George Bernard Shaw, Hillaire Belloc and GK Chesterton

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Halal Dolly

New Zealand is full of surprises. It’s part Middle Earth and part Middle East, apparently. A couple of years ago, a newspaper not known for its broad-mindedness and tolerance reported that all lamb that comes from New Zealand is halal – that is, killed according to certain Islamic food regulations, including given a blessing. Given the newspaper’s popularity, based on the knee-jerk xenophobia and Islamophobia across large parts of Britain, I assumed the story would be picked up and splashed across other newspapers. But it was not. Although it has been now.

What are we to make of this? Well, I'm a card-carrying Christian so should I eat meat that has been offered to Allah? I don’t believe that the God of the Bible and the God of Islam can really be the same, so would eating meat sacrifice to Allah make my God cross?

Then I remembered St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 10, especially after I looked up various words in a concordance. The Apostle Paul writes ‘Eat whatever meat is sold in Tesco without raising any question on the grounds of conscience.’ (N.B. some early manuscripts omit the words Tesco and read meat market or Asda.) In the rest of 1 Corinthians, and also the Letter to the Romans Chapter 14, Paul explains that if these things don’t bother you, then they don’t bother God, so tuck in. Tagines all round. But if it feels wrong, don’t. And if others around you find this hard to stomach, refrain when you’re around them and have the less exciting tagine with the apricots. (Paul was much more sensitive than some would have us believe.)

Holy Supermarkets
Given that supermarkets don’t sell Holy Water, it seems odd that supermarkets would sell meat that had been killed in a certain way – a cruel way, in my opinion – and then dedicated to Allah ‘the Most-Gracious, the Most Merciful’ before being shrink-wrapped, frozen and labelled as merely ‘New Zealand Lamb’.

Milk and meat - Let's not get into that.
Pic by Jack Hynes via Flickr
Aside from whether Islam's deity would like to be mentioned by name just above ‘Cooking instructions’ or ‘Suitable for Home Freezing’, I was concerned that the supermarkets were not being entirely straight with us. After all, livestock in Britain is carefully indexed and its movements and provenance dutifully catalogued. What about religious provenance, residuals blessings and possible theological fall-out? So for the first time in my life, I decided to do some actual journalism, posing as a regular customer and, under the cover of darkness, wrote them an email.

Almost immediately, they replied, telling me that my email had been registered and would be answered ‘as soon as possible’. I could tell my methods were rattling them because I heard nothing for an entire week.

When I nudged them, I received two replies from two different people. The shorter was the more revealing, explaining that they com- plied with UK regulations and hadn’t done anything illegal (known as the ‘Fat Bankers Defence’). They also argued that extra labelling would cost more money that I, as a consumer, would have to pay. They realise that shuts most people up. They also assured me that the vast majority of their meat was produced on British farms without receiving the Halal blessing – and that their British Organic Lamb and their Willow Farm and Finest Chicken were certainly not Halal.

Food regulations require supermarkets to painstakingly list e-numbers, riboflavins and emulsifiers, display fat content (as a pie chart, ironically). It seems only fair that they should also mention whether or not the food was dedicated to a Supreme Being, whose legitimacy, identity, character or existence is questioned by at least half of the world’s population.

Presumably, they would also not need to tell us if the animal in question was once the property of White Supremacists, dedicated to Bunjil (aboriginal god of the Sky), or cloned in a lab just outside Edinburgh.

The second email added that some of their suppliers also supply Lamb to Muslim customers, but that all animals are properly stunned and feel no pain. Given the assurances of Food Standards Authority labelling regulations, the Apostle Paul and, most powerful of all, Tesco, is there really anything to worry about?

Effective Blessings
After all, even within Christianity, does blessing objects even work? Numerous church traditions can become vexed about consecrated things in a way that doesn’t seem to chime with the New Testament. As a whole, the Bible doesn’t go in for magic swords and talismans of invincibility (more’s the pity, some would say). Moses’ staff wasn’t magic. You couldn’t steal it and part rivers with it. Granted, the Ark of the Covenant was deadly to anyone who touched it, but as a rule all power and blessing comes from God, not blessed or spiritually super-charged objects. Ceremonial items, like wafers, wine and water are consumable and do not last – like the manna in the desert so that God’s people would depend on Him for their daily bread.

So should I eat Halal lamb? Fortunately, I’m spared the dilemma. Lamb – holy, Halal or British organic – is just too expensive.

This article - along with many others like it - can be found in James Cary's book Death by Civilisation available in Paperback and for Kindle.

1 comment:

  1. I'm really interested in this issue and had been thinking about it a lot, even before the recent stuff in the news. I have a number of Muslim friends and have questioned myself a few times about whether to buy Hallal meat. My current view is that I think we should be more concerned about the cruel way the animals are being treated and killed (despite Tesco's reassurances) and then a general move towards Halal meat is concerning for this reason. I suspect our local primary school is not far off going all Halal and, at the moment, I think that would mean me encouraging my kids to eat veggie there!


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