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Kosher: Private Regulation in the Age of Industrial Food Hardcover – 9 Apr 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 214 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (9 April 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674072936
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674072930
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.5 x 2.3 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,370,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Timothy Lytton's wide-ranging account brings to bear a valuable new perspective on the kosher food industry. Harnessing the law and biochemistry, information technology and history--including, most memorably, the vinegar scandal of 1986--his lucid new book makes clear that keeping kosher has as much to do with the institutions of modern America as it does with age-old precepts." --Jenna Weissman Joselit, The George Washington University

"Kosher is one terrific book. It's a wonderfully entertaining account of the squabbles, finger-pointing, and cutthroat competition that turned kosher certification from scandalous corruption to a respectable--and highly profitable--business. Today, if a food is labeled kosher, it is kosher, which is more than can be said of most claims on food labels. You don't have to be Jewish to appreciate the fun in Timothy Lytton's presentation of an unusually successful case study in business ethics." --Marion Nestle, New York University, author of Food Politics

About the Author

Timothy D. Lytton is the Albert and Angela Farone Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 12 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A true masterpiece 18 April 2013
By Yaakov Luban - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Kosher Private Regulation in the Age of Industrial Food by Timothy Lytton is brilliant account of the history and evolution of kosher supervision in America during the last century. This amazing work is one of a kind in its scope, and level of depth. Professor Lytton painstakingly researched his topic by reviewing a wealth of documents and interviewing scores of individuals. He leaves no stone unturned in an effort to present a scholarly, accurate and readable record of this era. And what an amazing story it is. At the turn of the 19th century, kosher supervision was riddled with corruption. The potential for profit and gain attracted unscrupulous individuals who fought against honest and sincere Rabbis who struggled to establish appropriate standards. It took many years of battle to remove supervision from the domain of opportunists. At the same time, food technology became increasingly complex, and supervisory agencies lacked the technical skill and professionalism that was inherently needed. Slowly, a new body of kosher agencies emerged, and sophisticated systems of supervision and management were developed. Professor Lytton beautifully presents a record of this entire process, and provides insight into the roles of the OU and other key players in this growing field. Professor Lytton has performed a great service in writing this work which records an important part of history which would otherwise be lost. This masterpiece is of value to both scholar and layman alike, and is required reading for anyone who wishes to understand and appreciate the field of kosher supervision.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Successful Private Regulation of Food Industry 30 May 2013
By Michael R. Burr - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lytton's book is a review of the history of Kosher supervision, first of slaughter houses and retail butcher shops, and, later, of industrial processed-food production. Starting from extremely local (one or a few butcher shops) supervision fraught with problems (ranging from poor supervision and conflicts of interest to outright fraud), Kosher supervision is today an international complex of mashgichim (kosher supervisors) from more than 1000 agencies (the vast majority the "big five", OU, OK, Kof-K, Star-K, and cRc) with similar or identical standards and (in the case of most but not all agencies) cross-acceptance of each other's supervision of individual ingredients and components of today's modern processed food industry. What is interesting is that this private supervision (provided to food manufacturers, restaurants, catering establishments, and retail stores for a fee) is extremely competent, open and transparent, and very responsive to problems, process or ingredient changes, production errors, and the unauthorized use of Kosher symbols. The author suggests that similar private (both for-profit and non-profit) agencies might well serve in other functions in the food industry including safety issues and procedures, organic and/or sustainable farming, allergen-free foods, and so on. The author's thesis is that very nature of private supervision may make it more efficient and more responsive than government supervision, and worth further consideration. While the subject is not of interest to everyone, the book makes a technical and complex subject easy to understand and interesting to the general reader.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A Fun Read With A Scholarly Perspective 9 April 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Every morning, hundreds of thousands of American consumers reach for their breakfast cereals, and spread the ingredients of their PB&J sandwiches, secure in the knowledge that the food they are eating is "kosher" - that it meets the strict religious standards of the Jewish tradition. How they can be so confident - how private "regulatory" companies such as the Orthodox Union (OU), Kof-K and others can provide them reassurance about the quality and integrity of a vast universe of Kosher products - is the subject of this fascinating book.

As the book describes, the term "Kosher" in America wasn't always been synonymous with integrity. In the bad old days, the kosher meat industry was rife with fraud and corruption. Yet over time, the OU, Kof-K, and others managed to impose quality controls even as the food industry involved into a massive colossus in which most foods are not so much grown as manufactured.

This book tells that story on multiple levels. On a basic level, the book is a compilation of fascinating stories about this niche industry. From the federal raids on fraudulent meat purveyors in the early 1900s, to the Kosher vinegar scandal of 1986, to the insider political accounts, to the descriptions of how Kosher agencies fiercely compete with each even as they are forced to cooperate, the book is a must-read for anyone with an interest in getting the inside scoop about Kosher in America.

On a more complex level, the book is a serious contribution to the scholarship of regulation and private certification. Questions of when and how government should regulate the private sector are front and center in today's policy debates. From health insurance to large-size soda drinks to food labeling to global warming, politicians and policymakers are actively debating the role that government should play in protecting public health, and the role that competition and private organizations may play. Kosher food regulation provides a startling example of how private regulation evolved and succeeded in a unique, niche market and holds many valuable insights for developing successful, private regulatory models.

Kosher consumers take for granted their ability to walk into a supermarket anywhere in America and purchase Kosher products, secure in the knowledge that the food they are buying meets their standards. That they can do so in today's complex world of food manufacturing is a delight and a wonder; Professor Lytton's book tells us how this wonder came to be.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A great overview of the American Kosher Certification Organizations 5 April 2013
By Nobody - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book really captures the American certification market and agencies very well. It provides a great history that even seasoned professionals in the industry are probably largely unfamiliar with. It was quite informative and insightful.

I hope the author considers a followup book and contrasts the Israeli certification market to the American one. It may offer some interesting insight into a Government regulator (the Rabbanut HaRashit and the various Local Rabbaniot) that is still supplemented by the thriving private certification market in Israel.

The central theme of the book is that Kosher Certification is a model of where private certification can supplement and compliment other regulatory schemes, and examines the factors for its success. He correctly identifies that the religious aspect is an important, but potentially exchangeable component for this success to transfer to other industries.

But the real value in the book is the amount of research done to gather the facts about the industry and its behavior. The specific statistics will grow stale with time, but the understanding of the dynamics of this part of the Kosher food industry will likely be relevant and timely for years to come.

Besides an interest in good reference material on the subject, if you have wondered what really goes into the symbols you see on food packaging, and what it really means for a Kosher consumer, this book really tells the story, certainly for the American market.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Good introduction to a non-government, regulated food industry 10 Dec 2013
By G. Wagner - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
Kosher certification in the late nineteenth and early- to mid-twentieth century was rife with corruption and fraud, but today the industry has solved most of its problems so that consumers buying kosher food can be fairly assured it is as claimed. How this industry has been able to make such a huge turnaround in the face of conflicts of interest, confusions over oversight, opposing ideologies, and monetary disincentives is the topic of //Kosher: Private Regulation in the Age of Industrial Food.//||Very factual and complete, this book was nevertheless a long and slow read. The Kosher food industry is wrapped up with Jewish law, and many of the concepts important to its regulation are standardly described by words unfamiliar to a non-Jewish reader. I got lost several times trying to remember which term meant what. I enjoyed the anecdotes about the various people instrumental in improving kosher regulation, but overall it was very dry. Nevertheless, this book is an interesting treatise with relevant ideas for improving all our food supply, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in looking beyond government for food regulation as a good reference book.
I received a copy from the San Francisco Book Review in exchange for an honest review. The opinions are mine alone.
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