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Sep 15, 2012 10:09 AM

Do you disclose to someone who's kosher, vegetarian, etc?

My mom is a fairly non-observant woman who eats kosher-lite. In her case, this means only kosher meat, in restaurants she will eat fish/vegetarian, and she doesn't mix milk and meat. If a dish comes with shellfish/meat in it in a restaurant - she will ask if it can be made vegetarian or with fish, but she doesn't ask what kind of gelatin is in a dessert, if beef broth is used in a sauce, etc.

Recently, I went with my parents to an Indonesian restaurant where krupuk (the shrimp crackers) were on the table. At the time, I was about 90% they were the prawn crackers - but I didn't know if they were actually made with prawn or that was just the name.... Either way, my mom starts eating these and I didn't speak up to say "hey, these may have shellfish in them".

So I wonder what other people's "ethics" are in regards to disclosing to someone who's kosher or vegetarian that a dish might contain a "bad" product. That there might be dried shrimp in the pad thai, that the pumpkin soup might be made with chicken broth. I would never make my mom a dish with a product that I knows goes against her dietary choices - but if we're at a restaurant and she doesn't ask those kinds of questions, I'm happy not to tell her that she might want to ask.

What are other people's thoughts on when to disclose with people who have dietary restrictions? Not food allergies, but someone making a choice not eat xyz.

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  1. I would absolutely say something, and I can't imagine a reason not to. Unless your mother has specifically indicated that she's decided to practice a "don't ask don't tell" sort of kosher, but it does not sound as if that's the case.

    1. Yes. She's your mom. Maybe not to a stranger you've overheard after they have ordered, but family- always.

      1. I have a vegetarian friend who makes a very compelling ethical case for not eating animals but also doesn't ask about broths/gelatins/etc in restaurants. We were out in a big group at a Chinese place in Flushing with amazing vegetable dishes. He asked for the hot and sour soup and they said they could 'take the pork slices out.' This was one of the meatiest broths I've ever tasted. It's none of my business but it is hard to hear the preaching when the only vegetarian at the table is also the only one eating meat.

        I might ask your mom in a gentle way if the thought of having shrimp in a noodle dish or chicken broth bothers her and if it does, maybe suggest she ask the next time you guys are out. Even better, you might scope out a truly Kosher restaurant where she won't have to worry at all.

        3 Replies
        1. re: JeremyEG

          I know someone who is a preaching and also very 'flexible' vegetarian/pescetarian (thus I find the preaching amusing), and I don't say anything. I think it's up to the person to ask questions. I do know someone who asks about gelatin, and clearly doing that is a lot of trouble. To me this level of inquiry is a decision the other person has made, and I'm OK with whatever they're doing.

          I was once volunteering at a fundraiser, and when asked whether the hot dogs were beef, said confidently they were--I'd just seen the package. Then come to find out people had brought the packages individually and donated them--they weren't all the same. I was distressed that I might have given the woman pork, and had no way of knowing. My mother told me this was fine, that it wasn't really about the pork, but it was a matter of conscience. The woman was obligated to ask, and she did; I told her the truth as best I knew it. According to my mother (as you know, the absolute and final authority ;), we were both good.

          1. re: foiegras

            Yeah, with issues that are matters of conscience/faith - I think a lot of it is the relationship between the eater and the world. And it's not really my job to interpret how they want to live their choices.

            That being said, in full confession - my mom is the kind of faith-based eater that if she finds out she's eaten something that contains a "bad" product (either non-kosher or any food she just doesn't like), it will really put her in a bad mood and give her a bad impression of the entire meal. There was a restaurant we used to frequent that sold a brussel sprout side dish. After eating there a few times, my mom asked how they were made and found out it was with bacon and back fat. She was horrified and refused to eat there ever again. One way or another, I've just learned with her to keep her eating her business.

            1. re: cresyd

              <<Yeah, with issues that are matters of conscience/faith - I think a lot of it is the relationship between the eater and the world. And it's not really my job to interpret how they want to live their choices.>>

              I agree with you there. I do not keep Kosher, but then I am probably not a good example. My wife, a very good Catholic, had an uncle (her Godfather), who would bring home chicken dishes on Fridays, say some "official-sounding prayers," and declare the chicken to be fish, now, and safe to eat.

              Now, though many dietary restrictions have been lifted by the Church, when a Friday rolls around, during a time where fish MUST be served on Fridays, I ask, "What were those prayers that you Uncle Joe said, to render the chicken 'OK' to eat?" Sometimes, she smiles, but not always...


        2. If this is an on-going concern with your mom I think I would just ask her if she wants you to tell her or not. As for other people, if I knew it would upset them to have "broken" their rules I would tell them. (Anyone else thinking of the Seinfeld scrambled eggs with lobster?)

          1. You know your mom better than we do. Some people are appreciative when you tell them; others will resent you for various reasons. My ex was once so pissed off with me when I suggested that the 6 for $6 Vietnamese crab spring rolls probably have pork in it. He did not eat mammal meats. He wasn't pissed that he broke his rules. He was pissed that he couldn't eat it anymore and blamed me for it. After that incident I learned that ignorance was bliss for him.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Miss Needle

              One friend of mine has been a vegetarian for 40+ years. I asked him once how he deals with restaurant food, especially when out with carnivore friends. He basically said that he informs the server of his preference/needs regarding the food and said "I just do my best...what I don't know won't hurt me". Sounds like a good, sensible attitude to me.
              Being a rational person, he knows he is not going to keel over and die, or burn in Hades if a food he eats contains (without his knowledge) a trace amount of animal product.

              1. re: Miss Needle

                My mom and I don't live in the same city, so isn't a situation that arises very frequently. Also, my mom's expression of faith/keeping kosher has been pretty fluid over the years. When I'm visiting my parents in their house, I always ask for a recap of what they are or are not doing so that when I'm in their kitchen I don't offend. The last time I was home, my mom/her kitchen had gotten very laise faire and according to her she didn't care what anyone else ate or what they did with the dishes - she was just doing this in her way for herself.

                I will also say that in the kosher-lite/gray territory, I am even more prone to stay quiet because it's based on the rules that someone has made for themselves. I know a lot of people who in the kosher-lite realm who only eat vegetarian or vegetarian+fish in non-kosher restaurants - but NEVER ask if desserts have gelatin in them/if the gelatin is kosher or if pie/pastry crust is made with lard. I don't know why - but I would feel like a huge snot going over the dessert menu and telling someone else that they should be asking those questions.

                I think it's also obvious that a case with my mother - as opposed to someone I just met and expressed a kosher leaning - there's a different dynamic to the relationship. But I think there's also the issue of appearing like a know-it-all and presuming that I know how someone has chosen to be kosher/other dietary restrictions. If the case had been in a dinner party and a kosher-lite person ordered pie - I would feel rude speaking up and asking "did you ask if it was made with vegetable shortening or animal fat??"