Sunday, January 13, 2013

Why McDonald's is not halal: Part 2

In Part 1, I suggested three guidelines to eat halal, according to how eating and drinking are spoken about in the Quran.
#1: Halal is moderation.
#2: Halal is good, clean, and pure food.
#3: Halal is local, organic, and/or fair trade.

I find this topic important because debates around fast food and halal only talk about whether the meat was slaughtered in a halal way (by hand, with a knife, with the name of God pronounced on it), or grilled on separate grills from bacon, or whether it is permissible as Muslim minorities to say bismillah before eating any kind of non-pork meat. For an example of this dominant kind of reasoning, see how Jamal Badawi answers a question as to whether fast food is halal.

Hint: The answer starts with 'N' and ends with 'O'.
But now I want to get into the dirty business of showing why McDonald's and other fast food corporations do not follow the Quranic guidelines for halal (lawful) and tayyibat (good, clean, pure). Almost every aspect of global fast food corporations like McDonald's is neither halal nor tayyibat, from the content of their food to the very philosophy that drives their business. 

Violation of #1: McDonald's items are all excessive in calories, saturated fat, salt, and/or sugar.

This is no secret. Even an internal memo once popped up stating that "We can’t really address or defend nutrition. We don’t sell nutrition and people don’t come to McDonald’s for nutrition." A Big Breakfast is already a whopping 560 calories, with barely any precious micronutrients from fruits and vegetables. An average burger is around 300 to 400 calories, with almost half an average adult's saturated fat intake. You could eat all of these fruit and vegetables below for less than 300 calories, no fat and tons of vitamins and minerals (but most people wouldn't).

A burger or papaya, carrot, apple, orange, dragonfruit, cucumber, chye sim?

Diabetes, hypertension and heart disease are the top diseases among Singaporean Muslims. These conditions are also very highly correlated to our diet, fitness and weight -- and therefore inarguably preventable. Our body has it's God-given laws. Eating excessive amounts of fat, salt and sugar is a transgression of those laws, resulting in clogged arteries, high blood pressure, low energy, and so on.

In high school I knew a friend who ate McDonald's every day. Check out the documentary Supersize Me by Morgan Spurlock and Food Inc. for the effects of that.

Verdict? An average serving of fast food fails the principle of moderation. However, you could limit the damage to your body by severely limiting fast food to say, half a burger, once a month.

Violation of #2: McDonald's items contain highly-processed foods: high-fructose corn syrup, processed meat with additives, and refined and bleached flour. 

Even if you try to minimise the amount of fat and sugar by adding more lettuce and tomatoes on a McChicken, or having a McGrill without sauce because it "seemed so healthy", the problem lies in the very ingredients and processed nature of these foods. With the exception of lettuce and tomato, everything you see in a burger has been refined in one way or another. (Well maybe fries, but they have never pretended to be healthy.)

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is basically a man-made sweetener which has been linked to obesity. While there is nothing wrong with sweet foods (our bodies do crave something sweet now and then), there is a vast difference between natural sweeteners like raw, organic honey or blackstrap molasses and HFCS. The former contain many trace nutrients and minerals (taking a tablespoon of organic molasses each day can even eliminate menstrual pain), while HFCS is pure sugar, with nothing else of benefit to your body. (Fun fact: a 500ml cup of iced Milo is an insane 600 calories of sugar.)

Processed meat is another set of problems. Compare a cut of meat from the butcher to the meat patty in your Prosperity Burger -- does it look anything alike? Even though McDonald's boasts of using 100% beef in its patties, this could come from any part of the cow, including fat, gristle, offal -- you just don't know what you're eating. Add to this mystery meat a whole list of additives, flavourings, and chemicals, some of which we know are harmful, some of which we don't know yet. The fish used in Filet-O-Fish is a combination of white fish, including a mostly tasteless pollock that requires added chemical flavourings.

The buns used on burgers contain 32 or more ingredients (in comparison, bread only needs flour, yeast, water, and salt). These superfluous ingredients are basically describe additives, preservatives and emulsifiers (those 'E' numbers).

The cells in our body are built from whatever we put in it. In other words, what we eat now becomes our body later. Eating additives and chemicals will produce low-quality cells and our liver spends precious energy to process all these strange chemicals. Eventually, our immune system weakens from not getting enough vitamins and minerals.

Immortal cheeseburger = not halal.

Verdict? A sign that a food is pure, clean and good is that it rots quickly, because other organisms, which instinctively follow God's laws, actually want to eat it. Another sign is if it's something that your grandmother would serve. If your cheeseburger doesn't rot, chances are it's not good to eat. McDonald's meat may be ritually slaughtered, but as you can see this is not the only criteria.

Violation of #3: McDonald's imports its french fries and other frozen products in from USA.

Importing any kind of food from around the world has its environmental costs. While their vegetables and beef could be sourced from closer to home (e.g. Australia, Malaysia), all of its french fries are imported frozen from USA, and processed from the same kind of potato (Russet Burbank). That's why their french fries always taste the same, no matter which outlet you go to in the world.

Violation of #3: McDonald's supply chain is linked to rainforest destruction, animal cruelty, child labourunsustainable fishing, and reduction in biodiversity

Enough said. Why do you want to support a company like this? Every burger you buy is a vote for their destructive global actions. A bite-sized summary on environmental damage and animal cruelty here.

Verdict? These are definitely examples of 'abuse on earth' (2:60), which we have been warned against.

Violation of #3: McDonald's workers are underpaid and work long hours.

