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March 2007
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Muslim Perspectives

Let's Slow Down on Fast Food!
By M. Hanif Lakdawala


Commercially, the Muslim consumers constitute the core of what is perhaps the largest market sector in the food industry. It’s high time Muslim groups and NGO’s start demanding halal food.


• Aftab Ahmed, 21, regularly consumed non-vegetarian food in the restaurants. He is not aware whether the food served was halal or not.

• Rubaida Khan, 29, loves cake and pastries. She regularly consumed them without knowi-ng that most of them which are sold in posh outlets are prepared by adding wine and brandy to make them soft.

• Javid Alam 18, loves sweets and candies oblivious of the fact that most of them contain pig fat as an ingredient.


Many of us waiting anxiously in line at the posh fast food joint may wonder whether the food we are about to eat is halal. With fast food, the answers are not so cut and dry. It is not simply an issue of avoiding pork or meat. For example, there may be bread and vegetable products fried in animal fat. That is why it is a good idea to choose a purely vegetarian or vegan diet if you have to eat at a fast food joint.


Many Muslims are ignorant about the food being served in the restaurant or sold in super market. They have no idea if it is halal or not. In determining whether a food is halal or haram (forbidden), various verses of the Quran are frequently referred to: “He hath only forbidden you dead meat, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that on which any other name hath been invoked besides that of Allah. But if one is forced by necessity, without wilful disobedience, nor transgressing due limits - then is he guiltless. For Allah is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful” (Quran 2:173).


“O you people! Eat of what is on earth, lawful and good (wholesome)...” Quran (2:168).


This means that the food must be:

a. Permitted, i.e. not pig, blood, carrion, having claws or talons, killed by strangulation, a violent blow or a fall, gored or killed by wild animals.

b. If it is animal, it must be slaughtered according to specific parameters of Islamic law.

c. Be it animal, vegetable, fruit, grain or seafood, it must be good, wholesome, healthy, and untainted during the stages of processing, packaging, storage, transportation or transaction.


These parameters define the eating habits and by extension, the purchasing preferences of Muslim around the world. These parameters are, essentially, non-negotiable, they are unmoved by fad or fashion, they are not subject to age, income or geography, and are all the more powerful by not being enforced. They are the parameters of a people who choose, freely, to eat what is lawful.


Unfortunately, a cursory visit to shopping malls or markets reveals that Muslim families flood local fast food restaurants and junk food joints. What most people do not know is that junk food refers to foods containing high contents of saturated fat, sugar and salt and very low levels of proteins, vitamins and roughage. Basically, fast food is processed food, but what is processed food to begin with? Processed food is simply food that has been altered in a factory from the way in which nature presented it, as part of a bulk process where natural and chemical food additives are added.


This leaves the final product without its naturally created nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Besides giving the food its delectable taste, food additives keep it lasting and unspoilt for a long time, which means that processed food is usually stored for a long time before it is purchased and eaten! The oldest natural food additives are salt, sugar, and vinegar, and although these are natural, an excess in their amounts seriously endangers the health.


Junk foods characteristically contain high amounts of salt (sodium chloride). Sodium is necessary for various metabolic functions; too much of it, however, is associated with an increased risk of hypertension (high blood pressure). Hypertension is a known risk factor for heart disease.


With the advent of processed foods in the past 30 years, there has been a massive explosion in the chemical adulteration of foods with additives. The western influence reached Muslim families through the electronic media and our middle class started considering it fashionable to eat junk food. This led to a mushrooming of fast food restaurants all over the country attracting even Muslims from all spheres of life.


Thus dietary habits changed and people, instead of taking a normal balanced diet as prescribed by Islam, are now frequently opting for sodas, burgers, French fries and other oily foods without realising that they can suffer from obesity, nutritional deficiencies, diabetes mellitus and even heart diseases.


There is a need for the Muslim NGOs to organise public health campaigns emphasizing the benefits of taking a balanced diet and restricting consumption of fast foods. People should be made aware that this costly junk food having absolutely no nutrition is not only harmful for their body, but also creates a hole in their wallets. Also it is against the spirit of Prophet Muhamm-ad’s (Pbuh) teachings.


Commercially, the Muslim consumers constitute the core of what is perhaps the largest market sector in the food industry. Thus Muslim groups and NGO’s should start demanding halal and wholesome food. The industry must take notice and provide Muslims with halal and wholesome food.


It is not just the Muslims who purchase and consume halal food. Significant and so far un-quantified numbers of non-Muslims eat halal food, partly by coincidence, but increasingly by choice. Food producers from all parts of the world have made the conscious decision to ‘go halal’ with their product range. And why not? A huge sector of the market insists on it, and the rest are all happy to eat it as well.


(The writer can be reached at mhl@rediffmail.com)