Halal in the Family

sonsacrifice.jpgA Son’s Sacrifice is a 27-minute documentary about a halal slaughterhouse in Ozone Park, Queens, run by a Bangladeshi immigrant and his son, Riaz and Imran Uddin; the film, by Israeli-American Yoni Brook and Kashmiri-American Musa Syeed, who met while studying at NYU Film School, has just won Best Documentary Short at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival. Beyond the clear Ibrahim/Abrahamic allusion, the title refers to son Imran’s decision, at age 27 and holding a degree in communications from Clark University, to return to Queens and take over the family business. From an article in the Queens Times-Ledger:

The film is not just about a live meat market, according to its makers. It is a metaphor for the immigrant experience. Brook described the proliferation of live markets in and around New York City as an act of defiance against assimilation. It is an opportunity for immigrants to allow their American-born progeny to experience directly the culture of home by witnessing halal ritual slaughter.

I don’t know that I’d call that “defiance against assimilation” — it might just be evidence of a different kind of assimilation or, since the whole idea of “assimilation” is both so imprecise and so loaded, maybe we should just be talking about the constant process of formation of metropolitan culture in the era of globalization. In any event, the film earned an item in yesterday’s New York Times, in which the reporter visits the slaughterhouse:

All these creatures had arrived from farms and had taken up temporary residence at the Madani Halal slaughterhouse on 94th Avenue near 100th Street in Ozone Park, Queens. An occasional feather drifted to the concrete floor, and a stillness pervaded the air. [...]

Last week, the regulars drifted in, bypassing a large Pathmark on Atlantic Avenue for the quiet industrial side street where Madani sits in a squat red brick building. Most customers headed straight for the poultry. [Link]

In addition — and in an interesting bit of cross-promotion for the film, the slaughterhouse, and inter-community understanding — the producers held a “HalalFest” two Sundays ago:

To celebrate the films screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, the filmmakers threw a block party Saturday at the Madani Halal Live Lamb Goat and Poultry Market. Tables groaned with halal foods donated by local West Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants. Little girls lined up to get their faces painted and hands decorated with mehendi, or Indian body art. Kids flocked to a petting zoo while young men gathered for a pickup game of cricket on 94th Avenue. Live performances included music and dance from the Bangladeshi Institute of Performing Arts, Kashmiri-American band ZeroBridge, Guyanese singer Nadir, and hip-hop b-boy Fable Pabon and members of the Rock Steady crew. [Link]

I’m bummed I missed this! Did anyone here attend the event or at least get a chance to see the movie? Apparently it will be shown on PBS sometime later this year.

31 thoughts on “Halal in the Family

  1. The HalalFest sounds fascinating in and of itself, what a desi appropriation of the American “street fair” template! You have to wonder about that petting zoo, though…hope the poor kids didn’t get too attached to any of those critters.

  2. Great observation SP! And yeah, I kind of had the same response to the “petting zoo.” But hey, we meat eaters would do well to attend the occasional slaughter. Keeps us honest.

  3. Assimilation is very different for people living in an ethnic neighborhood in the city than it is for desi’s living in the suburbs..

  4. Interesting post, Siddhartha, thanks. One of the things I’m curious about is the similarities and differences between kosher and halal. The little I know suggests they are related in some way, and I wonder how observant Jews kept kosher when they first arrived in the late 1800s, especially in New York – and how, in fact, the ultra-orthodox do it even today. I know there are large kosher slaughterhouses now, and have seen packs of ‘kosher’ hot dogs and what-not, ‘certified by’ some Rabbi somewhere, but I would be surprized if the ultra-orthodox would be happy just with that. So there may well be neighborhood ‘kosher slaughterhouses’ just like this one, elsewhere in the metro NY area. I’m surprized that a reporter for a paper like the NYT would completely miss that whole angle, and bring in the ‘defiance’ of assimilation angle instead. Maybe I shouldn’t be.

  5. Slaughter houses have high turnover rates of employment due to the gruesome cruelty of their atmospheres. Only management and execs stay longterm.

    Sad that someone’s “connection” to their “culture” has to be killing animals. Weird.

  6. Chachaji, I’m sure there are kosher slaughterhouses in the NY area. Halal and kosher are very similar–the principle is the same but the blessings are different, and the actual methods and practice may be too. We only eat kosher meat at home since my husband is semi-kosher, and a some of it comes from butcher shops that slaughter it on-site.

