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Friday, 6 August 2010

Losing My Religion

I'm halal'd out. The story today is about Harrow, one of our local authorities, offering its primary schools halal only meat in its school meals. The story's everywhere - in the red tops and the "quality" papers.

The reaction has been pretty strong. Despite the fact that a number of the council's secondary schools have been serving halal only meat in school meals for 2 years.

In terms of news management this story has been a disaster for the Council. They clearly didn't expect this story to get out and run  around like a  headless halal chicken. When asked about this a council official replied rather defensively that halal food had been served in some eleven schools these past two years and no one had complained. He didn't say whether parents knew that their little darlings were eating the stuff. But given the current uproar I suspect not.

The BBC news reports state that the catering company involved Harrison Catering Services only uses halal meat, yet typing in "halal" on the company's website search came up with no references. There is nothing on the company's home page to indicate that they only use halal meat.

Halal Food Authority (HFA), said it welcomed the move but stressed that pupils should not be forced to eat halal meat. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB)  said parents who wanted their children to eat halal meat "should be given the freedom and choice to do so"."Local authorities are under a duty to facilitate this," a spokesman said."Those who do not wish to consume halal should similarly be afforded the freedom and choice."

Note: I wanted to link the  MCB to this blog but according to Google their web page  is an attack site which tries to steal information etc..etc. I overruled God Google. So view this site at your peril!!!

In this country we appear to be constantly on the brink of a nervous breakdown when discussing anything to do with Islam. Any incident seems to be seen by one community or another as a slight, repression or subversion.

No wonder neither the council nor the catering company publicise the use of halal meat in their school meals. See what happens when the news gets out.

My immediate reaction was very much the same as The Daily Mail's -  bloody minority trampling over the rights of the majority. Except on reflection I don't think it's like that. And our reaction shows how unsure we are about our own identity.

I'm a vegetarian. I would, I think, not be being over demanding if, on finding my school only served dinners with meat, I asked that some of the choices were vegetarian. I'm not asking that all the food is vegetarian just a choice. I don't mean by that a plate of veg and a lump of cheese, but an alternative comparable to a meat option. In the past no doubt some would say, if you want a veggie meal, bring your own. That of course is simply not the point.

This does not appear to present a problem for either  meat eating kids and their parents, the council or the caterers - they provide vegetarian alternatives.

Now instead of me as a vegetarian, I'm someone who, for equally strongly held views as a veggie, only eats meat killed in a certain way. In fact I'm one of a large number who hold similar views and to be honest there are as many of us as there are vegetarians. Should that pose a problem? If vegetarians can be catered for, why not my group? Where's the distinction?

As the caterer this may pose a problem. First, you have to know how many of us "meat specials" there are. You have to source the meat and have to prepare and cook it separately. Quite a bit of extra cost involved and that would be reflected in the price you charge. (I think it's different from providing a veggie option in that you can get all  the vegetables from a single source. I don't see any preparation or cooking separation difficulties and most, if not all, the veggie choices will be acceptable to meat eaters.)

As a caterer how could you resolve this? You source separately, but that will have an impact on costs.

But meat is meat; do you need to source it separately? Most of your meat eater don't hold strong views on how your meat's killed: but some do. Also, the cost of sourcing the meat killed in a certain way is only slightly more than the usual meat. It is less than the cost of having two separate sources.So it makes business sense to source it from the "minority" source.

I should point out that according to the Daily Mail  Harrow Council said "dieticians recommended the policy due to difficulties storing and preparing two sorts of meat", and that contracts signed with Harrisons stipulate that only halal meat is served. I leave it to you to judge the veracity of these statements.

All meat eaters in schools end up eating my type of meat. Is that a problem?

It could be. Logically all the meat we all eat could end up being killed in this special way - if it is cheaper for the supplier, buyer and in this case council tax payer to do this.

Some might object to the special way the animals are killed, and to their children eating that meat.

Some might object to not knowing  how the meat their kids are eating is killed. Others may protest that a minority group is taking over the eating habits of a generation.

