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Halal as a dietary ethic

Within the family circle of Muslims in France, halal brings together oral tradition and written religion. Most descendants see the culinary knowledge of their parents as no longer in line with the dietary practices advocated by the Quran. They seek to reconcile the triple alliance between their ethnic, national and religious affiliations through their new food choices.
Halal – diète - éthique
© Getty Images - AFP - Boris Horvat - A halal supermarket, France, 2010

Preserving culinary roots

The phenomenon of migration has influenced the development of halal eating habits in non-Muslim countries. In France, the perception of the notion of ‘halal’ has changed from one generation of immigrants to the next. The first generation was anxious to preserve the past and thus the ethnic traditions of the country of origin were displayed on the table. For example, the poverty of certain Berber populations in Morocco resulted in their ‘enforced’ vegetarianism which influenced their traditional cuisine. However, when they immigrated in France in the 1970s, their financial situation improved. This led to an increase in the consumption of halal meat, until then reserved for important occasions (such as the Eid al-Adha festival). Being able to serve meat every day was considered as a ‘revenge on life’ (Rodier, 2014). This newly-acquired affluence led to a desire to protect their now minority ethnic identity, as well as to display their improved social status to those who had remained in the country of origin. This is conveyed more through a bond with culinary traditions than strict observance of halal standards described in religious texts.

Desire for integration and a balanced diet

The trend changes with the second generation of immigrants, for the most part born and schooled in their host country. They tend to opt for food choices which favour social integration. Their desire to be accepted influences what they put on their plate. They want to stop ‘feeling like a foreigner’ (Rodier, 2014), an impression which their parents’ homemade food only serves to reinforce. Halal has thereby become an important link between their desire to integrate and the preservation of their Muslim identity in a secular country. They believe that their difference may be less noticeable if they choose ‘neutral’ food which creates a distance with both Islam and the food perceived as exotic by the majority culture. Halal certification in the agri-food industry has soared since the 2000s, facilitating this approach. At the same time, many younger Muslims read the Quran, unlike their parents, more reliant on oral tradition. Their parents’ cuisine, while ‘real’ in respect of cultural heritage, is no longer considered as ‘authentic’. They complain their parents have lost sight of the exceptional and sacred nature of meat, which they deem to be too fatty, and urge them to adopt a healthier, purer, more balanced diet. This sometimes results in the gradual introduction of Western products, made possible by the halal label. In their approach, religious belonging and a healthy diet go hand in hand.

Ethical diet

For some, pescetarian and vegetarian diets offer a solution which is compatible with their desire to respect the environment, eat a balanced diet and maintain a sense of religious belonging. In most cases, younger people who abstain from eating meat products describe their choice as an ethical stance with regard to the violent treatment of animals. The fact that slaughter is a ritual no longer suffices to justify eating meat. Meanwhile, for others, a frugal diet is above all part of their lifestyle of asceticism and self-discipline.