November 19, 2018

Hot Dogs, Knishes and Death

A Hebrew National hot dog wrapped in a potato knish AKA hush puppy

In my final column for the Jewish Journal today, I got the chance to thank publicly many of the people who helped, inspired and supported me over the years.

Marlene Adler Marks was one of them. She was managing editor when I started at the Journal.   She wrote a weekly column called “A Woman’s Voice” in the days when there were few female columnists taking on subjects beyond family life. It was, alas, the days before the Internet too, so the column never got far beyond LA. That’s a shame, because Marlene was too good for analogue.   She always wanted a bigger readership, and her writing—original, strong, unafraid—deserved it.

Her best column was her last. She was diagnosed with interstitial lung cancer at age 52.   What a joke: she never smoked, not once. In all the times we ate lunch together, all I remember her eating was cut fruit.   She was whippet-thin, a yoga fanatic long before there were $40 T-shirts saying, “Yoga Fanatic.”   When we went to one of those fundraising banquets— which, by the way, I will not miss, not for one second—Marlene would drink a glass of red wine– and eat a fruit plate.

After diagnosis, she lived two more years:  54.

The column, published August 31, 2002, is entitled, “Oh So Sorry.”    (The Journal posted it in 2014.) Today, just before I was about to Tweet the link to a friend, I re-read it. She wrote it during the period just before the High Holy Days, so on the eve of the eve of Yom Kippur, it feels more like liturgy. She wrote about why denying ourselves the pleasure of food can only lead to regret. The older I get, the more profound, sad and funny this column is.   Here’s a taste:

Saturday is Selichot, the time when the whole Jewish world sings with Connie Francis, “I’m sorry,” and vows to do better next time. Many of us are focused on the wrongs we’ve done to others, or even to God. 

This year, however, as I contemplate in yet a new way the impact of lung cancer, there’s no one to whom I owe apology more than myself. 

Yes, many of my apologies go to me. I should have eaten more hot dogs, with mustard and sauerkraut. And even more hush puppies, which in Jewish delis are hot dogs wrapped in potato knish, served best (if not only) in New York. 

I know what you’re thinking: you were only watching your health. But if you want a hot dog and never give yourself a hot dog, what are you accomplishing? Fear of food is, I think, a crime against the soul, the shutting down of the appetite by which we show our confidence in being alive.

Read the rest here.

My new High Holiday tradition to add to the apples, honey and fasting: re-reading Marlene.

 

 

Hearing on motion to dismiss set in Hebrew National class-action suit

A hearing on a motion to dismiss a consumer fraud case against the company that produces Hebrew National products has been scheduled for Nov. 30 in a federal court.

The hearing will be held at the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.

ConAgra Foods Inc., which owns the Hebrew National brand, on July 26 filed the motion to dismiss a class-action suit that alleges that Hebrew National’s iconic hot dogs and other meats do not comport with the brand’s claim to be kosher “as defined by the most stringent Jews who follow Orthodox Jewish law.” The ConAgra motion states that the case should be dismissed because, among other reasons, kosher is “exclusively a matter of Jewish religious doctrine.” It also states that under the First Amendment, “federal courts may not adjudicate disputes that turn on religious teachings, doctrine and practice.”

The suit, which was filed May 18 in a Minnesota state court, accuses ConAgra of consumer fraud. ConAgra has rejected the claims.

Triangle-K, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based supervising agency that certifies Hebrew National products as kosher, and AER, which provides the kosher slaughtering services at Hebrew National facilities in the Midwest, including in Minnesota, also rejected the allegations. Neither is named in the suit.

The suit is seeking monetary damages equal to the total amount of monies that consumers in the class paid for Hebrew National meat products.

Zimmerman Reed, an Arizona-based law firm with offices in Minnesota, solicited consumers through its website. The firm advertised a free case review for anyone who purchased Hebrew National hot dogs in the past two years or had information about the preparation of the products.

