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The Bacon in the Omelet Lawsuit

The Bacon in the Omelet Lawsuit

Did she really think she was going to eat a kosher omelet at Denny’s?

by

Pity Angela Montgomery, a 30 year old in Sterling Heights, Michigan, who is suing the restaurant chain Denny’s after finding bacon in her vegetarian omelet.

The lawsuit describes Montgomery as a “practicing Jew whose religion forbids the eating of any pork product.” She said she felt “poisoned” by the inappropriate addition to her breakfast. The waitress and restaurant manager apologized and offered a replacement omelet free of charge, but Montgomery had lost her appetite by then. She left the restaurant, sick at heart and possibly with a misery-induced stomach ache as well. Her lawsuit followed a few weeks later.

When I first read about this lawsuit, I wondered: Did she really think she was going to eat a kosher omelet at Denny’s, a decidedly non-kosher restaurant?

But then I remembered how many of my Jewish friends and I growing up thought we were keeping kosher by not mixing meat and milk, avoiding shellfish and shunning pork. Like Angela Montgomery, we were sincere in our desire to keep kosher, we just didn’t know all the dietary laws and what it really meant to eat kosher. Our heart was in the right place, but now I realize “kosher style” is not the same as truly kosher.

So we comfortably kept quasi-kosher, careful to avoid overt manifestations of pork or other treif food. Like Angela Montgomery, we endured some upsetting surprises. Asking about what appeared to be a mushroom salad in a Chinese restaurant buffet that one friend was munching away on, the waitress explained she was in fact eating pig ear salad.

After I moved away from home and started cooking for myself, I soon discovered that sautéed spinach, one of my favorite dishes, is tasteless and bland on its own; much of its flavor comes from the addition of chicken or some other soup. Butter, meat stock, cream - all sorts of ingredients are routinely used to enhance the taste of even simple-sounding dishes.

Some popular types of fish, like red snapper, are often mislabeled. All those years my friends and were ordering kosher-sounding fish, what were we being served instead?

Some of us looked for a “K” printed on food products, even though a K by itself means nothing (kosher signs are always a trademarked symbol such as the Orthodox Union’s clearly identifiable U inside of an O). We assumed that foods that didn’t clearly list “pork” or other non-kosher ingredients were kosher.

We couldn’t have been more wrong.

Turns out that gelatin (unless it’s specifically kosher gelatin) often comes from pork. So does the key ingredient used to make non-kosher cheeses. Many brands of wine contain additives made from fish bladder, gelatin, milk, even clay and charcoal. (At least those last ingredients aren’t non-kosher, though they’re not exactly food either.)

Non-kosher marshmallows contain pork. Some red food dyes are made from insects and some purple food dyes are made with shellfish. The shiny shellac on lollypops and hard candies comes from secretions of the female lac bug, commonly found in Southeast Asia.

Stearic acid, which makes non-kosher chewing gum soft is sometimes extracted from the fat of dogs, cats, pigs, sheep and cows. The common ingredient L-cysteine, used to soften bread, is derived from hog hair, duck feathers, or human hair. Castoreum, an ingredient in many ice creams, is made from the anal glands of beavers.

The more I learned, the more I wanted to see the reassurance of a kosher sign on my food. Eventually, my family and I switched to keeping fully kosher. And when we eat at our favorite kosher restaurant, we can be sure we won’t have an unwelcome bite of pork in our vegetarian omelet.

Click here to read The ABCs of Keeping Kosher.

September 9, 2017

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 9

(8) Anonymous, September 12, 2017 3:11 AM

Frivolous lawsuit

An accident followed by a sincere apology. Time to move on.

(7) Jacob, September 11, 2017 5:56 PM

She'll never win

The restaurant made a mistake, as all restaurants do from time to time. They offered to compensate her by giving her a free meal. She's suing because she was fed something not kosher? Denny's does not claim to be a kosher restaurant! This lady has no leg to stand on and sadly, her petty lawsuit is by extension making us all look bad.

(6) Bob Van Wagner, September 10, 2017 8:53 PM

Nuts!

I read on coconut labels today that the coconut itself is considered a nut. Many food experts do not consider it a nut, but there is a minority opinion. Kosher laws are stricter and stricter. Can a fully kosher person drink tap water?

The US Library of Congress (ad loc) says "Botanically speaking, a coconut is a fibrous one-seeded drupe, also known as a dry drupe. However, when using loose definitions, the coconut can be all three: a fruit, a nut, and a seed. Botanists love classification."

Classification is a great tool of wisdom. When a restaurant says it is offering vegetarian: what does it mean? When does a chemically and mechanically highly processed amount of treif, become unfit for a dog to eat?

And if a dog isn't eating it, why are we? In sea salt today I read a report that micro bits of plastic are common. Some of that plastic is from containers that contained treif food, even that was hot when poured into the container.

Should the general culture seek to impose Kosher Laws? It has happened in the past, in New York. Was it net positive or negative? And if a culture imposes food labeling, where do the lines of that labeling take us, is it helpful to include vegetarian according to Kashrut?

I think that it is a good idea to have high standards in a culture, a single system of measures. But cultures and establishments can and do become corrupt, lazy, indolent. Standards in measure, inn definition are hard to keep, but should be kept. Dennys could have a real vegetarian -- up to even OU standards. In any case this omelet was a lie. A fraud. The suit is with merit.

(5) Jay, September 10, 2017 5:47 PM

What I did in a similar situation

Going back over 30 years, I was keeping 'quasi-kosher' as a non-observant but religiously-interested teenager, trying not to mix meat and milk. I was in a non-kosher restaurant and ordered a steak. The steak came with a slab of butter on top. I was disgusted and asked the waiter to replace it. The waiter returned with a steak, and explained that they had melted the butter into the steak so I wouldn't taste it. Rather than make an additional fuss, it hit me like a ton of bricks - what I was doing, while sincere, was just plain wrong. I kept my mouth shut, ate that last steak and pledged from that day forward to begin keeping kosher authentically.
Rather than file a lawsuit, Ms. Montgomery should have perhaps done some introspection as to what she really had a right to expect from an openly non-kosher restaurant.

(4) Rachel, September 10, 2017 5:30 PM

Kosher is specific, vegetarian is generic

I really enjoyed this article. Helpful to know about all these additives so I can pass info on to my non-kosher friends.

Btw, charcoal is good for digestion in reasonable amounts.

However, companies should be obligated to give customers accurate info about what's in their food. While kosher is one of my concerns, it's not the only one. At a kosher bakery, I nearly bought macarons- until I learned they Ereader made with almond flour. At a different kosher bakery, it took me months to get a straight answer about transfats. The owner wanted to know if they were in sugar! I live in Maryland, where calories must now be included on menus.

I have no problem with a customer's lawsuit if she wa misled about ingredients in her food, whether for some level of religious practice, for health, or any other reason.

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