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.

Image Credit: sciondriver under a Creative Commons license

12 thoughts on “Halal: The Original Ethical Meat Eating?”

  1. thank you for the thoughtful post. i don’t know much about the practice of Halal, but I am in complete agreement with its mindful, compassionate and grateful approach. i am barely a carnivore, but i do indulge from time to time and when i do, i really like to know exactly how the animal lived AND died, which isn’t always information that is easy to come by. it is good to know there are more and more conscious butchers around.

  2. dennis grenke

    How can we speak of the slaughter of sentient animals while talking about mindful compassion? Seems as if this is a oxymoron. Maybe we are just trying to justify our lust for meat eating.

  3. Vegetarianism, and especially veganism, are not choices for everyone. EDB strives to reflect all these perspectives on eating equally, while promoting “greener” choices. For those who do consume meat, and I am one of those, it’s a responsible choice to seek out more sustainable methods that practice good animal husbandry and care up to and including slaughter. Thanks for sharing the information, Meredith.

  4. Thanks for the very thought-provoking post. I am, like Beth and Meredith, a meat-eater and in favor of mindful eating choices. When living in London, I almost-exclusively bought from a halal butcher because a.) it was a neighborhood choice and b.) I trusted in the manner of slaughter and the preparation of meat. It’s like the old Hebrew National hotdog commercials I used to get in NJ growing up “we answer to a higher authority.”

    Thanks again.

  5. What this comment thread needs is some SHRILLNESS!!! Me to the rescue…

    Humans don’t need meat or animal secretions to live, be healthy, or thrive. Therefore, consumption of meat and animal secretions is a choice solely to satisfy taste and/or habit. Make of that choice what you will, but it certainly isn’t an ethical one. It is a choice to harm or kill a sentient being to please one’s palate. Nothing more.

    Happy Meat (organic, “free range”, “cage free”, slaughtered while burning incense and praying to Mother Gaia, etc.) is a hilarious attempt by omnivores to make themselves feel better for unethical eating.

    Eat meat because you believe God wants us to. Eat meat because you’ve been eating meat your whole life and don’t care to imagine the alternative. Eat meat because it tastes good to you. Eat meat because someone somewhere has nothing else to eat but meat, making it righteous for you to do so as well. Eat meat because Michael Pollan says it’s okay. Eat meat because you like to pretend there aren’t thousands of sources of protein (and every other nutrient you need) in the plant kingdom. Eat meat because vegans are shrill.

    But don’t eat meat because you’ve found an ethical way to do it. You haven’t. It isn’t.

  6. Meredith Melnick

    Hi guys!

    Thanks for all of your comments. I know this is a complex issue, but I would rather it not devolve into a debate of what – or more specifically, who – is ethical. Everyone has his or her own idea about the best way to live and here at Eat Drink Better, the only thing we eschew is inconsiderate eating.

    Personally, I consider there to be no way for me to eat (or live) without inflicting harm on the planet. Tempeh comes from wheat that is grown on a field where a forest used to stand – that is harm. Tofu comes from a soy farmer who is subsidized by a government policy that I strongly disagree with – that is harm. Lamb comes from a baby sheep whom I would have found cute if we had met in a petting zoo – that is harm. But I eat tempeh and tofu and lamb because I am an omnivore. It so happens that my species is overpopulous and so, given my evolved capacity for empathy, I try to eat in such a way as to minimize my harm. For some people, minimizing harm involves abstaining from meat. For others, it means eating close to home or primarily from a personal garden. Whatever your method, all of us readers and writers at EDB are living in a way that strives to mitigate the harm done by our very existence.

    Which is a long winded way of saying, we’re on the same side here, people. Be kind. Do not judge.

  7. I found this post while Googling about halal.

    I tried to believe that stuff about vegetarianism. I would love to see how many of these preachy people manage to keep it up for twenty years or longer without developing a lot of weird allergies and other health problems. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in any publication that caters to vegetarians, even if not exclusively, I also see a lot of articles and ads about allergy treatments.

