In meat descent? Seek out Muslim suppliers

Mama G (Mom to the Left) described her family’s meat reduction and functional vegetarianism. She would, she says, buy meat that was slaughtered fairly and (I intuit) was easier to get than an hour-long run to the closest Whole Foods.

I am no vegetarian but I eat very little meat. In the last seven days, I have had a taste of Hubby’s lamb at one of our favorite — but soon to close — Chinese restaurants and a roasted chicken thigh from a Pakistani take-out yesterday. Like Mama G, I’m concerned with inhumane raising of animals and their slaughter, labor conditions of slaughterhouse and packing employees and the environmental costs of eating meat. I suppose I have a health concern, too, but that accents — not drives — my desire for more ethical outlets and reduced consumption.

When I owned a car and cooked meat at home, I would drive to one of a number of Muslim groceries or butchers in the suburbs and buy halal meat. Perhaps that’s an option for Mama G and those in a similar pickle. Why?

  • I may be wrong, but halal slaughter isn’t as industrialized as commercial meat slaughter.
  • Meat slaughter isn’t a happy affair, but I would rather see it handled by someone with a sense of divine responsibility than not; there’s no point for the butcher to be dehumanized or the animal conceptualized as a messy protein blob.
  • Working in smaller quantities, I had a better idea of where the livestock came from — like the time I saw a goat carcass unloaded from a truck identifying a West Virginia farm.
  • I get a sense more of the beast is sold and used.
  • You aren’t going to get pork, which is O.K. seeing how miserable the conditions are for factory swine.
  • Halal meat is usually cheaper than kosher or organic/fair/Whole Foods-like meat, since cost is a consideration. For lamb, it tends to be cheaper than ordinary grocers, too.
  • You sometimes have a real service butcher who can cut meat to your specifications.
  • You can sometimes get other staples there, like feta cheese, olives, pita bread, peas, tea and spices that might be unavailable or more expensive elsewhere.

Failing a full-service halal grocery, sometimes you can get halal meat in a cryovac pack or, as with my chicken thigh, eat at a halal restaurant (many of which have good vegetarian options, too.)

Lastly, there’s an affirmation of American pluralism that comes from conducting business outside your ethnic and religious custom; indeed, I bet a few dozen regular non-Muslim customers at a neighborhood halal grocery might start to build bridges that community meeting and rallies never could.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Actually, I think all of your points are valid (except maybe the divine desponsibility) by any local butcher.

    I have spent my time in meat packing process plants, as a contractor, and there is no doubt that if you are not prepared it can be a daunting first visit. I also saw a lot of people who took a great deal of pride in what they did, who cared that they were making a quality and safe product.

    Of course these are facilities where the animal is delivered already dead, and having never been to slaughter house I do not have first hand knowledge of those. Years ago I helped with a pig slaughter. That is where a few families got together and do all the slaughtering and butchering in the same day, and your right it is not a happy buisness – but then again, knowing that at the end of the day you would have a freezer full of meat and a way to feed your family over the next 6 months is a decidingly happier feeling then not having those things.

  2. Ah, but around here were have three kinds of true local butcher: the extraordinarily expensive ones for gourmands and embassy folk, kosher butchers and halal butchers. We also have local farmers who bring in their meat to market days i cryovac bags. I think that this last is probably the most responsible but I was thinking of what’s most widely available — at least near cities — and reasonably priced. (If I was in a rural area, I might check with a deer processing plant. Also, my alma mater has or had an animal husbandry program and a quiet little meat sales room.)

  3. Agreed on the Halal butcher. Happy pluralism note: in deepest Oakland, CA there is a store with two signs on it, “halal” and “carniceria” (which is “butcher” in Spanish)! How’s that for hybridity.

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