Salami Shortage No Baloney

 

Five hunks of Hebrew National salami lie side by side in a glass display case at Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen in midtown Manhattan. When compared with the crispy corn dogs and enormous latkes, they don’t look like much. But the takeout counter guy is relieved he has any salami to sell at all.

For the last several months, a shortage of Hebrew National products has hit kosher restaurants and food distributors across North America, forcing some to fill the gap with other meat products — ones that don’t “answer to a higher authority,” as the Hebrew National famous advertisement put it.

The shortage comes at what should be a time of celebration, as Hebrew National, which was founded on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, celebrates its 100th birthday.

“At this point, we’ve been working very hard to increase production,” said Julie DeYoung, a spokeswoman for ConAgra Foods Inc., the Omaha-based food giant that bought Hebrew National in 1993. They just built a new manufacturing facility in Quincy, Mich. She said shortages on some of the most popular products — hot dogs and lunchmeats like turkey and salami — would continue for some time.

Hebrew National has seen “several-digit growth” in demand for its hot dogs in recent years, DeYoung said.

Demand is strongest on the East Coast, she said, though it is picking up on the West Coast. And, as super-retailers like Costco begin stocking Hebrew National products, DeYoung said, the company is becoming, as its name suggests, national.

Overall, kosher products have experienced growing popularity in recent years, fueled, in part, by the belief that kosher products are healthier. Also, other groups like to eat kosher products, such as Muslims who buy kosher for the meat, or lactose-intolerants who purchase pareve products.

But for the man behind the counter at Ben’s, the reasons for Hebrew National’s success are much simpler.

“You can’t beat their hot dogs,” he said. — Chanan Tigay, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

 

Frank McCourt, Let Our People Eat

Consider the hot dog.

For some of us, it’s nature’s perfect processed food —
with bun or plain, grilled or steamed, sliced up and cooked with beans or
lathered with spicy brown mustard, sweet onions and pickle relish. But always enjoyed best at the ballpark — especially at Dodger Stadium.

Or so they tell us.

If you keep kosher and you’re a Dodger fan, enjoying a hot dog in Chavez Ravine is about as remote as right field, about as unlikely as a championship pennant or of even harboring thoughts of baseball in October in Los Angeles. And that’s too bad.

Why whine about this now? Or at all? Because the season has just opened, and many of us Dodger fans who happen to keep kosher can’t stomach the prospect of sitting through another season with cheese pizza, garlic fries and peanuts to keep us fed and entertained.

We want to enjoy the same experience as that fan over there — the one jamming a grilled Dodger Dog into his face and relishing a belt-loosening ballpark rite as old as the game.

It’s the right time for the Dodger front office to acknowledge the significant Jewish fan base in Los Angeles and make plans to consistently link us up with a kosher product that we can put in a bun of our own — every game, not just on Jewish Community Night.

New Dodger owner Frank McCourt has talked about rebuilding the family-owned Dodger legacy and serving up an enjoyable fan experience. And quite frankly, if management can’t deliver Pudge, Nomar or A-Rod, the least we hope it can do is persuade its vendors to deliver us a “K Dog.”

To their credit, the Dodgers have tried to make accommodations and find a solution. A kosher stand on the reserved level of the stadium quietly pops up for special events or when advanced ticket sales flag the arrival of busloads of kippah-wearing camp kids.

On-site food storage and preparation are key issues, as is Farmer John’s substantial advertising sponsorship, but certainly they are not insurmountable. As many as 11 other major league ballparks have managed their way around similar issues.

According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Los Angeles is second only to New York in the number of pounds of hot dogs purchased on an annual basis — 44.7 million –and Dodger Stadium is the reigning ballpark leader in hot dogs consumed, with 1.5 million sold in a season.

Of interest, too, is that the kosher hot dog category is growing at twice the rate of the total hot dog market, even though only a quarter of the 6 million Americans consuming kosher products are Jewish, according to the council. You can imagine that Farmer John might be a bit concerned.

But this is not about doing away with the legendary Dodger Dog. No way. It’s simply about expanding a menu choice for the thousands of the more observant Jewish Dodger fans included among the 650,000 Jews who call Los Angeles home.