  7. Well, maybe not “on-site” but not from a small, not industrialized slaughterhouse.

  8. desishiksa, thanks much. I meant specifically neighborhood, small-scale slaughterhouses, run by one or two people, catering to a small, ultra-conservative clientele, who might want to be doubly sure that it is ‘being done right’. If these exist, and if kosher is so similar to halal, then the NYT piece contributes to an ‘otherizing discourse’ by not bringing up the similarities and mentioning the kosher slaughterhouses.

    BTW, I’m not fully sure I understood what you meant by ‘blessings are different’. Do you mean the words said are different in meaning? Are you able to elaborate? Thanks again.

  9. i was invited to go by friends but declined since it was so out of the way. I had NO IDEA what it was even about- i just heard it was a movie about a slaughterhouse, and they were throwing a block party with a petting zoo. i wish i had gone!!!!

  10. Sorry, can’t really elaborate–everything I know about it is anecdotal. But my sense is they are more similar than different, and that neighborhood kosher butchers do exist. For any slaughterhouse to be billed as kosher, though, it needs to go through a pretty rigorous process so I would imagine that even Empire kosher chicken, which is almost as ubiquitous as Perdue, might meet a pretty strict person’s standards.

  11. I loved the title of this post. I was just explaining to my kids who Archie Bunker was last week! Very witty.

    But hey, we meat eaters would do well to attend the occasional slaughter. Keeps us honest.

    I am in complete agreement with you about this here. I think it’s very educational and people should be more informed about where their food comes from and also appreciate the people that work hard to bring that meat to the table.

    We have both an Arabic and an Iranian film festival in June or July here every year (large influx of Arabs, Lebanese, Afghanis and Persians down here). I’ll keep my eyes open for it and let ya’ll know.

    The film festivals sometimes coincide with the annual Lebanese festival and though they are called “Film Festivals” they are actually huge food festivals that sell to ticket and non-ticket holders. The whole city looks forward to it, especially the food (yes, I’m talking about Virginia).

    Siddhartha, you want I should email you when, so you can take a roadtrip and partake?

  12. Sad that someone’s “connection” to their “culture” has to be killing animals. Weird.

    That was my initial reaction too. However, If people are going to eat meat…maybe this is preferable to the insanely cruel way most animals are raised and slaughtered in this country. And if their connection to Islam and their culture causes them to treat animals humanely…then this is a good thing.

    But hey, we meat eaters would do well to attend the occasional slaughter. Keeps us honest.

    Absolutely correct. If everybody had the courage to visit a slaughter house and see how animals are slaugtered, I think more would be done to ensure that these poor animals are treated humanely.

  13. The whole city looks forward to it, especially the food (yes, I’m talking about Virginia).

    It doesn’t get much better than Lebanese food. My parents visited Beirut in the 70s…it truly was the ‘Paris of the East’ as people called it. Gorgeous climate, beautiful culture and traditions, nice architecture, wonderful music, and a sophisticated and liberal urban scene. Much like Kashmir, a beautiful blend of natural and man-made splendor and an ages-old culture was destroyed by war, politics, fanatacism, and hatred.

  14. Edgware Road in London — best Lebanese food in the world (except for Lebanon)

    I went to the Czech Republic for a friend’s wedding and they slaughtered a pig for a barbecue in the back garden for the barbecue the weekend before the wedding. I made myself watch it because you should watch this kind of thing sometimes, and didnt feel too bad. Tasted nice the next day.

  15. halal and kosher are very similar–the principle is the same but the blessings are different, and the actual methods and practice may be too.

    muslims in areas where they isn’t halal will buy kosher. the rule of thumb my family practiced was that if it is kosher it is halal, but the reverse is not so (kosher rules are stricter). also, fish aren’t covered by it, so you can get meat that way.

  16. Edgware Road in London — best Lebanese food in the world (except for Lebanon)

    Southall Broadway…best desi food in the world (including India)…just kidding…but still very delicious.

  17. Speaking of England…ajj kal Jai Singh kitthe rehnda hai? Jai yaara, if you’re reading this, give us a shout.

  18. That was my initial reaction too. However, If people are going to eat meat…maybe this is preferable to the insanely cruel way most animals are raised and slaughtered in this country. And if their connection to Islam and their culture causes them to treat animals humanely…then this is a good thing.

    um, if Halal slaughtering is anything like Kosher slaughtering then it’s neither humane, nor quick nor anything that would suddenly elevate the act above what it is: the killing of a very large animal, by means of stringing it upside down (or horizontally in a movement-restricting cage somewhat similar to the stocks) and shoving a knife through it’s unbelieving cow gullet and blood vessels. I really don’t see the humanity inherent in that act. Praying over it doesn’t change the character of the action itself–brutality incarnate.

