Halal à Go-Go

Fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s, Subway, and Kentucky Fried Chicken are customizing their menus to target a new kind of customer: Islamic individuals looking for a meal on the go.

As reported in the Chicago Tribune (requires registration) and the National Restaurant News blog, several chain restaurants are revamping their menus to include dishes that follow Islamic dietary rules. This means that meat must be halal—slaughtered according to certain rules. Thus far the experiment has been limited to a few outlets located near large Muslim populations in New Jersey, Chicago, and Dearborn, Michigan.

But the combination of halal and large-scale fast food has run into problems. For meat to be truly halal, it must be slaughtered by hand and prayed over, something that is difficult to do in the quantity needed. As the Chicago Tribune article reports, “Muslims are divided about whether that can be reconciled with poultry-plant practices of machine-slaughter and stunning the animal before slaughter.”

Some companies claim that, while machine slaughtered, their meat is halal, but Syed Rasheeduddin Ahmed, founder and president of the Muslim Consumer Group, doesn’t believe it. “The machine slaughters 142 chickens per minute,” Ahmed said. “He cannot say ‘Allahu Akbar’ [God is great] for each one.”

Some chains, such as Brown’s Chicken, are going out of their way to uphold the strictest halal standards when it comes to meat (called zabihah), since it is in their interest to do so. “The Muslim community is growing, and they’re looking to eat American-type food,” said Frank Portillo, president of Brown’s. “It’s just a real growth market.” The chickens that Brown’s buys for their halal outlets are grain fed and hand slaughtered.

But don’t look for halal meals at your neighborhood McDonald’s just yet. For a restaurant to be considered halal, it must not serve pork, and I can’t see Mickey D’s taking those Egg McMuffins off the menu any time soon.