While there is no minimum wage anyway in Singapore and no possibility to unionise, McDonald's pays the lowest out of all fast food restaurants at S$3.50 to S$4.00 per hour. They also show a preference for young workers, who can show enthusiasm and energy to their customers. This discriminates against the elderly and traps young people into a precarious, low-paying, part-time job with no extra benefits.

For every McDonald's or fast food chain that opens in a town, a small local independent business does not get the chance to establish itself. The 'specialised' menus in different countries also aims to get people to stop eating healthier traditional foods by creating sad, industrialised substitutes. (See the 2012 ad for the Prosperity Burger.)

More information about worker exploitation and neocolonialism here.

Verdict? Definitely 'oppression of others' (20:81), which we must consider and strive against. The whole concept of industrialised food is to create as much profit in as little time as possible. The care and consideration of humans, animals and our environment is far down the list. This is the opposite of what we are encouraged to do in the Quran.


Now what?

I hope I've convinced you that no matter what legal certification McDonald's or other fast food corporations have, the quantity, quality, and sourcing of its ingredients, together with its relationships to people and nature, show that their food is far from being tayyibat and halal.

You can make changes! Just like the different levels of fasting, we don't have to jump to the third level. We can always start with whatever we are eating, and apply the first rule of moderation. Once we're used to not eating so much, we can start by changing the kinds of food we eat. Finally, try to improve the sources of your food.

As stewards of the earth, we can eat our way to a better life, inshallah!


Anonymous said...


I read this and got convinced. I wanted my brother to read it too to see his thoughts on it.

I apologize on behalf of him if it sounds insulting, but I'm looking forward to your reply on his reply :

" Violation #1's premise for argument is flawed. By that rationale, Subway, Ayamas and The Chicken Rice Shop would be not Halal. Read : MODERATION. Eating ANYTHING in excess obviously makes it Haram. And even then, THAT condition of Haram applies to that individual who eats more than necessary; just because YOU eat it in excess (hypothetical, jangan perasan), that doesn't mean it is Haram for anyone else. Look it up.

Violation #2 Nothing wrong with high-sugar corn syrup. Not good in excess, as I've explained, but if you use up all that energy later doing work, then what's the big deal? The meat that we use obeys local halal standards; JAKIM would NOT give the Halal stamp otherwise. I cannot vouch for meat in the United States.

Violation #3 The first assertion makes absolutely no sense. Why would you import potatoes from overseas, when a profit-maximizing firm knows bloody well that growing potatoes locally is far cheaper.

The second assertion, no real substance provided for child labor, biodiversity and fishing ( THE ONLY FISH PRODUCT IN MCDONALDS IS FILLET O FISH!!! YANG LAIN DAGING!!! ) Rainforest destruction? Seriously? Everything we do in the world causes rainforest destruction whether you like it or not. Beli perabot kayu tuh, rasanya datang dari mane? Tapi perabot balak tak haram pulak...

People CHOOSE willingly WHAT they want to eat. McDonalds is not forcing them to eat their stuff.

We live in a world where business is like this, and by her rationale, everything Muslims do nowadays is Haram. Using Facebook is Haram. Using cars is haram. Because the global economy relies on oppression, and there's nothing you can do about it."

Sya said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks! It would be helpful to have some context of your background. Since he mentioned Subway, Ayamas and The Chicken Rice Shop, and JAKIM, I'm guessing Malaysia. Since I don't know the last two food chains, feel free to make up your own mind about whether it's something tayyib to eat.

To start with, saying that something is not halal or tayyib doesn't mean that I'm saying it's haram. Don't mean to be playing semantics here, but clearly I'm no person to be saying that something is haram (leave that up to the men in long beards). The point of this article is to shake up the way people in SEA think: that if something has a halal sticker, it automatically is good for us. When it may very well contain something harmful for our bodies, society, and our environment (and therefore, not tayyib/halal -- these two come together). The reason why McD and other fast food joints can get a sticker is because of the criteria of 'halal', which only focuses on ritual cleanliness, but not actual health. For example, JAKIM will check that there is no pork or alcohol, but they will not check for E.coli bacteria.

1. When I say excess, I mean the product itself is excessive in nature (i.e. high in fat, sugar, salt). I gave an example of moderation when addressing this point.

2. I'll agree to disagree with you. There's plenty of research on HFCS that you can read about, because this is not a scientific/nutritional blog. Have you ever visited the slaughterhouses where your meat comes from to see the "local halal standards"? My point is that any kind of bureaucratic "halal standards" has its shortcomings about tayyib (again, it only ensures ritual slaughter, not always well-being of animals. Plenty of research out there about this, read it.), and we of course can choose to think more about it or not.

3. Good point. But economics goes further than that. McDonald's uses the same potato in ALL of its outlets in the world. It's cheaper for them to do this than to source local potatoes because it has a monopoly in the USA (that can sometimes be cheaper than the cost of looking for local sources in every country they operate in).

4. Re: child labour, biodiversity, fishing. Click on the links, read them, do some basic internet research. If you don't care about rainforest destruction or the oppression of people in producing your food, good for you. May God preserve you as a khalifa on earth.

5. Funny, that's what McDonalds' said too, when they were sued. I'm not forcing you to NOT eat fast food, I'm only giving my point on view on my blog. Feel free to continue eating since you disagree.

6. Again, at the risk of repeating myself, I am not saying fast food is haram. If JAKIM, MUIS and the many others say it's halal, you are free to 100% follow what they say. We choose our battles, and I'm not picking this battle to argue about global oppression (too much information available out there).

Sending you peace and wholesome well-being!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...