  19. i don’t want to be that guy, but am i the only one here who thinks ‘halalfest’ should be called ‘staph aureus fest’. or perhaps ‘diarrhea fest’. ok maybe i’m that guy.

  20. Muralimannered,

    I had no idea. I thought the main idea in Halal and kosher butchering was to make the killing as painless as possible.

  21. I had no idea. I thought the main idea in Halal and kosher butchering was to make the killing as painless as possible

    Why would you assume that? And wouldn’t it be better to educate yourself about something before formulating an opinion about it?

  22. I was also under the impression that “halal” was a more humane way of killing than not.

    I guess I wanted to give the benefit of the doubt to the man who devised this method — Prophet Muhammed.

    I figured since he was a pious, God-loving and meditative spiritual leader, he would also have the best interest of animals in mind.

    My impression was that in those days, in that region, not a whole lot of meat was eaten, and the meat that was — well the prophet allowed for it but put rules around it so that animals would not suffer so much, but the ideal would have been to forego as much meat as possible (keeping in mind it is a desert region), so as to inflict as little pain onto another living creature as possible, keeping in line with my concepts of compassion and what it means to be God-loving and loving towards God’s creatures.

    Maybe back in those days the halal method was the least painful. Nowadays we have different technology though.

  23. Why would you assume that? And wouldn’t it be better to educate yourself about something before formulating an opinion about it?

    I assumed that because people who are jewish and muslim told me it was so. Sorry for annoying you with my post Amitabh.

  24. I assumed that because people who are jewish and muslim told me it was so. Sorry for annoying you with my post Amitabh.

    Sorry for my tone.

  25. AMA

    One of the other sanctioned-by-religion methods of slaughter is ‘Jhatka’ – Sikhs follow this method . It involves a quick , clean cut (in one ‘jhatka’) to the animal’s neck instead of waiting for the blood to pulse out through cuts . A historian friend tells me that the friction between the Sikhs and the Mughals led to the Halal method being proscribed for Sikhs . The Jhatka method was a commonly used one by Hindus and was adopted/inherited by the Sikhs and considered a method that set them apart from Muslims . I am digging up info about the background of religious sanctions/strictures about the two methods to back up her assertions . But either way , like you suggest , a visit to a slaughterhouse is a good way to understand where our food comes from and what happens to our food before it reaches our tables – especially if it leads to better pre-slaughter treatment of the animals . Though maybe not an interesting visit for children (a petting zoo? at a slaughterhouse? urgh) . I doubt many can stomach watching the Halal method – its heartbreaking to stand there and watch a living animal bleed to death . The Jhatka method is a little easier to take , though the post-slaughter twitching (and once , running!)is BIZARRE in the extreme . I live in a somewhat rural community here and see both methods fairly regularly . Maybe an introduction to the untold story of food should begin in Jhatka slaughterhouses (are there any such places) and then move on to Halal – no religious angle , purely from the point of view of squeamishness . And yes Amitabh , like AMA says , our neighbourhood butcher (Muslim) picks Halal as the more humane method . He tells me the thoughts of the person doing the slaughter are full of regard for the animal and he conducts it in a spirit of thankfulness (translated quite loosely , I admit) .

  26. Why eat Halaal meat? B’coz When u cut an animal in the halal way all the disease of the animal (if any) is let to flow out with the blood. With Jhatkaa it just stays with the meat.

  27. halal and kosher meats are slaughtered in the most inhumane ways. they let the animal bleed to death. a slow process.

    in america, cows in processing plants are shocked first then while under unconsiiounseess are killed. the cows don’t feel a thing. I am sure it doesn’t work all the time, but at least an effort is made.

    The more I think about it – we should treat all animals kindly. I mean, we’re eating them, the least we can do is treat them well and not let them have pain at our benefit, especially since we’re the cause of their death.

    I’m sure if we wanted to do, this could be done, but of course, it would cost money. \

    Best thing to do is avoid halal or kosher meats. The fact that blood is left to drain out, really, doesn’t in my opinion make the meats better. I am sure there are other reasons to buy kosher meat or halal meat, but I can’t imagine all the claims are true, or practiced all the time.

    Organic meats, free-range chicken for instance, are supposed to allow chickens to roam freely. There are also cattle ranches where they prefer the cow be left to roam and hence happiier, which produces better meat. It’s been proven that an animal who is stressed, will tense its muscles and produce tougher meat.

    I would gladly pay a bit more / or eat slightly less knowing that the animals were treated and killed humanely.