    Unlike animals, plants can’t defend themselves by fighting or moving. They have to use chemistry. Seeds, in particular, must be protected until they can sprout. What’s a vegetarian diet primarily based on? Seeds. Processed correctly? Probably not, particularly in this day and age. So all the chemicals meant to protect the seed from animal consumption are still there.

    Reducing fat consumption, as one almost has to do when going vegetarian, is also dangerous. We need fats for nervous system and hormone health. We need cholesterol for the same reason. More and more research is finding that people have high cholesterol levels and heart disease when they eat more sugar, not when they eat more fat. (Scientists blaming consumption of Big Macs for the increase in heart disease neglect to mention that these sandwiches have buns and sugary sauce on them and are accompanied by starchy fries.) Diabetes, which is often correlated with obesity (which is a warning sign that diabetes is imminent!), is a disease of sugar metabolism, not fat metabolism.

    But when you eat vegetarian, I mean really, how much plant oil can one person possibly eat? And if you subsist only on vegetable oil you won’t have the right omega-3/omega-6 ratios. You get those more easily with animal fat.

    Not to mention that you have to clear fields to grow most plant foods. On the other hand you can raise animals, even cows, under tree cover and you don’t need any special equipment.

    I gained the last fifty pounds or so of my obesity on a vegetarian, sometimes vegan, diet. I lose weight and feel a hundred times better if I not only have animal foods in my diet but have a high proportion of animal fat in my daily menu as well. A lot of it is dairy fat, but it still does me a world of good.

    I’ve read an account by a vegan guy who went raw food for a month. His hands were cracked and bleeding by the end of it. Incredibly, he claimed to feel healthy and wanted to try it again at some point. I couldn’t stand watching him commit slow suicide anymore and stopped reading his blog. He was getting a variety of fruits and veggies, too, so that wasn’t it. His body just wasn’t getting what it needed.

    As for killing an animal being “cruel,” wow, I guess if we were all left to our own devices to live as Nature intended, none of us would ever die? Do lions live on rainbows and glitter? I don’t think we are pure carnivores, but we don’t have four stomachs like a cow. And cows don’t have canine teeth like we do. I think vegetarian activist groups tell tall tales, is what I think.

  8. I am amuslim and we do not thank the animal fo rits life we DO pray over the animal, feed it a handful of grain and some water and take it away from the othe ranimals so as not to frighten the other animals, then with a swift deep cut to the throat we down it. In islma we are encouraged to eat more vegitables and whole grains with our meals and honey in warm water in the mornings ot help with detox and wakeing up the digestive system also olive oil with vinegar is recommended for salads!! we dont just eat meat as for the “earthlings” video mentioned from what i have been told this is not ahalal slaughter video its more of slaughter houses with mnon halal methods used we cannot stun or mechanically seperate the animals we eat!! it must all be done by hand from humainly oat and hey fed animals!!

  9. Thanks for that explanation of Halal meat, Helema. I do think that if people are going to eat meat they should guarantee that it is from a halal source or from a local source that they can personally check on the way the animal has both lived and died. According to the book, ‘Eating Meat’, 99 percent of meat eaten in the United States are from commercial animal farms. At least if we begin to enlighten people as to the horrors of these slaughter methods there will be alot less meat eaten and the meat eaten will be local or halal.

  10. Thank you for this interesting article. Though generally not touched upon, the reality is that true halal is more than just the last 5 minutes of the animals life. Its holistic and includes how the animal was raised, as Muslims we believe they are magnificent creations of God that require to be treated with dignity and mercy. So in essence factory farms with their cramped quarters, no access to pasture and environmental run off all would fly in the face of the spirit of halal. And by the way, Islamic tradition recommends eating very little meat, as one saying goes 'do not let your stomachs become graveyards'.
    Ultimately, we believe what we eat affects us physically, as well as spiritually so we strive for higher standards for the entire life of the animal.

    Here is one business that also has this spirit http://www.greenzabiha.com

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