What is "taste"? : The changing nature of Kosher food comsupmtion
According to a recent New York Times article (see below), the consumption of Kosher foods is expanding; the market for these products once mostly consumed for religious reasons has widened well beyond the Jewish community – certainly to a much wider audience than Jews who abide by the laws of Kosher eating. While, historically, kosher foods were uniquely consumed by the Jewish community, health reasons have become a driving force behind the expansion of the market. For instance, the Times reports:
“According to the market research survey, 62 percent of people who buy kosher foods do so for quality reasons, while 51 percent say they buy kosher for its “general healthfulness.” About one-third say they buy kosher because they think food safety standards are better than with traditional supermarket foods. Only 15 percent of respondents say they buy kosher food because of religious rules” (Karren Barrow, nytimes.com).
As we can see quite clearly, the smallest percentage of people consuming kosher foods do so for religious reasons. This provides us with a nice example of how a cultural (e.g. religious) phenomenon can be co-opted by other groups and even society at large. It gives us a little insight into what “taste” actually is – or how people come to have preferences for certain items, whether they be food or other consumer items. In other words, the purchasing of this kind of product has become a trend – much as buying green products has.
A fascinating study would be to track this phenomenon and see what these percentages look like years from now. Equally important would be to examine just how much the market for kosher foods expands – to see how many more people actually begin to consume these products if the trend takes off and continues. The widening of the market for Kosher foods is, clearly, a part of the wider movement for better practices in food production and in eating better quality foods. Larger trends affect the kinds of products we consumer – be they foods, cars, clothing etc. There are many other parallels to the new popularity of kosher products, such as such as tattooing, both henna and permanent, denim as style, Carhartt clothing as trendy, rap music and the punk movement, etc.
Of course, Kosher foods are generally more expensive than other kinds of food because of the quality and the process that goes into making them. Class is also a key element in determining who has access to certain kinds of food – the “organic” food movement, for instance, requires enough money to buy these items, something that the average American simply cannot afford. Organic milk, for instance, is about twice the price of regular milk. For this reason, another interesting trend to track would be which income groups are more likely to adopt Kosher eating as practice. Certainly the classic work of Pierre Bourdieu (see below) explains how certain classes are more likely because of more resources and access, to adopt certain practices and control what becomes style.
In sum, we should always investigate why people purchase the items they do – and when trends begin to shift, it is an opportunity to investigate the process by which style, taste and preference are formed. These are topics that the sociology of consumption deals with directly.