The trouble is it's bringing out all the phobias, prejudices, hates and uncertainties that we have. This story has been grasped by those who think we're over run/subjugated/kowtowing to the Muslim hoards as an example of their overweening influence.

It's a variant of the Jews are poisoning our food scare.

But it is nothing to do with that. It's a question of freedom of choice, respecting the views of minorities. Something we thought we were good at.

It is solved without calling up the spectre of Islamic conspiracies and universal caliphates

By recognising that there is a cost to choice and valuing that choice. Pay for the "inconvenience" in providing choice.

Harrow Council has said it ain't our decision, it's for schools to decide who supplies their food and whether they introduce halal only meats. That's passing the buck. As a matter of policy they can say there is to be choice. But at a cost. Parents/tax payers  then can choose.

Is it really value for money if for the sake of a few pounds, we find we ratchet up the tensions between our communities? And all because of an issue which has nothing to do with religion.


G said...

Halal Food Authority (HFA), said it welcomed the move but stressed that pupils should not be forced to eat halal meat. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said parents who wanted their children to eat halal meat "should be given the freedom and choice to do so"."Local authorities are under a duty to facilitate this," a spokesman said."Those who do not wish to consume halal should similarly be afforded the freedom and choice."

I love the absurdity of this. It is the absurdity of culture itself. It exposes the pointlessness and vanity of many of our preferences and rituals. They are clannish and irrational.

I for one do not give a sweet damn whether someone prayed to Allah over my beef wellington before the meat was sliced from the cow. I would find it fleetingly amusing that my meal was subjected to quaintly suprstitious rituals.

I can tell you for sure that nor the cow did not give a damn either way.

I don't need a 'choice' whether to consume halal meat: only Mulisms and people who hate all things Islamic have any reason to care.

I bet that if someone started farming gay cows homophobes everywhere would come out the woodwork saying that they should have a 'choice' in the matter... LOL.

We need reminded in this insane age that 'choice' is not a human right. There are no real human rights. It's just an idea to make us be nicer to each other. If halal isn't harming non-Muslims; if the meat isn't particularly horrible-tasting, there's no need to invoke 'choice' because there's no real human need involved.

Barry Coidan said...

You might not care whether someone prayed to Allah over your beef Wellington. But others do.

And you can't just say because I don't they shouldn't.

There are things you feel strongly about and should be able to express. You should have the choice and freedom to do so.

Selina Kingston said...

You've made me think long and hard about myself with this Barry, and I don't think I like what I am. Because, my first reaction was to think, "here we go, more pandering to all things islam." But then why should that bother me? Because this is a christian country and they shouldn't be allowed to come here and change the way we do things?? Well that's all very well, but I may call myself a christian and yet I rarely go to church so it's a bit hypocritical of me to use my religion as an objection to this. So then is it the way animals are slaughtered under halal law. I don't actually know. I've heard various horror stories but then, I have heard terrible tales about how much of our meat arrives on our table and over the years I have deliberately chosen to ignore that so I can contine to enjoy eating my Sunday roast without guilt. So again, I have no right to suddenly kick up a fuss now. The point is I want to be angry but I find I have no reason to be, other than because deep down, I, like many others am probably a scared bigot .... and I don't want to be.

Barry Coidan said...

Selina, thank you for your comments.

I believe we're very confused about what we think about Islam and immigrants. It's always been that way, but it's disturbing.

We expelled the Jews in the 1300's; the anti - Chinese feeling in the late 1800's was pretty strong; and I remember the fuss when the Asians from Uganda arrived after being kicked out by Idi Amin. The Irish got pretty short shrift from us as well.

My first reaction was like yours. It's that default that's the problem. I blame the press to some degree: shock stories etc. Politicians haven't really confronted people's fears and concerns (Muslim and the majority)- so misunderstandings, myths and fears get entrenched never challenged. And it doesn't help that the West are again fighting in Afghanistan. And we still see the Afghans through colonial tinted eyes.

Hope you're ok.