With the industrial food system common to farming in the United States, from the way slaughterhouses are run to the pesticides used on crop farms, Samer Saleh found adhering to a diet based on Islamic guidelines impossible. His solution? He founded his own farm so he and his family can observe the dietary laws of Islam and he can share natural and organic food with others.
In 2013, Samer, originally from Alexandria, Egypt, founded Halal Pastures, his farm in Rock Tavern, New York, 60 miles north of Manhattan. There he and his family raise and sell grass-fed, organic halal beef, chicken, turkey and lamb, pasture-raised eggs, and organically grown fruits and vegetables.
In Islamic law, halal, which means permissible and lawful, describes what a Muslim may and may not eat or drink. For meat to be halal it must not be the meat of animals which are strictly forbidden and it must be raised and slaughtered in accordance with exact rules. For beverages to be halal they must be produced in clean conditions and must not contain forbidden ingredients such as alcohol. Halal bears some similarities to kashrut, the rules set down within Judaism that qualify foods as kosher. Kashrut and halal laws both forbid eating pork, for example.
“In our religion, food truly nourishes your body,” Samer said. “What we put in our food, or even our body, is what we get out. And if the food that we put into our body is wholesome, is halal, is pure, you believe that it turns into good deeds.”
In June 2022, Halal Pastures will begin a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, harvesting custom boxes of produce for local subscribers to pick up at the farm through the growing season.
Activists who support “food justice” work to incorporate eco-friendly standards in the farms producing halal and kashrut foods. While they work to the end of a preserved environment for the future, this aligns with the principal responsibilities of halal. “You don’t want to dirty the land that has been given to you,” Samer said. “You really have to take care of that soil … because this is the soil that will feed generations—and generations after you.”