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Non-meat, non-dairy label

May 21, 2010

As a semi-vegetarian, lactose-intolerant individual who is also incredibly picky to boot, finding foods I can eat — let alone enjoy — in a new country can be tough.

Japan was pretty rough for the first six months until I learned to like seaweed, raw fish, soba, and tea. I also had to learn to appreciate subtle flavors (e.g., lack of gratuitous quantities of sugar), and how to ask the right questions in order to safely avoid beef, pork, and dairy. Believe it or not, most people don’t get the concept of vegetarian in Japan and you have to ask very specific questions to make sure people mean what you think they mean. And it doesn’t help that a lot of food lacks sufficient labels (by my overly label-happy American standards, admittedly) at the supermarket to alert consumers to the presence of dairy or meat.

But in Israel, there’s a label that says just that: non-dairy, non-meat substance. It’s called פרווה (parve, which comes from the Yiddish word פארווע, “neutral”). It’s splashed prominently across everything and anything that doesn’t contain meat, dairy, or any derivatives of the two. Anything with meat or meat derivatives is labeled בשרי (b’sari), and anything with dairy or dairy derivatives is called חלבי (chlavi).

Parve label on dairy-free ice cream I found at the supermarket today

The reason such labels exist is for kosher purposes; dairy and meat must be kept strictly separate, so labeling is important. While I’m not Jewish and don’t keep kosher by any means, this is an idea and practice that I am firmly behind.

Thank you, Israel, for making one aspect of life here much simpler than it has been just about anywhere else in the world.

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