Muslims, whose dietary laws are similar to the Kashrut laws of Judaism, are obligated by their faith to eat only “clean” food that has been blessed in God’s name. The popularity in halal foods has resulted, in part, from the immense industry that packages and mass produces food for convenience to an international market. When buying Muslims look for that “halal” label (Islamically permissible), or the more recognised vegetarian ‘V’ sign. Read on for Green Prophet’s guide.
What is halal?
For Muslims, virtually everything available from nature is halal. The only exceptions are:
• Swine/Pork and its by-products
• Animals improperly slaughtered or dead before slaughtering
• Alcohol (and intoxicants)
• Carnivorous animals and birds of prey
However, checking every label isn’t practical and more often than not, the full ingredients aren’t listed. This makes it hard for you to know if a food is truly halal. Your active lifestyle doesn’t permit “scratch” cooking for every meal.
This is where Green Prophet’s guide to eating halal can help.
1) Eat at home
Meals in restaurants are pricey and don’t always contain the best ingredients. Regular take-outs are not the healthiest lifestyle option either. Eating at home enables you to cook individualised easy, staple meals, save money, eat more slowly for improved digestion, and learn a few culinary skills. Invite neighbours around for family meals to build community spirit.
2) Eat seasonally
It is better to enjoy ‘local’ produce which is sourced by local farmers. Buying locally – from your home town or country – helps the economy and businesses. Take a trip to the food markets to buy fresh fish and baked breads, ask for the current season’s fruit and vegetables. Buying direct from farmers helps keep your food halal since you know exactly what you’re getting for your money.
3) Buy halal packaged food
The Muslim market is exponentially expanding due to demand and we’re even seeing ‘halal carts’ on the streets of New York. When buying packaged food Muslims look for the ‘halal’ labels meaning it’s o.k. to eat in accordance with Islamic Shariah (law). Checking labels is important because even if a product is labelled vegetarian or vegan, it may contain alcohol which is haram (prohibited) for Muslims.
4) Eat less meat
Muslim vegetarians unfortunately get caught in the meat debate. There is good reason to become a Muslim vegetarian, and so long as you’re not on a mission to convert others, you can live without meat, raise awareness of animal welfare and stay true to eco principles. Meat is expensive and too much meat isn’t good for our health. Meat can be responsible for high cholestrol and heart attacks. All you need to do is shift your sources of protein to vegetarian options such as lentils, beans and whole grains.
5) Balance your meals and eat smaller portions.
Consuming in moderation is a strong Muslim ethic. Reducing how much you eat will save you in cost in the long run. Smaller portions and frequent eating are two ways you can drastically improve your health. Balance your meals by colour – at least two portions of red, green or orange fruits and vegetables with each meal.
Eat more carrots – these orange gems are loaded with fibre are high in Vitamin K and A; they’re easy to pack, versatile sticks and easy to cook. Blend together two carrots for every apple to create a sweet and filling smoothie.
Go bananas – cheap to buy in bunches and available all year round, this monkey treat works well for replacing sweeteners in your meals. Try banana muffins, use in milkshakes or slice over cereals with honey.
6) Support sustainable agriculture
What you purchase is a powerful mechanism for creating change. As consumers, we can support sustainable agricultural businesses by buying food and drink that is produced according to sustainable principles: protecting the environment, the economy and society from negative environmental impacts and helping to ensure adequate supplies for future generations.
7) Buy organic
Is organic food better for us? There is no straightforward conclusion but opting for organic food and drink does avoid toxins that non-organic food can contain. Organic food can cost more; when you’re on a tight budget you do not have to buy everything organic. Buying just one organic item the next time you go shopping will at least make a difference to the environment because people will be doing the same thing all over the country.
Eating halal means you’ll experiment with organic food at some stage. Organic produce is the only practical way to avoid eating genetically modified (GM) food and tastes so much better and opens up many different varieties. In the UK alone there are 600 different types of apple. Bet you didn’t know that.
8) Grow your own food
You may not have a garden or access to a community allotment but you can grow your own herbs, tomatoes and ‘bushy’ vegetables in containers on a windowsill, balcony or the back yard.
What to grow – mustard, cress, basil, coriander and salads are easy to grow from seed and a good way of getting greens into your sandwiches.
As an eco-Muslim I do have access to a large plot of land in which I grow corn, seasonal vegetables and fruit trees. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, dedicate a part of it to herbs. Create a haven of peace and get low-cost fruit and vegetables by sharing an allotment with like-minded people.
9) Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Reject
Traditionally implemented as the 3 R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, I include Reject as an action to take when your food is sourced unethically.
- Reduce waste by reusing containers and freeze left over foods for another day. This works best for soups, strudels, kebabs and homebaked breads.
- Recycle: ask your council for a green recycling bin, save each week’s food containers for a trip to your local recycling centre or let creativity flow by recycling packaging into pieces of art.
- Reuse clean newspapers by keeping a few damp sheets wrapped around bunches of herbs; cut large plastic containers in half for home-made plant pots; feed your garden by throwing all uneaten uncooked food and peelings to create a compost.
- Reject: avoid processed foods and synthetic additives – rejecting preservatives is all the more reason to go organic; and reject foods from regions of conflict.
10) Fast throughout the year.
Although the Islamic month of fasting lasts 30 days, you can practice better control by following a few Ramadan tips:
- Avoid complex carbohydrates such as chips, cookies, cakes and white bread.
- Stay more hydrated by drinking plenty of water, especially in the weeks towards Ramadan and check where your water is sourced from.
- Limit your caffeine intake or cut it out altogether. Fizzy drinks need to be reduced to as their caffeine content makes your body lose water.
Read more on spiritual, green food choices:
Green Deeds: Don’t Waste Food, Man (10 Tips)
Jews And Muslims Unite Against EU Slaughter Labeling
Zabihah.com, World Guide To Halal Eating
RECIPE: Fesenjan, Persian Chicken in Walnut Sauce
This Is What A Muslim Vegetarian Looks Like