Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Historical Note on Kosher Hot Dogs

"Two dogs and two warm-up cuts. That's all I needed."
- John Kruk

Oskar Katz, a recent immigrant from a small town near Prague, arrived in New York in 1890 full of high hopes of making it big in his newly-adopted country. Escaping the persecution in his native Poland was difficult, but Oskar found an even greater struggle finding a job in the alien, crowded streets of New York City. The tumultuous 1880’s were not a friendly time for immigrants to America, and jobs were often scarce, especially those that would pay a decent wage. Oskar finally found a job at a factory in the meatpacking district, breaking down the leathery carcasses of pigs, cows, and other unidentifiable hoofed animals. Excavation on similar New York City meat factories in the 1960’s turned up horses, goats, sheep, and several types of canines. Disgusted by the squalid conditions of the factory and the rank meat he produced for public consumption, not to mention the violation of his religious dietary restrictions, Oskar saved money for several years until he had enough to purchase a small building in the outskirts of Queens. There, he and his newly-emigrated cousin, a rabbi from the same small town, began the process of preparing cheap, safe meat for consumption by the growing Jewish population, and named their company “Katz Foods.” Their sausages in particular became extremely popular, especially their kosher version of the trendy hot dog that allowed these immigrants to continue to follow the laws of kashrut without having to appear to be eating “ethnic” food. Oskar passed his small company on to his family, who in the late 1940’s renamed the company “Hebrew National” in celebration of the newly-created state of Israel. Hebrew National hot dogs and meat products can still be found in grocery stores in and around New York City to this day.

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