Barbara Kay: ‘Quebec values’ means no blessings for chickens


National Post - Friday March 16th, 2012

Reuters
Spot the Muslim chicken

I make chicken soup all the time. It tastes great and it’s a cure for everything. My younger sister does too. But she will only use kosher chickens to make it. She swears kosher chickens make the soup taste better. But I think my soup is every bit as good as hers. (Better – please don’t tell her I said that).

Chickens are chickens. I can see why people for humane reasons would want free-run chickens, and I can see why people for health reasons would want chickens raised on grain without being pumped full of antibiotics. But unless you are an Orthodox Jew or practising Muslim, who will only eat ritually slaughtered chickens, and as long as the chickens you buy meet the regulated hygiene conditions set down by the province, who would care if they are kosher or halal?

Nationalist Quebecers, that’s who. There has been no public-health scare and no consumer uprising. And yet all three parties of the National Assembly in Quebec are up in arms over the fact that for the last two years Olymel, a major Quebec chicken processing plant, producing 600,000 birds a week, has been having its poultry slaughtered according to halal ritual and certified halal in order to attract a Muslim market. Which suggests these certified halal chickens have been bought and eaten by ordinary québécois without their knowledge.

This affront to the québécois digestive system was not to be borne in silence. The Parti Québécois called for stricter labelling, because halal slaughter “collides head on with Quebec values.” Liberal Premier Jean Charest jumped on the bandwagon: “I say to those who process [meat] today, if they are halal animals, do yourself a favour as a producer and at the same time for the consumers, and say so on your products’ labelling.”

Not to be outdone, François Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir du Québec, piped up: “We are in Quebec and [halal slaughter] must be an exception,” he said. “It must not be the rule in Quebec. The consumer must be informed when there is halal meat.” Headlines in the front page of the Journal de Montréal blazed: “WE ARE ALL EATING HALAL.

Aiiieeeee!! Pass the smelling salts, Yvette!

People, take a valium, as René Lévesque would have said if he were with us today. Nobody eating these chickens is going to grow a beard or sprout a hijab after their next chicken dinner. All halal means is that the chickens have their throats slit with a sharp, unblemished knife, exactly as in kosher slaughter – that is, just as humanely as any other chickens, except an imam said a blessing over them. An Olymel spokesman noted that the halal form of slaughter is approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The Muslim market is growing fast in Quebec. The French-speaking Maghreb – former French colonies in the Middle East – are producing a steady stream of immigration to the province, whose birth rate is too low to sustain the economy. If they want halal meat and chicken and private companies are willing to accommodate them without any harm to anyone else, and the chickens taste the same as other chickens not blessed by a cleric, what’s the big deal?

It is hysterical reactions to non-issues like this that make Quebec look like the xenophobic society its leaders keep insisting it isn’t.

If not a single party in the National Assembly can distinguish between the real social and cultural harms of, say, demands for prayer spaces in public schools, or teachers wearing niqabs, and the benignly insignificant cultural crossover of chickens blessed by a Muslim cleric; and if all three parties are so irresponsible as to whip up public agitation over this trifle, then they have no reason to complain when the response from outside the province is to accuse them of racism.

Chickens killed according to kosher rituals are clearly labelled as such. And maybe it’s time to label halal products too. But not because eating kosher or halal goes against Quebec values. That’s hogwash, something neither pork-eschewing observant Jews or Muslims will eat, but that is served up in plentiful portions by Quebec politicians and pundits eager to satisfy their most narrow-minded constituents.

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