises.

    Never bear a grudge, never speak of ill will (if you suspect it) never let yourself be drawn into discussion – by the hosts or others. These are probably more crucial – and difficult tasks than feeding yourself.

    And they are MUCH easier to do with grace on a full stomach. The best advice I’ve seen on this thread is to eat before. Then you can sincerely smile and say “the main thing isn’t the food, the main thing is to be here with family.”

  9. Re Comment# 11

    True, Mark. That is why I left all of my packaging on the table when I was eating. :)
    Also my Lender’s Bagels looked very different than those being served.

  10. I once went on a cruise, and I was one of a handful of kosher passengers. The catering company sent us forms to submit 3 months in advance, indicating how many servings of each “tv dinner” we wanted at each meal (chicken, omelet, fish, etc.)

    (For the times between meals, I brought along some breakfast bars and other snacks. I also knew there would be plenty of fresh fruit on the ship.)

    I surmised that there was a box marked “Gary’s kosher meals” in one of the refrigerators, which had all of the meals I requested along with a list. I expected that I would identify myself to the waiter as “kosher Gary” and that I would automatically receive the dishes reserved for that particular meal.

    It didn’t happen that way. For the first few meals, we waited what seemed like ages for our food, and when they finally located the meals, they couldn’t match what was on hand with what was on our lists. After two meals with long delays, I took the opportunity at one of the ports to buy my own cereal, bananas, paper plates and utensils. When I whipped these out at breakfast the next morning, the staff started finding the kosher meals more quickly. While we never did match our meals with the initial lists, we were ultimately able to have meat when we wanted meat, dairy when we wanted dairy, and so on.

  11. >> Mark, what then, something totally other than the official menu?

    If it won’t insult the hosts, yes. If they would be insulted with totally different food, then eat before hand.

  12. My family is not Dati, so there have been one or two awkward times. At the last 2 family get togethers my wife and I were eating reheated chicken on paper plates while everyone else was having very fancy food. (Of course we knew that going in and had brought our own food). It was worth it to spend time with my family though.

    One time I was in the hospital in the USA and the “Kosher” meal was far from it. (But someone was able to come over later in the day with a kosher tuna sandwhich)

  13. 1. Never go hungry to an event that you are not sure if the food is kosher catered or will be there.
    2. For conferences in hotel: call yourself a few days before and speak to someone in the catering department to confirm that the special request is available and get the name of the person. At conference check in, double check that the request is confirmed and / or go the kitchen and speak with a manager.
    3. Office pot luck parties: Find out what is being served and bring your own of the same style of food (ie: deli).
    4. Have a few granola bars as a back up in these situations.
    5. Once was stuck at a so called Shabbat dinner and drank the grape juice and left. I spoke to the Jewish people involved a few days after and explained what happened in hopes the situation will not occur again with this group.
    6. The vast majority of the time good arrangements work out, food with a hecksher or fruit salad can be obtained in an emergency. It all depends on the venue and whether one adult is affected or the entire family is going someplace.

  14. Good move Neil.

    I do want to point out that bringing and eating the same food as that which is being served could be a problem because an observer might not realize you brought that food and think that all the food being served is Kosher.

  15. This past Sunday I attended a meal at my parent’s congregation in Wichita, Kansas(traditional, but more towards the Conservative side) that was held after the “unveiling” service for the matzeiva for my father a”h.

    While the meal was dairy and most of the items used had a reliable hechshar (except for the bagels that the congregation’s Rabbi allows from Panera), I chose to bring my own lox, bagels, and cream cheese, which I had at my table. No one said a word to me about it (not even my own mother, who is in charge of the kitchen)

    The only problematic issue was that before everyone ate, the president of the congregation asked me if I would lead the “Motzei” for the group (on the Panera bagels that I wasn’t eating). I simply said that I was about to go the washroom and asked if he could find someone else to lead the blessing.

  16. i have been to family affairs, etc which provided food that, while kosher, did not meet my standards. beyond the challah roll and beverages,i did not partake of it. but those around me did not realize that. i find that people around you at the table are not typically watching your plate so it is certainly possible to attend and partricpate without offending anyone.if you take your fork in hand and mess around on the plate, cutting the food into smaller pieces, etc, it is generally not obvious that you have not actually eaten anything. where attending has meant travelling to another town, i have brought my own food along, unbeknownst to my hosts, for consumption in private.
    the point of going to the simcha or the event is not usually about the food, so what is the big deal? eat before you go or after you come back.

