Voices in Focus: Kosher Worms and Duck Fetuses

Some advice regarding a couple of today’s stories selected from New York’s ethnic and community press: don’t read these around dinnertime, or if you have a delicate stomach. We have news of rabbis examining worms to see if they qualify as kosher; an eating contest centered around an interesting Filipino delicacy; anxiety over the future of America’s Chinatowns; a mentorship program for young female writers; and a Russian-American politician trying to get re-elected.

Orthodox Union rabbis sought DNA testing help from American Museum of Natural History researcher Sebastien Kvist (seated, right) to learn the origins of microscopic worms in capelin roe (below) and sardines. (American Museum of Natural History via Jewish Daily Forward)

* More worms are finding their way into cans of roe fish. To ensure that these products maintain accordance with Jewish dietary law, a group of rabbis have teamed up with scientists to examine the worms and determine which worms qualify as kosher and which don’t. The Jewish Daily Forward has the story.

Worms, in general, are not kosher. But according to Talmudic rules, microscopic worms that grow in the muscles of fish are considered to come “from” the flesh. And even though the idea of them may seem unpalatable, these parasites, which typically go unnoticed by consumers, are nonetheless acceptable by Jewish dietary laws. In contrast, worms that migrate into the fish meat from the guts, say, or elsewhere clearly come from outside the flesh, and the presence of such parasites would render any fish product unkosher.

But the “Talmudic dilemma” called for more than just looking at worms under a microscope. Scientists had to use DNA tests to identify the worm species.

The museum researchers, led by worm curator Mark Siddall and his graduate student Sebastien Kvist, used a technique known as “DNA barcoding” in which a small region of the genome is decoded to yield a uniquely identifying string of genetic “letters” to pinpoint the species. They ran samples from the tinned fish, the capelin roe and even Loike’s frozen specimens through a gene-sequencing machine and determined that all of the worms co-mingling with the food were of the type that develops in the muscle.

Days-old beak, bones and feathers. (Photo via FilAm)

* ‘Balut’ is a Filipino delicacy – boiled duck fetus dipped in salt and washed down with beer. The FilAm has a piece on a ‘balut’-eating contest scheduled for this Friday.

Of the eight people who have signed up, three are women, Nicole Ponseca of the Maharlika Filipino Moderno restaurant, told The FilAm. Maharlika is organizing the competition. She would not say if the contest has a prize, but how about bragging rights for being the ‘Balut’ Champ of New York?

Don’t worry! We have sign-up details. Contestants must sign up by tomorrow, Aug. 23, with an email to iluvbalut@gmail.com. The event will take place at DeKalb Market, at 138 Willoughby Street in Brooklyn.

* With China’s emergence as a major economic power, some worry that Chinese immigration levels will dwindle, causing America’s Chinatowns to stagnate or — worse — ultimately disappear. OurChinatown has a round-up of reaction to articles addressing the issue, including Bonnie Tsui’s article in The Atlantic magazine headlined “The End of Chinatown,” and a National Public Radio piece.

This question has rattled some Chinese-American community leaders in places like San Francisco, home of America’s oldest Chinatown. Gordon Chin, a sort of local celebrity and founder of the Chinatown Community Development Center, knows the history of the community.

Chin and his colleague Gen Fujioka know this could also happen in San Francisco. But they don’t see it anytime soon. Fujioka called Tsui’s “The End of Chinatown” an “over-simplification.”

* Each year, 75 girls from 100 of the city’s most overcrowded schools spend time with professional writers and journalists, who mentor the students through the organization Girls Write Now. El Diario La Prensa had the story. Translated excerpts follow below:

According to Director of Programs Meghan McNamara, around 35 percent of the participants are Latina, and close to 20 percent are recent, bilingual immigrants who have studied English for a number of years…

Mariah Teresa Avilés, age 17 and of Puerto Rican descent, is fortunate enough to have received a scholarship to continue her studies in creative writing. Avilés had a routine similar to that of a university student with her mentor, Allison Adair Alberts, a Senior Teaching Fellow at Fordham University. Avilés said it helped her a lot to prepare for her future.

“It’s a very good thing when they take us out of our comfort zone because it makes us try new things. But what amazes me most is the experience of sharing with my classmates,” said Avilés, referring to the monthly gatherings where all the participants read and comment on each other’s work.

* The extended battle between David Storobin (R-Brooklyn) and Lewis A. Fidler, (D-Brooklyn) for a seat in New York State Senate for the 27th Senate District still echoes through South Brooklyn, but the victor Storobin has already started preparations for a new political campaign. Russkaya Reklama has an update on the Russian-speaking politico. Translated excerpts are below:

The battle lines of all districts have been redrawn as it happens every 10 years after the U.S. Census.

That’s why Storobin, who had just started his political career in Albany, is running again for the 17th Senate District. It includes such areas as Borough Park, Midwood, and Flatbush, so densely populated by Orthodox Jews that it even earned dubious name of “the Super Jewish District,” although it’s home to quite a few Russian immigrants as well.

At first Storobin’s main primary opposition was an attorney named Nachman Caller, a Republican. But recently he has decided to drop out of the race, and now supports Storobin, who is competing against Democrat Simcha Felder, a former City Councilman.

According to recent political forecasts, this battle will not be at all easy, as Storobin has to convince many Orthodox Jews whose votes determine the result of elections that he can represent their interests in the Senate better than a Democrat.

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