Monday 7 March 2011

Halal Trends in the West

Zahed Amanullah writes for (23 February 2011) about the introduction of halal foods into the mainstream and about the negative reaction of some towards this as a kind of "sharia law by stealth". I can recognise this as my children's non-Muslim school in London serves halal meat, which has lead in the past to complaints from non-Muslim parents. Amanullah explores some of the trends emerging in Britain and America:

Campbell’s Soup is an American icon, embedded in the American culinary subconscience long before artist Andy Warhol featured their soup cans in his most recognized work. So when the Canadian branch of the Edison, NJ food producer started offering halal versions of its popular soups, many people hostile to Muslims proposed a boycott of the company, a situation (along with others) lampooned on late night show “The Colbert Report” in a segment titled “Radical Muslim Snacks.”

In spite of controversies such as this, the number of halal food products and services offered in the West by mainstream companies is growing. In Britain, Tesco and Sainsburys, two of the country’s largest supermarket chains, sell fresh halal meat and frozen halal products in dozens of their stores, largely resisting the occasional tabloid frenzy over halal products allegedly sold by stealth. “There are all kinds of other products - not just halal or kosher - that groups would rather we not sell,” says a Sainsbury’s spokesman.” As long as products confirm to our safety, quality, and provenance standards, we will continue to sell (halal products).” The same resilience can be found in British Subway and KFC restaurant chains, each of which maintains well over 100 halal-only versions of their stores throughout the country.

Other food producers also see promoting a holistic definition of halal as an opportunity to meet the desires of Western consumers, rather than just Muslims. “Most food products aimed at British Muslims tend to be marketed heavily from an ‘Islamic’ perspective, using Arabic names and Arabic script extensively” adds Zia Choudhury, founder of boutique British food producer, The Serious Sausage Company. “It’s fine for appealing to the target audience, but the approach may alienate non-Muslims. Our branding and marketing is designed to portray taste and quality first, as these are leading and universally appreciated benefits of a food product.”

Part of the strategy is to convey the aspects of halal meat production that go beyond the widely known aspect of reciting the name of God before slaughtering an animal with a sharp knife. Saffron Road describes it as tayeeb, “the sacred tradition of respect for the land, fair treatment for farmers, humane treatment of livestock, and clean, healthy food to eat.” All of the company’s meats come from animals that are “sustainably and humanely farmed, and free of anti-biotics and hormones.” The Serious Sausage Company takes a similar line, saying they “believe halal means more that just correct slaughter techniques. We strongly believe that an animal has to have led a decent life, from start to finish.”

You can read the full post here.

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