  17. Annual office holiday party (everyone was “strongly encouraged” to attend.) I always got my meals for this type of function from the one supermarket in the area with the full kosher food section. The gentleman who runs it knows me and would make quite a delicious meal often better than the treif being served (e.g. steak) and quadruple wrap it with tons of tape.

    One year, the party organizers said “don’t worry, this restaurant has this type of request all the time and has kosher food. I got a TV dinner, hot, not properly sealed, and discretely disposed of it. I then proceeded to try to drink the 40 dollars I paid for the occasion in good scotch (not recommended).

  18. Another problem is when a well-meaning but unsavvy host of an event takes pains to provide kosher food with plastic ware, etc., but the hechsher on the original food package is unreliable. You may know or believe that the “Orange Octagon K” is unreliable, but most of the world does not!

  19. Well, I’m just going to reinforce what’s already been said: I always have a granola bar or somesuch in my pack/briefcase/tankbag.

    I’ve not yet been invited to a ‘kosher’ affair that wasn’t. Or maybe I’m just a bit of a skeptic. Unless an affair is put on by an Orthodox group, or an observant family, I don’t assume that the information is accurate. I’ve been places where well-meaning people professed to provide ‘kosher’ food, but it wasn’t really.

    A bigger problem may be when the ‘consumer’ is vulnerable, and ‘kosher’ food is offered. Some time ago one of our hevra found herself hospitalized at a major university hospital. She was sick, and medicated, and in need of food. They provided her with food from the ‘kosher option’. All that meant was that the treif turkey sandwich had no pork in it. They didn’t know enough to simply say to her, ‘we don’t have kosher food in our kitchen.’ (BTW, often there will be some kosher items in the hospital just because so many national brands have a hechsher. One can ask to peruse some packaged items like crackers or yoghurt; but that isn’t a good solution for someone in need of serious nutrition.) Out here in the hinterland, there are NO arrangements in many places to bring in kosher food. You can imagine this person’s distress, already sick and vulnerable, to finding that the ‘kosher option’ food wasn’t kosher at all.

  20. I have encountered problems at, of all places, kosher hotels. At one place, which was kosher but catered to a “general” audience, we were very disappointed to find out that they didn’t have grape juice or challah for Shabbat. We were able to use rolls for hamotzi. The next time that my organization booked a weekend there, I made sure to bring my own supplies from home.

  21. A related issue is when we take pains to order kosher meals for air travel and find that they were not stowed on the plane, were served to someone else by accident, or were opened improperly by the flight attendant.

    On land, on sea, and in the air, use Plan B: bring some packaged kosher food and drink as a backup if there is any chance of a problem.

  22. I’ve been to family affairs where I knew the food wouldn’t be kosher, so I brought my own food and disposable plates, etc. My relatives have always been understanding, and some have even expressed admiration that I keep to my principles.

    Even if you’ve been promised kosher food, I’d suggest that you should always prepare tzeida l’derech (provisions for a trip) so that you won’t be hungry, a state in which it’s much harder to make good decisions and be pleasant and cordial.

    BTW, this is especially important for international travel, where you’ve ordered a kosher meal but it doesn’t show up. It’s vital to always have an extra meal on hand. Even if I get the kosher meal, I eat my tzeida l’derech and pack away whatever I can from the fresh food for the next connecting flight or airport layover. This really gives an insight into the halachah of breaking the center matzoh at the Pesach Seder as lechem oni, poor man’s bread, because you never know where your next meal is coming from!

    At social affairs where there’s no kosher food, I’ve found you can always latch on to a can of beer or a soft drink and this gives the appearance to everyone that you’re participating in the festivities or whatever the function is.

    (Incidentally, holding the can or drink in your right hand and putting the other hand in your pocket is also a convenient pose for avoiding handshakes with the members of the opposite gender. With a gracious smile and a nod you can almost always tactfully manage the situation).

    It’s important not to complain or make accusations about not keeping promises. If you’ve brought some satisfying food along with you anyways, just in case, then you can accept the situation in good humor and it becomes less frustrating.

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