What the halal?

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What is the difference between halal and conventional meat?

“I want real meat!” I recently witnessed a man express anger that the restaurant served 100 per cent halal meat. He was troubled. Halal? What was it? He demanded regular, conventional beef. These days, with so many distinctions, requirements and labels on foods and how they’re grown, handled and processed, I definitely understood his confusion. He just wanted a regular burger.

Food has become a wildly popular topic. People are learning more everyday about the origins of it, how and where it’s produced, the conditions it encounters, whether it’s come into contact with any allergens or chemicals, short and long-term impact of consumption, and the list goes on. Further confused by the food opinions surrounding health, ethical and religious beliefs, as well as miles of media, celebrity and random expert opinion, we are all somewhat buried in conflicting information — where clarity is dodgy. So let’s find some clarity.

By definition, halal meat is meat that is acceptable and lawful to Muslims, followers of the faith of Islam. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) demands that if meat is labeled halal in Canada, it must be certified by an organization that guarantees the meat conforms to Muslim requirements. So what are those requirements exactly – and how is halal meat truly different?

It has to do with how the meat is butchered. Yes, butchered. The practice of processing meat.

Unfortunately, the reality of a discussion about meat processing requires mention of butchering, slaughter, blood and stuff. Good thing we all have our big kid pants on.

Hand-slaughtered halal meat may be superior to conventional meat.

Hand-slaughtered halal meat may be superior to conventional meat.

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Halal meat must be blessed and slaughtered in the manner prescribed by Islamic law, which means a prayer is said via human or recording at the time the animal is butchered. It’s a prayer to acknowledge and give thanks for taking the life of an animal for the purpose of food. In addition, when the animal is slaughtered, it is done so in a way that is quick and inflicts minimal pain and suffering. It should be done by a Muslim, and done in a way that allows for maximum muscle contraction and drainage of blood, which also promotes waste and micro-organisms to be most effectively drained out of the animal. This is said to improve healthfulness, flavour and even extend shelf-life.

In addition, halal products should always be alcohol and pork free. Although there are no current guidelines established in Canada as to which authority defines or qualifies organizations that certify halal, this is how it should be done. With annual Canadian sales exceeding a billion dollars, and the usually slightly higher price tag, we would hope that some authority is ensuring that the certifiers are, in fact, certified.

Certifiers are certified… how is that for clarity? I’m afraid I’ve only proven that clarity is relative – that wasn’t my desired outcome for this post.

Don’t fret, we do have some clarity. Simply put, if meat is truly halal, it should be cleaner, better tasting, healthier and even blessed. It’s your choice to decide if the price tag is worth it.

Try our Championship Chili with chicken – halal or conventional.

Best health,

carolyn

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