By James McAuley
could scarcely be a spectacle more French than elderly matrons and young
fathers vying for choice cuts of veal on a weekend morning. But the popularity
of Les Jumeaux, an artisanal butcher shop in this Paris suburb, is something of
the meat here — from the bison to the boudin blanc to the Wagyu beef — is
halal. And the 28-year-old twin brothers who run the shop have managed to
attract a diverse clientele and critical acclaim at a moment when there is
intense resistance to halal meat in Western Europe.
regional government in Austria recently proposed that people buying halal or
kosher meat should have to register with authorities. There have been periodic
“scares” in Britain over customers being sold unlabeled halal meat. Until a
constitutional court overturned it, Poland imposed a ban on halal and kosher
slaughter. The party platform of the far-right Alternative for Germany includes
a similar provision.
argument in some cases has been driven by animal rights activists. In others,
the debate is more about the perceived quality of the meat. And often
underlying it all are essential questions of identity and belonging.
meat to be classified as halal — meaning, broadly, permissible according to
Islam — the animal in question must be slaughtered in a certain way: with a
sharp incision to the front of the throat, and with a blessing.
similar to kosher slaughter practices that comply with Jewish dietary law,
although the two religions have different rules about what parts of an animal
may be eaten.
fight over animal rights centers on whether halal slaughter is more or less
humane than other practices.
Europe, there has been a movement — enshrined in European Union law — to
require that animals be stunned before they are killed, so that they are
unconscious and do not feel pain or distress. Exceptions can be granted,
however, for religious practice. And critics charge that halal slaughter causes
unnecessary suffering at the time of death.
note that many animals slaughtered according to halal practice in Europe —
including more than 84 percent of halal slaughter in Britain — are, in fact,
pre-stunned, which is widely considered acceptable if done in a way that an
animal can be returned to normal consciousness. (By contrast, kosher slaughter
traditions also pay specific attention to animal well-being — not only at the
moment of death but throughout life. Animals are not to be caged or abused. No
animal should have to suffer the distress of seeing another animal killed. And
the knife used for slaughter should be as sharp as possible, with the idea that
a swift, precise cut minimizes pain.
some Muslim consumers, halal products signal ethical production that other
meats may not have undergone. “It’s understood that they have certain
attitudes,” said Bogac Ergene, a historian at the University of Vermont who
co-wrote “Halal Food: A History.” “It’s a comfort for a Muslim to see some kind
of halal packaging.”
comfort may in some cases be misplaced. In France, for instance, multiple halal
certifiers exist, and each abides by its own practices and standards, although
all are based on religious sources. “Any observer can enter the market,” said
Yasser Louati, a Muslim community organizer. “We don’t know how they set their
standards; it’s unclear even for the consumers themselves.”
global market for halal meats has grown, a number of producers have turned to
factory farming. And undercover videos have revealed mistreatment at certain halal
halal’s defenders say those cases point to systemic problems within the
industry rather than problems specific to halal, and they suggest that animal
rights activists are somewhat cynical in their focus on halal.
need some victories and the easiest way to get them is to focus on soft
targets, i.e., targets which are marginal in terms of volume,” Fetallah Otmani,
managing director of AVS, France’s largest halal certifier, said in an
interview published this year in the organization’s newsletter. “Besides, it’s
an even more interesting target as anything related to Islam is likely to
receive greater political and media attention.”
line of resistance to halal meats relates to quality. Although there is little
about the method of slaughter that should affect taste, there is an impression
in some quarters that halal products are inferior — the sort of food you might
get from a shawarma cart on the street as opposed to a fine restaurant. In
France, insistence on halal meats is seen
some as a rejection of the centuries-old artisanal traditions that have helped
to establish the nation’s gastronomic superiority. Some reports have claimed
that the halal market is like a clearance sale, offering “old animals,
especially sheep, past their usefulness” and “animals whose physical
characteristics exclude them from standard marketing channels.”
are myths that the brothers who run Les Jumeaux have had to push against.
Carcasses hang inside a cooler. (Julien
Pebrel/M.Y.O.P./For The Washington Post)
Muslim. I am an Arab. But I am also producing products of quality,” said Slim
Loumi of Les Jumeaux, noting that the shop produces the same kind of brochettes
and blanquettes de veau beloved by many French customers. “We are 100 percent
halal, but we really are artisanal, and in the French tradition.”
perhaps most of all, halal has been a source of controversy in Western Europe
because, for some, the designation is synonymous with cultural self-segregation
and “Islamization.” This is especially the case in France, a staunchly secular
society, where dietary restrictions that come from religious dictates are often
seen as undermining the ties that bind all citizens.
El Karoui, an adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron and a proponent of
further assimilation, has reinforced this view, arguing that eating halal
products is not so much a religious requirement as it is a “social marker” and
a sign of “the penetrations of Islamist behaviors.” He further notes that
Islamic groups make significant earnings by selling and certifying halal meat,
and he proposes instead that France “run the cult.”
the most explosive topics are public school cafeterias and whether French
republican values permit observant Muslim and Jewish students to skip weekly
pork offerings in favor of “substitution meals.”
right side of the political spectrum, the answer has been a resounding “non.”
This year, Julien Sanchez, the far-right mayor of Beaucaire, in southern
France, outlawed alternatives to pork in local schools. “My decision is so that
the republic wins, that in France the republic has priority and not religion,”
Sanchez told The Washington Post in January.
center-right Mayor Nicole Goueta in the Paris suburb of Colombes has launched a
crusade against halal establishments, insisting that businesses cater to all
customers rather than a select few. One small grocery that did not sell pork or
alcohol was forced to close.
Brazil, a halal churrascaria, has managed to resist the mayor’s demand to start
serving alcohol — but has been repeatedly denied a permit for a lucrative
outside terrace, according to its proprietor.
do you want me to serve alcohol in this establishment? If I rent an apartment,
it would be the same thing as demanding I keep cheese in my fridge when I don’t
like cheese,” said Mohammed Boucherit, 36.
halal butchers and, further down the supply chain, restaurant proprietors such
as Boucherit, the halal issue — if there even is an issue — is hardly about
identity. In communities with large Muslim populations, it is a basic economic
Colombes, Boucherit said, roughly 70 percent of the community buys halal meat.
“There’s a very strong demand,” he said. “As a businessman, why would I do
something counter to the market?”
for some, halal represents an example of the failure of Muslim assimilation, it
also contains the potential for greater integration, through products that are
available to all.
it is marketed as “wholesome, healthy, ethical and nutritious, halal can have
meaning beyond the Muslim community,” said Febe Armanios, the other co-author
of “Halal: A History” and a historian at Middlebury College.
us, what matters is quality,” Loumi said. “We are open to everybody.”