Religious Groups Face Growing Criticism Over Traditional Foods

By: Justin Chan

Americans are used to the debate regarding the separation of church and state. For years, many liberals and atheists have argued that religion should have a small to nonexistent role in United States politics while an equally large number of conservatives and the church-going community have argued otherwise. The issue has now shifted to the food realm where some religious groups across the world are criticizing governments for disrespecting their traditional methods of preparing food.

According to CJAD 800 AM, a radio station based in Montreal, two political parties in Quebec are under fire after criticizing the quality of kosher and halal meat. The Parti Quebecois argued that animals oftentimes suffer at the time of their slaughter and the meat is usually unhealthy. One member of the National Assembly claimed that the bleeding of the animal after its death can lead to e. coli contamination, which is a serious health risk. Another party, Coalition Avenir Quebec, has pushed for measures that would require a label on kosher and halal meat. Some politicians, however, are not entirely siding with the criticism. At least one other member of the National Assembly expressed his disappointment at the underlying racism in some of the comments. Lawrence Bergman, a liberal, accused some of his colleagues of "ethnic bashing," since kosher and halal meat are prepared by Jews and Muslims.

Foods are considered "kosher" if they follow Jewish dietary laws. According to the Torah, animals such as chickens, sheep and goats are kosher while others such as pigs and rabbits are not. Kosher animals must be slaughtered in a painless manner and are often inspected for any irregularities. Halal meat is prepared differently in that most animals are usually cut near the throat and hung upside down in order to exsanguinate. Out of religious obligation, Jews and Muslims have prepared their food accordingly for years.

Still, some notable figures have taken the stage to voice their disapproval of the ancient practices. Reuters, for instance, reported that French Prime Minister Francois Fillo urged the Jewish and Muslim communities earlier this month to rethink their ritual slaughtering methods because he believed the practices were "outdated and unjustified." His untimely remarks led to a huge uproar. Approximately 5 million Muslims and 600,000 Jews reside in France, which will have a two-round election in the coming months. President Nicolas Sarkozy quickly attempted to appease the two communities by saying that Fillo meant no harm and did not intend to attack certain religious groups.

At home, in New York, the debate over religiously prepared food has reached a local level. The Daily News reported that Kosher Sports, a kosher food vendor, recently hired a lawyer to represent it in a suit against the New York Mets, a baseball team that has long dealt with a series of financial setbacks. The team banned the vendor from selling kosher food on Friday night and Saturday home games, thus violating a contract that had allowed Kosher Sports to sell glatt kosher hot dogs, sausages, knishes, pretzels and peanuts. The issue has been somewhat complicated, since Sabbath-observing Jews are not even expected to attend games during those days. A lawyer for the team said that the case may lead to even more litigation.

It is safe to say that the tension over ritually-prepared foods will only cast more doubts on whether religion and politics can co-exist peacefully in certain countries. Any debate on the legitimacy of kosher and halal foods seems to only lead to a more heated and serious discussion on ethnic discrimination. Despite their religious differences, both Jews and Muslims have now come together to fight off what they perceive as targeted attacks on their culture. Ultimately, only time will tell whether politics has any place in addressing religious matters, especially those that concern food.

Photo: Christoph Huebner

For more on food news, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

The Hindu Food Fasting and Spiritual Feasting: Karva Chauth

By: Saira Malhotra

This past Saturday was Karva Chauth, the day I was awakened by my mother-in-law at the crack of dawn to eat sweets, Indian stuffed unleavened breads and fresh fruit. To know me is to understand that sleep is the single most important ingredient to get my day started the right way and to know me really well is to know that I am not a breakfast person. Why then, was this day any different? This is the one day in the year when Hindu ladies (particularly from the North) pray for the longevity of their husbands' life by fasting from sunrise to moon rise.

Many cultures have some kind of fasting as part of their rituals. For the Muslims, there's Eid, for the Jews, there's Yom Kippur, for Christians, there's Lent and for Hindus, there's Karva Chauth.

Like most Indian festivals, Karva Chauth is a lively and colorful affair. Ladies wake up at around 4am, eat a breakfast of sweet milk -cooked vermicelli (apparently, designed to make you feel less thirsty), barfis (Indian fudge) made of condensed milk, dried fruits and of course something a bit more substantial 'parathas'. Just before the sun rises, they complete their last bite and take their last sip before renouncing food and drink until moon rise. For the rest of the day until late afternoon, the ladies are off the hook and do not require to do anything but pamper themselves and look pretty in bridal colors of pink, red, gold and orange (in all fairness, I do raise doubts about how pampered one can feel on an empty stomach.) The afternoon is a collective affair where female friends and family members pass around respective trays filled with karvas (candles made of dough), nuts and water in a circular motion 5 times while chanting prayers 'puja'. After the puja, ladies wait in eager anticipation for the moon to illuminate the sky, when they can complete their prayers and open their fast in the presence of their husband.

Some consider this day as yet another way to demonstrate the oppression of women, however, to try and label this tradition without truly understanding its origins would be a deficit. This auspicious day has been celebrated for centuries by women, and originated at a time when men were at war and women would pray for their safe return. It is also yet another festival in Hinduism which demonstrates the intricacies and importance of relationships. The holiday starts of the night before when the mother-in-law gives the daughter-in-law sargi. This consists of sweets, bindis and sindoor (both of which are symbols of a married lady). There is also a real sense of community as women collect in large groups to pray and open their fast, while children watch this circle of candles in astonishment.

A tradition that is symbolic and ancient like karva chauth is still very precious to Hindu ladies all over the world regardless of progressive thinking. The holiday is rooted in tradition and yet it also brings with it an overarching feeling of romance and appreciation (for both the husband and the wife). The abstinence of food for a day is also a great lesson in restraint and will power leaving you feeling with a great sense of achievement. As for me, the buildup is always more challenging than the day itself and somewhere during the day, I am sure my body is thankful to me for giving it the day off.

Photo: arunjrk

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