The Talmud, Chullin 109b teaches us that Yalta, her husband, once said to R. Nachman: “Observe, for everything that the Divine Law has forbidden us it has permitted us an equivalent: it has forbidden us blood but it has permitted us liver …; it has forbidden us the fat of cattle but it has permitted us the fat of wild beasts; it has forbidden us pork but it has permitted us the brain of the shibbuta (a kind of fish the brain of which has the same taste as swine's flesh; according to some it is the mullet, according to others the sturgeon); it has forbidden us the girutha (a forbidden bird), but it has permitted us the tongue of fish (which has the taste of girutha);… I wish to eat flesh in milk, where is its equivalent?” Thereupon R. Nachman said to the butchers, “Give her roasted udders.”
I do not believe that there is a moral issue here. The Torah’s prohibition is against eating certain foods, not against their tastes. According to most, there is nothing intrinsically wrong or evil with these forbidden items; they are restricted by divine decree for God’s own reasons. (Those more mystically inclined will disagree with this, maintaining that nonkosher foods contaminate the soul. Nevertheless, permitted foods of exotic flavors would not have the same impact.) In fact, the Midrash explains that a person should not say, “I can’t eat pork, it disgusts me. Rather that person should say, “I’d love to eat it, but what can I do, the Torah prohibits it.”
As we see, there is a long tradition of living within the law yet experiencing the fullness of the world—and maybe that’s the idea. Over the years, we have developed non-dairy milk, non-meat meat, vegetarian liver, fake shrimp, pareve margarine, etc. In order to overcome the marit ayin (suspicion) issue, the Sages require that some sort of distinguishing sign be present when we eat these things. The SHulchan Arukh rules that when consuming pareve almond juice (looks like milk) along with meat, that there be almonds on the table. When pareve margarine or creamer were first used, rabbis insisted that they be served in their original wrappers and containers. These foods are now so widespread that there are no suspicions when seeing someone use them.
Thank you for your question. First of all, let me translate "marat ayin". "Marit ayin" literally translates as "the appearance of the eye" and refers the presumption that something is one way when it's really the other. An example would be if someone were in a non-kosher restaurant wearing a yarmulke. If a kosher observant individual walked by the restaurant and saw a patron wearing a yarmulke inside, they might assume the restaurant is kosher.
With food items that are actually kosher, but resemble non-kosher foods the opposite is true. One might see you eating a soy product that looks like bacon or sausage and presume you're eating non-kosher food when in actually you are not. I don't believe there is an ethical or moral problem eating kosher food that looks like non-kosher food. If someone is concerned about what you're eating, then they should ask.
Chefs have become very creative in recent time and can now create kosher food items that look and taste like iconic non-kosher dishes like shrimp and bacon. There are also many packaged food items on the market that resemble non-kosher items like soy bacon (Fake+Bacon="Facon"), soy sausage links and soy sausage patties. The Jewish Theological Seminary's cafeteria routinely serves fake pepperoni on pizza, and an assortment of other soy products that look like the non-kosher food item. Everyone knows the Jewish Theological Seminary kitchen and cafeteria are strictly kosher so there is no presumption of wrongdoing. In fact, it is not much different than putting cheese on a veggie burger or putting non-dairy cheese on a real hamburger (or other meat sandwich as is done in the kosher Subway franchises).
The Talmud describes a remarkable episode in the life of Hillel, when he seems not to recall what a particular practice is or should be. His response (Pesachim 66A) seems of the moment. "Leave it to Israel; if they are not prophets, they are the children of prophets."
Applying this insight to the query suggests that the Jewish people have decided that “marat ayin” (how things may look to others) does not trump the opportunity to enhance the kosher food experience.
For example, I just returned from Israel to Chicago with a Jewish United Fund (our Federation) sponsored mission for area rabbis. The group consisted of colleagues from all the streams of American Jewish life. Our time in Israel included an extensive, of course kosher (and expensive) Shabbat fleischig dinner at our hotel. The experience was enhanced – as well our waistlines – with a rich variety of desserts, many of which were imitations of well-known dairy treats, including mousse, cakes, pastries and, yes, even ersatz "ice cream."
Presumably the oneg of Shabbat overrode the consideration of appearances, which could to someone unaware be deceiving. But we knew it wasn't dairy and, by all accounts, that was sufficient.
Simply put, enhancing the mitzvah seems – appropriately, I might add – to override the question of suspicion. So to speak, in this instance, even Caesar's wife finally gets a break.
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