May 25, 2012
By Miriam L. Wallach
My brother has an expression. “It’s bad for the Jews,” he says, referring to anything ranging from Iran’s increasing nuclear capability to Mel Gibson to an outfit I may wear that he does not like. His famous words, however, were the first that came to mind after the news hit last Wednesday, spreading like wild fire across the country. And while the fate of the Jewish people may not be at risk, I will always remember where I was when I heard that Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chocolate chips would no longer be pareve.
To make a long story very short, all kosher foods can be classified as meat, dairy or pareve, the latter being a Switzerland-like neutral status. Something that is pareve (with few exceptions) can be eaten with anything that is dairy or anything that is meat. Standard rules apply — items which are dairy cannot be eaten with something that is meat and vice versa. Pareve is for items fitting in the grey area, including fruits, vegetables and in this case, Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chocolate chips. They can be baked inside cookies which are intended to take center stage for either a dairy or a meat meal. They can also be a late night snack if you’ve barbequed and have a chocolate craving. Their versatility, because they are pareve, is endless.
While there are plenty of other competing brands available that make pareve chocolate chips, the issue is that the ones from Trader Joe’s are excellent. They taste like chocolate – because they are actually made with real ingredients (including cacao) as opposed to its competitors, which taste like plastic. Actually, by putting those ersatz chocolate chips in the same category, I might actually have just insulted plastic since some of them do not even remotely resemble chocolate except in color. I’ve had scratch-n’sniff stickers that smell more like chocolate than some of the brands to which I am referring.
From coast to coast, pandemonium ensued across the country as word continued to spread. People raced to their nearest Trader Joe’s in search of the last bags of pareve chocolate chips, clearing shelves as they went. If you think I am exaggerating , then you have not been tracking this on Facebook nor have you signed the online petition, begging Trader Joe’s to change it’s mind. A die hard devotee of these chips, I was determined to be the last man standing. Immediately after work, I rushed over to our nearest branch.
An Orthodox woman was standing in front of the shelf of what was soon to be a rare commodity when I arrived. She had three bags in her basket and one in her hand. “Have you taken all you need?” I asked her. She said she had. “Great,” I said, and proceeded to clear the shelf, removing all of its contents – close to thirty bags worth — and placing them in my basket. I headed to the cashier. Luckily, she was right behind me and after conferring with someone on the phone, realized she had one extra bag.
“Do you want this one, too?” she asked me. “Are you kidding?” I responded, quickly taking it off of her hands. “Do you really need all of these?” she asked. I incredulously stared at her before responding. “Do you know what is left for us after these chips go dairy?” I said. “Nothing.” Bags in tow, I hurried out the door before she could change her mind. It was every man for himself.
My cousin in Los Angeles was in similar attack mode as those of us on the east coast. Unfortunately, by the time she reached her local Trader Joe’s, they were all out. She proceeded to call four or five more in her area to no avail. Finally, in a complete panic, she called me.
“What am I going to do?” she asked. “I’ve asked a bunch of people to pick me up some if they find but no one will do it.” I could not believe her. “Of course they won’t get you some,” I said. “It’s a jungle out there!” As much as I love her, I said, even I would not get her some if I indeed found extra. “I am more likely to give you a lung than some chocolate chips,” I said. She knew exactly where I was coming from and would have done the same thing. Still, she needed to begin stockpiling and had no clue as to how to start amassing bags of chocolate chips. “Your problem is that you keep calling stores in heavily Jewish areas,” I said. “You need to call Nevada.”
I explained that if she called stores with a lower Jewish clientele, she may be more likely to find someone who not only still had stock, but was willing to ship her cases. After dubbing me a genius, she hung up the phone. Only a short time later did she tell me about her new friend in a Trader Joe’s in Nevada – who sent four cases her way. With 48 bags to a case, that’s a lot of potential cookies. However, with an expiration date of two years, there was no doubt in our minds she would have none left before the date hit. After pulling the same stunt with a store also located in another state sparsely populated with Jews, she had six cases and a bunch of single bags. Two cases were for her sisters – the rest were for her. She is a better sharer than I am.
The biggest challenge that she faced, of which we briefly spoke, is that she was a team of one. Her husband would not get involved in the hysteria nor would he entertain her panic. I, on the other hand, am a team of two. My better half (and he really is) not only made it his business to stop by two Trader Joe’s on his way home from a board meeting – one in Brooklyn and the other in Queens – but he also enlisted some people who work in his office to try their nearest branches as well. Claiming cases even before they were unloaded, our team effort resulted in six cases and over twenty bags. While some stores were holding customers to a limit of ten each and rumor had it that our local Trader Joe’s went through 50 cases in about five minutes, I now have enough to sell on Ebay and retire.
That, however, is not part of the plan. In fact, I have informed members of my family that if (heaven forbid) we are ever robbed, everything except the kids and the chocolate chips are fair game. In addition I have coined a new word (a ’la Seinfeld): “chipsworthy.” It is an adjective and represents how much you may like a person because you are willing to use a bag of your precious chocolate chips for them. For example: “That chipsworthy couple is coming over for lunch – I am definitely making them brownies.” Feel free to adopt it into your daily vernacular. Do not, however, ask me for a bag of chips.
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