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On the frontline of Halal education in the US there is no hocus-pocus anymore

Yvonne Maffei

Published: Updated:

I was once told that Halal meant that hocus pocus was being played on the food. Shocking, yes, but not entirely surprising.

As an American Muslim, born and raised in the Midwest, I have been writing about Halal food and cooking for nearly thirteen years. My primary intention was to raise awareness for the general public about what Halal means and to dispel myths surrounding its practices.

This was, and still is important to me because as we know all too well these days, misinformation guides fear and perpetuates falsehoods and fake news.

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Often these topics turn out to be politically divisive and in some cases not safe for people who are misunderstood or misrepresented. False information can be dangerous in more ways than one.

In the case of Halal food, something had to be done to educate and dispel perceptions about what it means to the many Americans that simply don’t know. I set out on a mission to do just that.

I have never heard anything about hocus pocus being said about my food anymore, but although there is more understanding I do still receive arguments from people with the firm beliefs that Halal is “barbaric,” or “not very clean.”

While it remains very disheartening to hear these things, it is important to understand what people are thinking so that the misinformation is addressed and explained.

Early on, I realized that the problem wasn’t only a result of a level of Islamophobia, but in some cases ignorance about the technical process of the Halal sacrifice of animals from those in the meat industry, the food industry and the culinary world.

They were only getting partial information at best, and wrong information at worst.

As an American Muslim, born and raised in the Midwest, has been writing about Halal food and cooking for nearly thirteen years, with an intention to raise awareness about what Halal means and to dispel myths surrounding its practices. (Image: Yvonne Maffei)
As an American Muslim, born and raised in the Midwest, has been writing about Halal food and cooking for nearly thirteen years, with an intention to raise awareness about what Halal means and to dispel myths surrounding its practices. (Image: Yvonne Maffei)

When I published my second cookbook, ‘My Halal Kitchen: Global Recipes, Cooking Tips and Lifestyle Inspiration,’ I went on tour to discuss its content and to educate people about why I had written it. During my research I discovered a plethora of information about food science, the food industry in America, and what actually goes into much of our food products. I was astonished and overwhelmed at times. I could only imagine how the average consumer would react to what I had learned.

My American audience embraced the information and knowledge about what is really in our food. It turns out that Halal food products provided a great alternative for them because they began to appreciate the transparency of the process and thoroughness of the investigation of ingredients and byproducts in Halal-certified goods.

For American Muslims, Halal is something that in general is thought to be easily understood through Halal certification of dhabiha (ritually slaughtered) meat products, but in general they are not as focused on additives and byproducts that are harmful in their food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. It can be difficult and overwhelming for consumers to sift through the information, and certainly these types of things were not issues during the time of our beloved Prophets, as such foreign ingredients would have been unimaginable at that time.

In general, the American perspective on Halal has come to a positive light due to a variety of factors. They will not give up alcohol any time soon, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t embracing the deliciousness of the flavors that Halal restaurants and food trucks have been bringing to the American public for the last decade.

The popularity of The Halal Guys fast food restaurants that started out as food trucks in Manhattan has built a cult following so large that it dispelled the notion of Halal as anything but delicious.

Now, you can find fast casual Mediterranean restaurants all over the country that are patronized by people who have no interest or opinion on Halal, per se. They just love the taste and inherently healthy nature of the food. This is a win-win for everyone.

Food concepts focusing on Halal are game-changers, helping to shape the average American person’s perception of the sacrificial process, while slowly allowing it to become part and parcel of the American food landscape, Maffei writes. (Image: Yvonne Maffei)
Food concepts focusing on Halal are game-changers, helping to shape the average American person’s perception of the sacrificial process, while slowly allowing it to become part and parcel of the American food landscape, Maffei writes. (Image: Yvonne Maffei)

When it comes to purchasing Halal products at grocery stores, there are companies and brands that have pushed through the noise of Islamophobia and decided to carry products clearly marked as Halal-certified because of their superior quality over others in the same category.

Take Costco warehouse stores, for example. Their lamb products hailing from Australia are clearly marked Halal, and are the only raw lamb products in the store.

Similarly, Whole Foods Market began carrying Saffron Road’s frozen entrees and simmer sauces about a decade ago and the brand has since expanded their line into many other food retailers across the country. The decision for Whole Foods to carry the products and support the efforts of this Muslim-owned company did not shy away from it because it was Halal: they embraced it.

These things are game-changers, helping to shape the average American person’s perception of Halal, and slowly allowing it to become part and parcel of the American food landscape, very similar to Kosher and Latino foods categories.

Whatever has happened over the course of time since I started working in the Halal industry has been nothing short of positive. We have all needed to see the change, the progress and the movement forward, but I am proud of the accomplishments of those in the industry that continue to push onwards and upwards to create new products, improve the food scene and raise the standard of Halal to what it should be.

Educating people about Halal has been a slow process, but it is quickening as those who create delicious foods or innovate cosmetics and fashion brands with Halal labels attached are sources of knowledge about an emerging and interesting type of lifestyle that is becoming increasingly appealing to consumers. This in turn is bringing a sense of pride to Muslims across the US, but as the saying goes: “Pride comes before a fall.” Sometimes it’s good to remind my fellow Muslims about its importance in their lives.

In essence Halal is not only open for everyone, but more importantly it’s good for everyone, too. Continuing to raise awareness about the practices and benefits will help to lift the veil on the mystery that Halal once was.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.