A movement to bring a kosher hot dog alternative to Dodger Stadium is gathering steam, although we would prefer, when the kosher dogs come, that they be grilled.

The Lou Barak Memorial Hot Dog Committee is a growing group of Dodger fans, ticketholders and Jewish community leaders who are rallying efforts to see kosher at Dodger Stadium. The movement honors a San Fernando Valley educator and Dodger fan whose persistence and caring sent hundreds of school children on strong life paths. And, well, Lou liked a good kosher hot dog.

These days, it’s easy to argue that there are plenty of issues far more critical to the Los Angeles Jewish community than hot dogs. And we would agree the Dodger front office should stay focused on finding a few hot dogs for the field.

But spring is in the air. The Fox guys have left the building. And there’s hope, however fleeting, that the Dodgers can step up to the plate and deliver a winner. Heck, we’d be satisfied with a wiener — a kosher one.

We’ll worry about the bun later.

To get involved, contact the Lou Barak Memorial Hot Dog
Committee at kosherdogs@hotmail.com .


Steve Getzug is a Los Angeles-based public relations executive and lifelong Dodgers fan. His e-mail address is
smgetzug@yahoo.com.

Kosher Dog Days of Summer

A sunny day at Dodger Stadium; Shawn Green at bat. What could be more enjoyable than a cold beer and a kosher hot dog?

Sound like a dream? Think again. Through the efforts of a former Hamilton High baseball player and current rabbi, glatt kosher hot dogs are a reality at several games each season.

For the last four years Rabbi Aaron Parry, Jews for Judaism’s education director, has set up a kosher stand on the blue reserve deck at Dodger Stadium a few days each season, such as when Jewish summer campers show up en masse.

Parry supervises the stand’s kashering the night before. (Since the stadium’s kitchen area is not kosher, all cooking takes place off site and the hot dogs — made by Jeff’s Gourmet in Pico-Robertson — are brought in on the day of the game.) Observant fans gladly support Parry’s annual effort and want to see the Dodgers make a commitment to providing kosher food throughout the season.

“A hot dog and a beer at a baseball game is Americana at its best,” said Dr. Seymour Silverstein of Woodland Hills, an observant Jew and 25-year season ticketholder.

Parry thinks so too: “There is talk about having a permanent booth,” he said.

Ballparks in cities around the country — from New York to Chicago to San Francisco to Seattle — serve either glatt kosher or Hebrew National hot dogs. But the fight over kosher hot dogs at Dodger Stadium is either about logistics and financial viability or retaining market share — depending on which side you believe.

Kosher hot dogs could become a regular item if stadium food concessionaire Aramark develops a plan that would help it work around a longstanding problem: the Dodgers’ food preparation and storage area is contained within one large room.

Since the Dodgers’ official hot dog — Farmer John’s Dodger Dog — is made from pork, Aramark wants to make sure that kosher food and anything used in its preparation will not come into contact with anything treif (nonkosher) from storage to preparation to sales.

However, fans that support the inclusion of kosher food service at the park believe that questions of financial viability on Aramark’s part — and a contract between Farmer John and the Dodgers — might also be hampering the process of getting a glatt kosher hot dog added to the stadium’s menu.

Lon Rosenberg, director of stadium operations for Aramark, said that the company’s primary concern is the ballpark’s food storage and preparation area, which was built 40 years ago and stores the entire stadium’s perishable products. To have proper kosher preparation, he said the Dodgers would likely need to create a separate area.

Rosenberg has listened to a variety of proposals and toured ballparks with kosher facilities, but he said he hasn’t found a solution that would work for the Dodgers.

“We’ve looked to design the infrastructure in such a way as to make this work, but we have not been able to do that,” he said.

Parry thinks Aramark can at least work around the kosher storage issue with their current facility as is.

“Having been inside the freezer, it seems that it’s not too hard to do,” he said, adding that as long as packages of hot dogs or other products are sealed, it’s possible to set aside an area in the freezer where kosher food could be locked away. The only people to have access to it would be the mashgiach or the rav hamachshir (people ensuring that it’s kosher).

