Creating awareness is vital
A few months ago now I attended a Halal Meat Conference hosted by AHDB Beef & Lamb. Now I've attended meat and food events and conferences in the past, but never one focused on halal.
During the conference there was a talk on South East Asian diets, now by ethnicity I fall into this category but being born here my diet is British, i.e. multi-cuisinal. I switched off for the whole talk feeling annoyed and frustrated at the assumption that was made in that room - because I eat halal meat I eat certain dishes. It also got me thinking why are we sitting here having a different conference just because the label is different, for the majority of halal meat in the UK the process of slaughter is exactly the same as non- with the addition of a short prayer. Would it not be better to talk about any specific halal aspects within a general meat conference. And hopefully one day these will not need to be addressed separately at all.
I got this same feeling a year or so ago when halal meat started to appear in supermarkets. I was overjoyed! However after the initial feeling of exhilaration and rejoicing at the time I saved from not having to go to the butcher, I realised it was all kept in a separate cabinet, in a different section from the 'normal' meat. But it's not only meat, at times I have seen halal pizzas and items commonly linked to 'South East Asians' like big tubs of yoghurt! Why?
If any supermarkets out there are reading this, the stereotyping is also quite insulting.
Every year the same stories break about halal meat, funnily enough at roughly the same time of year, it's starting to feel like déjà vu! Everyone's entitled to their opinions and I know there are a lot of people out there who don't believe there's a place for halal meat, don't like it, see it as cruel... Whatever it may be. I am not here to discuss reasons or dispel feelings in one article, but it is up to the halal industry and the overall meat industry to educate consumers. Most people, even most Muslims, believe that if meat is labelled halal it is not stunned. That is not necessarily true for the UK, where the majority of halal meat is stunned.
So if the Muslim population who are the consumers of halal meat don't even know how it's processed and what the label means, then how can we expect non-halal consumers to know? To me, it's all down the integration and education.
I live slap bang in the heart of central London, where walking down the street each person you pass looks, sounds, dresses and acts different. And yet everyone goes about their normal business not looking twice, why, because we are used to it. London the beautiful city it is, is so tiny we have to live close to such a diversity of people. Should we not use the same principle with halal meat?
Why is halal chicken not displayed in the chicken cabinet, but rather in a separate 'halal section' endorsing the myths that halal meat is so different and fuelling a divide between the halal and non-halal market? Sometimes the 'halal section' is not even clearly marked, so falls into the abyss that is one of the many SKUs at the supermarket.
The word 'halal' written in Arabic on packaging, in my opinion fuels more segregation and mystery behind its meaning. Why are we using Arabic in an English speaking country? Granted some of the certification bodies are international, but for those that are not a mysterious symbol written in a language which currently has negative connotations attached to it surely cannot help? I understand that the Arabic language is an integral part of the Muslim religion, but to help integration and improve education, not to mention that most the Muslims in the UK's mother tongue is not Arabic, surely it's worthwhile?
Now the education... Why is it that everyone thinks halal meat is not stunned before slaughter? Because it's a new practice that some scholars deem not permitted and it makes animal welfare activists unhappy? Everyone knows how quickly news spreads when there's a drama and someone's not happy! Is it the public’s fault? I'd say no, not really because on the halal meat in stores and butchers where most consumers will come into contact with the halal industry, information is not provided on pack as to what halal means, the method of slaughter etc. Nor have I seen any leaflets or posters within halal butchers.
So is it just up to the industry to provide this education? I don't think so. I have a personal blog centred on halal eating out and in, so it is something I discuss a lot. However, I was having dinner one evening with a good non-Muslim friend of mine and was shocked to hear her say, ‘I hate buying meat in my local supermarket because they only sell halal and I don’t like halal meat.’ At first I was quite insulted, but then thought about it and asked why? She told me she didn't agree with it from a animal welfare viewpoint, which is when I went on to explain the above regarding halal meat in the UK. So obviously at an individual level I am not doing my job explaining it to those I know. What I am trying to get at is, it is also up to individuals who eat halal meat to educate others.
By the same token, with regard to only halal meat being available in the supermarket, as much as I would personally love that... I don't think it's right. If those consuming halal meat are asking for choice and availability within supermarkets then it should work the other way as well. Even in heavily Muslim-populated areas, both halal and non-halal meat should be available.
What I am outlining above is a mammoth task, involving many parties so will by no means happen overnight. But I hope one day we will see the increased education and integration of halal meat.
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