Halal: The Original Ethical Meat Eating?

Among the decidedly ungreen luxuries I allow myself is a small
collection of magazine subscriptions, one of which is Gourmet – the
Conde Nast foodie rag that is, to be honest, hit or miss. But this
month’s issue was a favorite of mine, mostly because of a moving
account by two young chefs of a trip they took to Madani Halal
butcher in New York in search of a goat to serve at their summer
barbecue. The chefs – Ian Knauer and Alan Sytsma – picked out a
grass-fed, free-range goat and watched as the butcher thanked the
animal for its life and then killed it in what is considered the most
painless way possible. The chefs reported back that watching their
animal die added a level of responsibility to their cooking. Not only
did they want to create a delicious meal for its own sake, they felt a
need to honor the sacrifice of the animal’s life.

This type of thinking is an integral part of the current movement
towards more ethical meat consumption that we often discuss on this
blog. Consider below the similarities between Zibah – the Halal
slaughter method – and members of the slow food movement. This
similarity is not lost on Riaz, the owner of Madani, who told Gourmet
that he believes Halal butchery can help many Americans to accept Islam
through shared eating values.

According to the Halal Food Authority the following conditions must be met in order for meat to be considered passable:

  • Animal must be alive and healthy at time of slaughter (no downers)
  • Slaughter must be done in quickest, most painless method: cutting the jugular, carotid artery and windpipe in one single motion
  • Animal must not be stunned or abused prior to slaughter (such abuse would render the animal “dead,” disobeying the first rule)
  • Animals must not be fed anything containing meat (grass and grain fed)
  • A muslim must perform the slaughter while reciting the shahada, as a prayer of dedication.

Many of us will recognize these considerations in our own choices.
Not only are these healthier, more sanitary conditions, the elements of
gratitude and respect are essential to a thoughtful approach to eating.
Much of my own family keeps Kosher, which is very similar to Halal and
I long considered it an archaic, even exclusionary practice. I wondered
why otherwise contemporary, scientifically-minded people would adopt
ancient sanitation laws that prohibit them from socializing over meals
with friends. But the mindfulness advocated by these laws need not
apply only to the religious – we can all benefit from this strong niche
in the meat industry.

Given the high premium put on ethically-raised meat at farmer’s
markets and in health stores, it is a relief to know that consumers can
get such meat from Halal butchers at a reasonable price. In doing so,
we are supporting the ethics behind the practice of Halal butchery and
also supporting independent and community-oriented butchers – a dying
breed in the era of pre-cut chops in the supermarkets and megamarts
that dominate our country’s food consumption.