Unlike other ballparks, Dodger Stadium cannot simply turn to kosher hot dog carts.

“There are specific regulations with the County of Los Angeles regarding what you can do on a cart,” Rosenberg said, pointing out that cooking isn’t one of them.

Ultimately, Aramark would need to coordinate with the Dodgers to set aside space specifically for the preparation of kosher food or find a way to effectively contract the service with a secondary company.

Parry said that Aramark is somewhat leery about devoting its resources to a venture that could ultimately fail, especially since its past attempts to introduce Hebrew National hot dogs — which observant Jews don’t consider kosher — at the ballpark didn’t take.

“The powers that be are dragging their feet because they’re not convinced that this is financially viable,” Parry said.

Parry sets up shop on special days when there will be a guaranteed Jewish turnout, so he knows that the stand will turn a profit.

“The first time we did this, we sold 1,500,” said Parry, who estimates that he averages sales of about 750 hot dogs. “Even when Dodger Stadium is sold out, a stand never sells more than 800 or 900 [Dodger Dogs].”

Rosenberg said that Parry’s stand has done “pretty well” when it comes to hot dog sales. But Aramark wants to know that there will still be enough interest in a kosher hot dog that it remains profitable throughout the season.

Regarding sales, the only relevant financial information Aramark was willing to share with The Journal is that the price of Dodger Dogs is $3.50, while kosher dogs are $4.25. Parry also declined to share any costs or profits associated with his stand.

Parry and other religious fans express concern that the regular availability of kosher hot dogs might be perceived as a potential threat to stalwart Dodger sponsor Farmer John. Despite the fact that Orthodox Jews wouldn’t eat Farmer John’s products, there is both hope and worry that a kosher hot dog at Dodger Stadium might appeal to the nonobservant public. Supporters hope that a kosher dog appeals to more than just the Jewish community, which would help bolster arguments with Aramark that sales wouldn’t be a concern. But if it’s too successful, they worry that Farmer John might feel threatened and oppose the regular inclusion of kosher dogs at the stadium.

Farmer John may have a right to be concerned: During the 2002 season, Best’s Kosher hot dogs outsold regular hot dogs nearly 3-1 at the White Sox’s U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.

Rosenberg said he supports the inclusion of the hot dog and doesn’t think that their main advertiser would be too offended.

“Farmer John would not stand in our way if we choose to do so,” he said.

Farmer John would not directly answer The Journal’s questions as to whether the company is supportive of Aramark’s future addition of a kosher hot dog.

As part of a prepared statement, Ron Smith, head of customer relations at Farmer John, wrote: “Over the years, this business decision [contract with the Dodgers] has allowed Farmer John to carve out an advantageous niche in Southern California. We are a household word due to years of advertising decisions and honored contracts.”

According to one consultant, Farmer John is very influential in how competing hot dogs or sausages are brought in and marketed at the ballpark.

Johanna McCloy, founder of the vegetarian consumer advocacy group Soy Happy, claims that Farmer John initially resisted the introduction of a Yves Veggie Cuisine hot dog (which is certified kosher by the Orthodox Union) at Dodger Stadium in 2001.

Aramark eventually added the item, but Rosenberg said it hasn’t performed well.

“We sell very few of them,” he said.

McCloy told The Journal that it was difficult to get a competing hot dog added to the menu and that the process involved a bit of diplomacy. She said that due to Farmer John’s contract with the Dodgers, Yves is unable to advertise its brand name at the park, and its hot dogs are only sold at the park’s specialty stand — Go Ahead And Make Your Dog — at the highest possible price.

“Fans are not going to know [it’s available],” she said. “I went through the media to get the word out.”

However, if Aramark can find a way around its current facilities problem, Rosenberg said that Dodger fans could expect regular kosher hot dog service. The addition would make Dodger Stadium the 12th major league ballpark in the United States to offer kosher food.

“I think there’s a market, and I’m open to proposals,” he said. “We are looking at opportunities that are viable, fan-friendly, but still maintains kosher [standards].”