I let forth a sigh upon reading the Daily Mail’s “scoop” on Subway’s “new” (as of 2007) halal menu last month; according to the article, 185 British branches saw fit to acquiesce to the acolytes of Allah by making their meals Muslim-friendly, removing pork from their platters in the process. Being partial to a bit of swine on my sub, I found myself rather chagrined by this apparent capitulation to culinary caliphatism; it brought to mind Domino’s Pizza pulling the same (short-lived) stunt several years back. As such, I found myself in agreement with IJ Review’s Kyle Becker on the pulled pork debacle:
Subway is a business doing what businesses do: looking out for its customers’ interests in neighborhoods around England.
But it’s how Subway is doing it that’s more than a bit ironic, given how tolerance is supposed to be a two-way street.
Beyond that, though, I could hardly bring myself to give a fuck regarding the sanctity of Subway’s meat, given the volume of less prestigious eateries I frequent where halal flesh pretty much covers the backbone of the beast. Significant segments of Britain’s press and public, however, didn’t share my nonchalance, seeing the Mohammedification of their menu as some sort of Shariac infringement on the sanctity of the Sceptred Isle and its treasured tradition of curry houses. Ire intensified the following week, with restaurant chain Pizza Express hitting the headlines for incorporating Islamic ingredients into its specialties; once again, the papers and the people panicked at the presence of fatwa’d fauna infringing on the integrity of an otherwise proud and pure nation of beer ‘n’ kebab connoisseurs.
As far as delayed reactions go, this one comes at least half a century late.
Still, as with the horsemeat hoo-ha from last year, this outbreak of halal-tosis emits a whiff of validity; folk want to know what they’re eating – at least some of the time — and clearer and correct labelling would be a boon for those who lack the nous and nerve to go on a Google search. A little choice goes a long way toward defusing cultural tensions, and may even win a few PR (and PC) points with the nation’s Sikhs, whose culinary concerns seem to have been overlooked in favour of the appetites of those adherent to Allah.
On top of this, certain voices spoke out against the very practice of ritual slaughter, citing animal cruelty, rather than aesthetic taste, as their point of concern. By the common understanding, livestock slaughtered in accordance with Islamic instruction does not undergo stunning before being slit from ear to ear; an understanding that led to the Danish government outlawing such slaughter, along with its kosher equivalent, back in February (to the predictable ethno-solipsist mewling of Israeli Rabbis). As with Denmark, animal welfare advocates hollered about the atrocity of the Allah-toir.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom, however, the difference between halal and secular slaughter is next to negligible on UK shores. As the Guardian’s Saeed Kamali Dehghan points out…
According to Islamic principles of slaughter, which is referred to as dhabihah halal (lawful slaughter), one must use a sharp knife to kill animals for food. Butchers, required to recite a prayer and give animals water before killing them, are strictly instructed to make sure they endure as little pain and distress before death as possible. Muslims (observant and non-observant) also believe that the swift and deep incision made by the halal slaughter, resulting in a sudden loss of blood from the animal’s body, leaves the meat more hygienic.
For centuries, halal methods were considered a healthy and appropriate way of handling meat which also minimised cruelty. Of course, thanks to animal rights defenders, we have known for some time that pre-stunning is a more humane form of slaughter. That is why, at least in the UK, the overwhelming majority of animals slaughtered according to Islamic principles (88%) use pre-stunning. A large number of Muslim scholars have endorsed pre-stunning and rendering animals unconscious before slaughtering them. This is where the objection to halal slaughter on animal rights grounds begins to look spurious.
It is true that many Muslim countries still refuse to practice pre-stunning, but this sadly also happens in a large number of non-Muslim countries across the world. And in France, conservative groups defend the right to continue producing foie gras in the traditional manner, regardless of the cruel way ducks and geese are fed and killed. But when it comes to halal meat they talk of animal cruelty.
The approach of these studies can be summarised as follows:
Experiments for measuring the heart frequency and brain activity during slaughter conditions were carried out on 23 sheep and 15 calves. After implanting permanent electrodes into the Os frontale the cerebral cortex impulses were measured for 17 sheep and 10 calves during ritual slaughter and for 6 sheep and 5 calves during captive bolt application with subsequent bloodletting. Some sheep were additionally subjected to thermal pain stimuli after the ritual cut.
The investigations had the following results:
a) For slaughter by ritual cut:
1. After the bloodletting cut the EEG initially is the same as the EEG before the cut. There is a high probability that the loss of reaction took place within 4 – 6 seconds for sheep and within 10 seconds for calves.
2. The zero line in the EEG was recorded no later than after 13 seconds for 17 sheep and no later than 23 seconds for 7 calves.
3. Thermal pain stimuli did not cause an increase in activity.
4. After the cut the heart frequency rose for calves within 40 seconds to 240 heart actions per minute and for sheep within 40 seconds to 280 heart actions per minute.
b) For slaughter after captive bolt application:
1. After captive bolt stunning all animals displayed most severe general disturbances (waves of 1-2 Hz) in the EEG, which almost with certainty eliminates a sense of pain.
2. The zero line in the EEG was reached for 4 calves after 28 seconds.
3. For two sheep the cerebral cortex activity only stopped in one half of the brain, whilst it continued in the other in the –region (up to 3.5 Hz) until the bloodletting cut.
4. The bloodletting cut resulted for all animals in a brain activity (e and d waves).
5. Thermal pain stimuli caused an increase in activity in one sheep.
6. The heart frequency rose directly after stunning to values above 300 actions per minute.
In any case, all this puffing and preening over whether secularists or salaamists make for the more “ethical” butchers doesn’t obscure the reality that, one way or another, some animals, somewhere, get slaughtered for my sustenance. Of course, I’m all for avoidance of “unnecessary” slaughterhouse suffering prior to proceedings, but whichever way you cut it, it still bleeds out. Savouring the “sacrifice” strikes me as the best (main) course of action for a committed carnivore like myself – all meat is halal to me.
As long as my co-infidels dial down the whine and Muslims and dhimmis keep their hands off my swine, we’ll all get along fine.