At the 2002 State Fair, the Minnesota Pork Producers Association unveiled a catchy new slogan: “Today’s Pork: Created With Enduring Values.” Ever curious, the Gastronomer asked a representative if these might be, specifically, Christian values. According to Muslim values, of course, pork is “haram”—not allowed. To Jews, pork is “treyf,” or not kosher.
“Rural values,” was the artful reply to my query. Of course, this could amount to the same thing. The vast majority of the 2.2 million Muslims and 5.8 million Jews in America are city slickers. Issues of social tolerance doubtless play a role in this, but the proliferation of five-million-gallon hog manure lagoons across the Minnesota countryside might also be a contributing factor.
So when a rabbi was spotted in February near Thief River Falls, it made the news in a big way. A tanker of kosher canola oil had overturned, and the press, as usual, found it very much fer cute that a little guy with earlocks showed up to wave a blessing over the process of transferring the oil to another kosher tanker. The rabbi was really just verifying that the transfer equipment wasn’t contaminated with non-kosher products.
The dietary rules for Muslims don’t make the news as often, despite a large local market for halal products. The Holy Land market and deli on Central Avenue in northeast Minneapolis does a bustling trade in halal goat, lamb, beef, and poultry, as do the Cedar Bakery and Deli and several other metro outfits serving the local Muslim community. While there are significant differences in practice, halal regulations and kosher laws share the same basic foundation, says Iman Ghazalla of the Arab-American Cultural Institute in Edina. Each custom forbids consumption of insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds of prey, pigs, dogs, donkeys, or any carnivorous animal.
Also similar to kosher custom, halal products are subject to certification. Al Safa Halal in El Paso, Texas, certifies most halal products in the Midwest. While their tagline “Hand Slaughtered by a Muslim” may give pause to some, their mission of “Extending the benefits of Islamic dietary laws to Muslims and non-Muslims alike” is a worthy goal, according to Holy Land market staffer Amber Essaid. Both halal and kosher slaughter are more sanitary, more humane, and involve more thorough bleeding of meat than the average factory practices. Essaid says this satisfies more than a spiritual necessity; it’s simply better quality. “You have to taste it,” she commanded. “There’s no comparison.” Whether a halal chicken might taste different than a kosher one, we’ll keep you posted.—Joe Pastoor