Archive for August, 2015
It was a cold winter afternoon when we got the news – WorldMontana had been chosen to host a group of Iraqi high school students during their visit to Helena MT the following summer. We were ecstatic! But there was a lot of work that needed to be done. Hosts needed to be tracked down, programs needed to be built from scratch, and I needed to learn as much as I could about Iraq to make their visit as comfortable as possible. Immediately the most important questions sprung into my head: What do they eat in Iraq? I had heard that they have some set of rules about what was acceptable to eat, but I had no notions beyond that. So I set out to find the answer…first by turning to the Internet.
Oh, the Internet…perhaps I should have expected to find information that was…dubious, at best. This is Iraq we are talking about! People on the internet, waiting in the comments sections and lurking in close-minded sinkholes of western homogeneity had some very choice words to say about Iraq, Iraqis, and their traditions and culture. It took a lot of slogging through misinformation, hate, and bigotry to find some havens of accurate information that I was later able to verify by consulting with the Islamic Center of Bozeman and Carroll’s own Dr. Jeanette Fregulia, a frequent flyer to the Middle East and scholar of Arabic history. Turns out there were nuanced answers to the questions that I thought were fairly straightforward. I learned fairly quickly about the concept of “Halal”, or “permissible”, a descriptor attached to meat, drink, and other foods. Several sites told me that Halal could be compared to the idea of kosher foods so common in America, that it represented a set of rules for eating food. The opposite of Halal is “Haram” meaning “forbidden”. Haram foods include pork, meat from predators and scaled animals, carrion, alcohol, and any meat not prepared in the correct custom according to Islamic Law.
Meats that are Halal must be slaughtered in a specific manner, the animal’s throat is cut and the blood is drained out. Before the slaughtering process continues, the animal must be dead. Also, the individual wielding the knife invokes the name of God during the slaughter, thanking Him for the meat that will be consumed. Furthermore, the animal must not witness other animals being slaughtered, the blade used to make the cut must be clean and sharp (and not sharpened in view of the animal), and the animal must be in a comfortable position. Any meat that is not prepared in this way is considered Haram. Fairly straightforward. So would the students be looking for Halal meat here? If they do want to stick to an all Halal meat diet, they might have a hard time here in Helena. Only a few stores carry Halal meat (Safeway and Costco are the big two), and the selection is not always the most expansive…but it’s rather expensive. So what are these Iraqis going to do!? I was scrambling to track down how to ship Halal meat from across the country (or more likely Australia, where a surprisingly large amount of Halal meat is produced) so that we could feed these kids!
I was calmed down considerably by a conversation with Jeanette, she suggested the novel idea that maybe the students won’t eat meat every day. Huh. Imagine that. Montana is such a meat-centric community that I had gotten caught up in my own biases of what a “normal” dinner looks like and was projecting those ideas on to the students and families they would be staying with. Maybe we could not eat steak and potatoes, or hamburgers and fries, or pasta and meat-sauce at every meal? But, as it turns out, we learned more about the students that were coming, and we found out that several of them had not been keeping to a Halal diet in the US, and were just fine eating whatever American food was put in front of them. Apparently this is not all that uncommon, especially when Muslims are traveling. These students were probably briefed on the different food culture that America has and have mentally prepared for it. Some of them might actually look forward to enjoying food that normally would not be available to them. Just like Americans enjoy Asian dishes like sushi or squid soup when traveling that normally would not be considered “fine-dining” in the US. But in the end, it will be up to each student to decide what he or she will eat, and it will be up to the host family to be gracious and accommodate that decision. Hopefully our students will enjoy vegetarian and halal food here in Montana and maybe a few of them might feel adventures enough to try a big ole’ Montana bison burger.
For a list of Halal and Haram foods I would recommend this Australian site –> http://www.icv.org.au/index.php/publications/what-is-halal
WorldMontana® will soon host a group of young Iraqi leaders here in Helena. These students will be staying with families here in town as they learn about life in Montana and in particularly our love for the outdoors and our natural resources. WorldMontana® ‘s friends at Plymouth Congregational Church sponsor a presentation at the end of the students’ trip through Montana where they will be invited to speak about their experiences in America as well as their lives back in Iraq. The students will speak at the church on August 19th at 7PM and will present a video that they will put together during their time in Helena. All are welcome!