Kosher on display at the Royal Winter Fair

by Tevy Pilc

“What’s kosher, what’s kosher?”

That’s what the group of fifth graders all said when they saw the word, immediately rushing towards their teacher with much bewilderment. The teacher was also intrigued by the mentioning of this word at the booth because when it came to accommodating to their Jewish dietary laws, a public fair was not the first place that came to mind.

The kosher dietary laws may have been around for thousands of years, but they were in the spotlight Wednesday for the first time at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, held at the Exhibition grounds over the last week. The 10 day fair has been entertaining the public for 86 years, with a variety of exhibits featuring live farm animals, equestrian competitions, agricultural innovations and much more.

 “I wouldn’t even expect anything to be kosher at a place like this, let alone information being passed out by vendors,” said Chana Vatari, a teacher at Ohr Haemet Sephardic School, a religious Jewish school. “For the class trips, we always bring our own food, and the children already know not to eat anything from the vendors,” Vatari said as her students began to head towards the stadium seats to eat lunch.

As a part of the annual Journey to Your Good Health attraction, kosher was on display as one of the main features in food education. Provided by the Kashruth Council of Canada, which guides and regulates the observance of kosher dietary laws in Canada, pamphlets outlining the fundamentals of kosher were available at the Ask a Dietitian booth for the public. The main goal was  to educate visitors about what kosher means and how to identify what and why certain food is kosher.

“Every year we offer resources about healthy eating and living,” said Luana Selato a registered dietician at the booth. “But last year, there were a lot of questions about kosher so we decided to feature it this year.”

Many of the basic laws of kashrut – Jewish dietary laws — derive from the Old Testament with their details set and passed down through generations of rabbinical authorities. Known as the COR, which is its trademarked symbol labeled on its certified kosher products, the council jumped at the chance to showcase its work.

“This was first time that the COR has been asked to be involved with the fair,” said Jay Spitzer, COR Director of Operations  “When they (Journey to Your Good Health) expressed interest in highlighting kosher food, we noticed that what they wanted to highlight needed improvements so we helped provide them with a more mainstream perspective of kosher.”

Also available at the booth were maps and directories of all the COR approved kosher establishments in the GTA. Many people from several backgrounds expressed interest in what the displays had to offer.

Issues such as what the COR symbol on packages meant, as well as how to tell what constitutes food as kosher and what doesn’t were on visitors’ minds when passing the booth. However, unlike the dietitians, many others seemed unable to even identify anything related to kosher. With the exception of a bottle of soy milk and some goat cheese samples, there was no other kosher food to be found at the fair that day. Some vendors acknowledged they didn’t even know if what they were serving was kosher or not.

 “The decision of what food is provided at the fair is completely up to the vendors,” Spitzer said. “We’re not in the business of promoting kosher to the world, rather we provide it if people want it.”

Regardless of the reality, Selato remained pleased with the feature and its success.

“We arrived with about 100 pamphlets and maps,” Selato said. “They ran out very quickly. And when people who do follow the kosher dietary laws passed us they were really pleased to see the displays, especially with the kosher map of Toronto, which many people didn’t even know was available. I think whoever engaged and expressed interest definitely learned something.”