I was watching ABC News (US) last month, and there was a piece about Air National Guard members from Illinois putting pallets of meals onto a C-130H at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The Meals Ready to Eat would be delivered to Pakistan as part of a relief mission after the devastating floods. What I noticed is that every single box I saw was labelled, in a very large font, HALAL.
So what IS halal? The best site I’ve come across is from IFANCA, the Islamic Food and Nutitional Council of America, who defines it: “Halal is an Arabic word meaning lawful or permitted. The opposite of halal is haram, which means unlawful or prohibited. Halal and haram are universal terms that apply to all facets of life.” So the terms are not in reference to food, though this discussion will be. “While many things are clearly halal or haram, there are some things which are not clear. Further information is needed… Such items are often referred to as mashbooh, which means doubtful or questionable.
All foods are considered halal except the following (which are haram):
Swine/Pork and its by-products
Animals improperly slaughtered or dead before slaughtering
Alcoholic drinks and intoxicants
Carnivorous animals, birds of prey and certain other animals
Foods contaminated with any of the above products
Foods containing ingredients such as gelatin, enzymes, emulsifiers, and flavors are questionable (mashbooh), because the origin of these ingredients is not known.”
There is a growing number of businesses in countries that are not predominantly Muslim producing foods that are certified as halal. This is less a function of cultural sensitivity than good business practice. A market research report from Packaged Facts suggests that food manufacturers consider kosher and halal certification for wider appeal, driven not just by religious considerations. “Companies should consider the marketing push and public perception of safety that comes with kosher certification and the far broader export opportunities that come with halal certification.
“Regarding halal foods, the market researcher said that there is ‘a dearth of reliable market data’ but cited the Malaysian Ministry of International Trade and Industry – where halal trade is of increasing importance – which estimates the market value for halal foods in the US at $11.6bn, and $548bn worldwide.
“The report also suggested that Canada presents broadening market opportunities for halal foods, with the number of Canadian Muslims set to double from 600,000 in 2000 to 1.2m in 2010, and a lack of convenient outlets for halal foods.”
KFC is going halal in the UK, and there are hundreds of halal Subway restaurants there. The US halal product directory includes foods from companies ranging from Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Cabot Creamery to General Mills, Gerber and Kraft. Here’s the list of organizations accredited by the Halal Certification Authority in Australia – which means Vegemite is halal. (Not that I would ever eat it again.)
So is kosher halal, or vice versa? Well, yes and no. Certainly, both sets of food laws come from Abrahamic traditions, though there are specific rituals involved in slaughtering meat, e.g.; not incidentally, the rules for both kosher and halal are exceptions to the general rule in the United States that animals should be stunned before being killed. PunkTorah asks, Can Jews Eat Halal Meat, and if so, might that be a way toward peace?