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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??"

              2. Your mother is an adult.
                If she wants to know she'll ask.
                I grew up with a kosher home and eating dairy and fish out.

                Ethics is not involved here, YOU did not serve the dish to your mother. If you either made the dish and served it, or ordered for her, then you (knowing mom's dietary preferences) have an obligation to disclose.

                All of this assumes that your mother is of sound mind and is not visually impaired.

                2 Replies
                  1. re: bagelman01

                    Spot on! We do not need to be our brother's (or mother's) keeper, especially on something like this. If in her XX number of years living she hasn't figured how to deal with situations like this, then, I guess it's not all that important to her

                  2. Mom kept a Kosher hours (two sets of dishes, etc) but she would eat in non-kosher restos where her plate might have had pork on it for the previous diner - Kosher-lite??

                    She prefers to not eat non-kosher foods and especially OBVIOUSLY non-kosher foods like pork, shell fish, etc. If I saw her reaching for something that she would prefer to not eat I wold say something and I believe she would appreciate it.

                    1. Absolutely, I would mention to someone that they were about to order something that usually is against their dietary choice. Why would I not tell a Muslim friend that there was pork in the dish?

                      1. I'd prefer that the topic be brought up discreetly and off site.

                        In other words: I do not want to be told that the broth contains chicken at a table in front of 20 friends.

                        Chat with your mother on a day that doesn't include food. Ask if she ~wants~ to know. Perhaps she lives in happy oblivion (which can be fine too). Let HER make the choice.

                        1. Yes, I would disclose, always, and regardless of how many other people are around (or not).

                          Not to say I would trumpet it from the rooftops, but there are other ways to handle it than screaming, "NO! DON'T DO IT! IT'S TREIF!"

                          In this case, since it was just you and your parents, I don't see a thing wrong with saying, "Hey, Mom, those might have shrimp in them because they're called "Shrimp crackers"."

                          As for the ex who blamed someone for telling him there was something in the spring rolls he wasn't supposed to eat, I think the key word there is "ex". Also, if he was honestly not eating whatever it was out of religious or ethical considerations, the ONLY correct response on his part would be gratitude. Otherwise he's just a hypocritical xxxx-weed. Not knowing a substance is in something doesn't magically make it ok to eat it, if you REALLY believe in what you profess. Either it's always important - in which case you'd WANT me to tell you - or it's NEVER important, in which case I don't want to hear about it from you at all.

                          1. If I know someone is pretty strict with themselves, then I would speak up, particularly if I think it's something they might not know about. If I know that the person is pretty flexible and will eat forbidden foods if they can't tell by eating it, or avoid asking explicitly, then I'll let them decide if they want to know or not. If someone acts very strict or preachy, is happy to break the rules when it suits them, but insists on other people accommodating them, then I'll stay far out of it.

                            Basically, I won't take it on myself to be more strict or conscientious about about someone's diet that they are themselves, or spend the effort to keep tract of how strict they are being this week.

                            1. and if it's not someone I know very well or a stranger? Nunnamy bizness.

                              1. If a person who keeps kosher goes out to eat in a nonkosher restaurant then I believe they're on their own. They've made the decision, they're very educated on what's out there in the way of food, and from my experience they're not looking for someone to inform them.
                                It's their personal decision and really nobody else's business.

                                1. If it is a matter of heath---allergies, celiac, diabetes---absolutely. Otherwise, adults are on their own. And I have known Jews who keep strict Kosher at home, but 'anything goes' in restaurants. Shrimp cocktail and ham steak, cheeseburger, not even borderline.

                                  1. I was vegetarian for 15+ years, and I always wanted people to tell me if I was about to eat something containing an animal product I wasn't aware of. I always thought that I should return the favor for other people, but I had to rethink my position after being at a bonfire with a number of fellow teachers in a program, many of whom were Muslim. Since all of the Muslims had recently come to the U.S. from places where marshmallows would be an unusual imported food, I thought they probably wouldn't know that the marshmallows for the smores contained non-halal gelatin. I was put in charge of explaining how to make smores to all the non-Americans, and I mentioned that marshmallows do contain pork products, if that was a concern for anyone. Boy did I have some people get angry with me for that. I was pretty angry, too, since it seemed hypocritical of them to be angry with me for just giving them that information.

                                    Later, though, I realized what was wrong with how I'd approached it. By saying that in front of everyone, I'd made it so that some people felt pressured by the presence of other Muslims, and couldn't just quietly make their own personal choice. I wouldn't have cared whether they ate marshmallows or not, but I'd made it into a public issue.

                                    Now if I think someone is truly ignorant that the food they are about to eat contains ingredients they would avoid, I do my best to point that out to them privately and in a non-judgmental way, so that their personal decision doesn't become everyone's business.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: cbrunelle

                                      Interesting. I can't think of one Jewish person I know, who keeps kosher, that doesn't understand the risk they're taking when eating at a restaurant that's not kosher. They simply know food and what/what isn't kosher.
                                      I find your story interesting, though. Did it ever occur to you (assuming you knew there would be Muslims who'd be foreign to customary foods in America) to try and find marshallows they'd be able to eat in order to eliminate the problem? In other words....marshmallows you'd know they could eat without the explanation on your part?
                                      If I'm going to bring a food gift to a kosher home I'll make sure it's, obviously glatt-kosher, but also wrapped by the manufacturer. There will never be a question.

                                      1. re: latindancer

                                        In this case I had no idea ahead of time that we'd be making smores. The bonfire was a surprise, and the program director asked me on the spot to explain smores to our non-American colleagues. If we have a similar teachers' retreat again I plan to bring halal marshmallows from my local Middle Eastern market.

                                        The situation with my Muslim colleagues is a bit different than that of Jewish people eating in a non-Kosher restaurant. Most Muslims consider that food doesn't have to be prepared in a specific way in order to be halal, except for a few things like meat. In general, other foods are assumed to be halal unless they are known not to be (so alcohol and pork are never halal, for example). The list of non-halal foods is also short compared to all the foods and combinations of foods that aren't generally considered kosher. My very observant Muslim friends can go out and get dinner pretty much anywhere and find plenty to eat, while my friends who keep strictly kosher will eat only at kosher restaurants.

                                      2. re: cbrunelle

                                        Actually, halal marshmallows are fairly common in certain parts of the Middle East - but they don't react/melt the same as American ones.

                                        But there is definitely that issue between personal choice and the public position. I live in Jerusalem, and there are a number of restaurants that do not have kosher certificats but are considered by various observant communities to be ok for a variety of reasons. I don't keep kosher, but I do have friends who fall on the spectrum of strictly observant to 'personal choice' obvervant.

                                        Once I went out to dinner with one friend, who I assumed was generically observant. She picked an Ethiopian restaurant and when we were there, someone else we know who is observant came by, talked to us a bit and asked what kind of kosher certificate the restaurant had. My friend who chose the restaurant at that moment fessed up, very uncomfortably that she didn't know if they had a certificate but didn't think they did. Personally, she was aware of her choice and happy to make it - but in the public moment of having someone else judge her decision, it was incredibly uncomfortable for her.

                                        1. re: cresyd

                                          <But there is definitely that issue between personal choice and the public position. .

                                          Of course. My guess is that the marshmallows would not have been an issue until focus was drawn to them. Once it was made an issue then nobody would/could eat them.
                                          Having kept kosher for a number of years I understand all the nuances that go with it.