These Aren’t the Halal Foods You Are Looking For

Many moons ago, there used to be this frozen cake that we would get from time to time from the freezer section at the grocery store. This chocolate fudge Pepperidge Farm cake was loved by the sibs and me.

Alas, this story doesn’t have a happy ending.

One day, I was looking at the ingredients of the cake before we were about to eat it and saw something none of us had noticed before: “Hey! This has gelatin in it!”

For Muslims who follow the dietary restrictions, gelatin is a huge no-no since it could be derived from animal sources including *gasp* swine.

We stopped getting it and I’m pretty sure, that even though it happened more than 20 years ago, my brother will still get upset when you ask him about the cake that I single-handedly got banned from the house. He blamed me for being the one to notice the listing of gelatin.

We were always really good about looking at ingredients so I don’t know how that passed us. Growing up, that was a common practice – if we picked up something new at the grocery store, we checked out the ingredients. Gelatin, animal fat, and other such ingredients were instant fails. We never had Hostess brand anything in our house because it has always had animal fat in it, as opposed to something like Oreos that initially had animal fat but then got rid of that specific ingredient, much to the joy of Jews and Muslims. Before that, we were eating Hydrox.

In my household, we always get halal/zabihah meat and if we eat beef and chicken while eating out, it’ll only be at halal restaurants. Otherwise, we do our best impression of pescatarians. (Does anyone else think that “Pescatarian” sounds like a religion? Who knew that it’s the name for folks who have a vegetarian diet plus seafood, not the name for those who worship fish).

Sometimes, our quest to eat the appropriate food would lead us make some ridiculous assumptions, like avoiding gelato when we were younger thinking it had gelatin in it (hahaha! Silly Mozlems…).

I have to admit though, while I am really good at checking ingredients of items in the stores and eating only halal meat, I don’t think twice about certain items when I really should give it at least a moment of thought. Like dessert for example. I don’t know all the ingredients of that chocolate cake I could possibly get from a restaurant, or even what’s in that chocolate chip cookie from the bakery. That’s probably something I should pay better attention to.

However, if something obviously has stuff in it I shouldn’t have, I steer away from it. But what of those times you think you are eating something that is fine but isn’t?

It was for this very reason I was pretty disturbed by Act One in the latest episode of This American Life.

In the story, contained within the episode Dopplegangers, the journalist finds out that sometimes bung is used as a substitute for calamari since it’s cheaper. What is bung you ask?

Hog rectum.

I’ll give a moment while you go toss your cookies.

Granted, if you order fried calamari at a nice restaurant, chances are slim that it is actually bung but man oh man, just the thought that bung could actually be passed off as calamari (which is demonstrated in the episode) makes me feel all queasy inside.

While I do eat seafood, this doesn’t affect me too much though as I don’t really eat calamari. I probably have had fried calamari a couple of times but it’s not really my thing. Honestly, I probably never acquired an interest to even eat it because I always associated “calamari” with Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars/“It’s a trap!” fame since that was essentially his species, the Mon Calamari. So this begs two questions – 1) how does a squid-type character become the commander of a craft not in water but in space and 2) why was he given a Muslim-y name?

This isn’t meant to be an alarmist “Muslim and Jews – quit with the calamari!” type post so I don’t want y’all to think that some random person (me) is telling you what to eat or not to eat. The episode just gave me pause, that’s all. On hearing the entire act, which is a bit hard to get through when details are given, I thought of how much I eat in ignorance despite my best efforts. We do what we can do, I suppose :)

And with that, I leave you with the point of this blog post – Admiral Ackbar may have been Muslim.

NOTE: Even though the second act in the same episode of the This American Life doesn’t have to do with food, it’s still worth a listen.

8 thoughts

  1. How do you really feel when you eat something you shouldn’t? I saw a Muslim gentleman accidentally eat a piece of ham sandwich and he ran to the garbage and started to spit it out. First time he ever ate pork he said.

    1. I feel queasy! I ate chips one time at a Mexican restaurant (the ones that are set right on the table before you order) and then found as I was ordering my meal that everything was fried in lard, even the chips I just ate! I thought I was going to hurl, haha :)

  2. Haha!
    Having grown up in ‘Muslim’ countries most of my life and now living back in England I have to remind myself to check ingredients too.

    When I was in France I tried every supermarket in my area and every brand of puff pastry and they all had ‘alcool’ in!

    Also, spirit vinegar and wine vinegar are okay? That’s what I’ve read because if the thing they are put into is then cooked… it isn’t alcoholic anymore.

    I go to the Pakistani shops for marshmellows and gellies :D All from cow gelatin… or even :/ … fish.

    Admiral Ackbar is too scary for me to watch. Thanks for posting this, it was interesting to read, like most of your blog.
    Salam!

    1. I have no idea about spirit vinegar and wine vinegar. I get so confused!

      I’ve had halal marshmallows but to be honest, the consistency of it weirds me out. I think I’m just not used to it since I didn’t grow up eating it :)

      Thanks for reading!

  3. I’m not Muslim so I don’t live by any dietary restrictions, but maybe I should. It makes sense to be careful about what one eats!

    Thank you for your posts—I really enjoy reading them. :)

  4. :) My sisters and I use to devour that same cake all throughout our childhood and into our 20s. That cake used to be a staple in our household. Thanks for the heads up! Had no idea.

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