I just read that my go-to coffee place in Canada, Tim Horton’s, is doing something they have never done: they are experimenting with the plant-based Beyond Meat product for their sausage. This means that, for the first time ever, a vegetarian sausage or patty that is supposed to look and taste and feel exactly like pork will now be available. So, what is the Jewish issue?
Obviously, pork is treif. But what about a breakfast burger that looks, smells and tastes like pork? No longer is it true that if it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s probably a duck! So, nu? Is such a thing permitted according to Jewish law?
Before I answer that, let me introduce you to a concept called, מרית עיו – marit ayin. Marit ayin goes something like this (using Wikipedia’s very excellent description): “is a concept in halakha (Jewish law) which states that certain actions which might seem to observers to be in violation of Jewish law, but in reality are fully permissible, are themselves not allowed due to rabbinic enactments that were put in place to prevent onlookers from arriving at a false conclusion.”
So, if something looks treif and smells treif it may be considered treif if someone saw you eating it. So what? Talking about what you think you know is simply Lashon harah and Motzi Shem Ra. The evil tongue. Gossip. Look at Marit ayin from the other side. It is less about the person eating a fake cheeseburger or fake pork patty that it is a way to protect against the corrosive effects of gossip and innuendo that happen when the onlooker thinks they have all the information.
The rabbis created the idea of marit ayin but it is basically a non-issue today. In fact, you can go to any kosher grocery store and find ‘Fake-Os’ – fake bacon bits. Of course, if meat and milk are de-facto prohibited (sorry, cheeseburger lovers), then fake cheese (ugh!) or non-dairy creamer or soymilk is permitted. Consequently even if you are strictly kosher, having your Almond Soy Milk with your burger presents no halachic problem. Really, we don’t need to worry about marit ayn anymore. So the upshot is this: the Beyond Meat at Tim Horton’s is perfectly kosher to eat (the status of the kitchen may make that problematic but on the simplest level, the sandwich is kosher).
But the issue of gossip never really goes away and destructive language flows off the tongue with no effort at all. That is much more destructive than seeing your kosher neighbour eat what looks like treif. It is not the eating that is sinful – it is the slander that follows that is sinful. And, of course, such an issue is way ‘beyond meat.’