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Religion in the Grocery Aisles

We answer to a higher authority. That's the slogan of the Hebrew National Company, which makes kosher hot dogs and lunch meats. It's a lighthearted reference to the religious requirements in the kosher slaughtering and meatpacking process.

Jews who keep kosher care a great deal that the meat products they eat are handled according to Talmudic law. The same goes for observant Muslims, for whom Halal procedures must apply to the meat that they eat.

And now we're starting to hear about something called Christian chicken! A woman named Faith Popcorn -- who is well known in the United States as an analyst and predictor of trends -- used the term at a recent conference on The Future of Food, sponsored by the Grocery Manufacturers of America.

The food-makers and grocers heard about biotech crops, nutritious and low-fat products to come, demands for certain foods by the growing Hispanic population and other ethnic groups, and more food-related trends.

But Christian chicken? Indeed, as Richard Lenny, president of the Hershey Company, told the folks at the Future of Food conference, "Each day, consumers make their purchases based on their personal values . . . or they choose products such as 'fair-trade' coffee and biodegradable packaging that support personal beliefs or preferences."

So far, we haven't found any priests or ministers blessing birds. But the world's largest poultry company, Tyson Foods, IS distributing a free, multi-faith prayer book called Giving Thanks at Mealtime.

"People are not just buying our products," a Tyson executive told an advertising magazine. "They're buying us."

Typical of the mealtime prayers suggested by the company is this one: Good food, good treats, good God. Let's eat!