“O, for a morsel of food free from wrongdoing [in the eyes of God] and from the favor of any creature!”—Sufi Imam Sari Al-Saqati (circa AD 850)
“Naturally the girls do not get any pork or shellfish,” begins Santa Fe Chef John Connell. Connell is on the board of directors for Creativity for Peace, a local program that brings young women from Palestine and Israel together at a summer camp in New Mexico to promote awareness, acceptance and reconciliation. Connell first became involved as the camp cook in 2003. “The first year I was involved, they requested lasagna often. They are not big on creamy dressings and Western cheese or milk products, but labne (kefir cheese) is a staple in the fridge.”
Childhood memories of visits to the US revolve around a trusty backbone of kosher products we were never without in our Muslim household: kosher hot dogs and Hydrox cookies instead of ballpark franks and Oreos (in the ’80s, the white fillings of the latter were still made with lard). My first Shabbat, observed in college, was a vegan meal cooked in earnest by an assortment of young hopefuls, all part of a burgeoning on-campus group called Jews in the Woods. I was charmed by their idealism and their folk music, but the gluten-free piroshkies? Not so much. I stopped for a cheeseburger and an ice-cream float on the way home.
Local chef, caterer and radio personality Stacy Pearl explains, “Some people’s idea of kosher is a bit twisted at best. If someone calls me to do a kosher event, the first thing I tell them is as soon as the food enters my kitchen, it is no longer kosher.”
Though Pearl herself does not keep kosher, she shares tales of a dynamic upbringing with resolute glee, saying, “My dad was raised strict Orthodox in a Hungarian Jewish family on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He remained kosher until his days in the Air Force during WWII; although the Army supplied kosher rations for all the Brooklyn Jewish boys, he discovered bacon, and the rest is history.”
Pearl’s father is not alone in his concession, and it’s not uncommon to find both secular and practicing Muslims and Jews embracing a paradigm rife with loopholes: eschewing certain practices while staidly observing others.
Santa Fean Randy Forrester, who has excavated Israeli archaeological sites, notes, “Old dietary laws were created at a time when food preservation was a problem. While they made sense at the time, such as not eating pork, shellfish, certain types of fish, birds, game, etc., they really don’t make culinary or nutritional sense now. Complying with archaic food laws from the Old Testament, while not complying with the other laws of religious texts relating to punishment and persecution, strikes me as a bit arbitrary.”
Is there a Muslim cuisine? No, but unlike Jews, Muslims do not share the perception of a common culture forged by religion, and thus there has never been a distinct Islamic cuisine, per se. What Muslims do share is a common theme of etiquette and regard toward handling and consumption: always eating with the right hand, taking only from the circumference of the bowl and never blowing on hot food, for starters.
Santa Fe chef Joel Coleman, who claims he cannot live without pork, shares that his best memories are simple ones, and that they really started happening after he became a chef. “My favorite may have been a fresh loaf of challah made by my friend Matt. Another would be the best latkes ever, made by a chef in Vermont and served with beautiful lox and maple syrup crème fraîche.”
Columnist and religious teacher Terry Mattingly writes, “It’s clear that Muslim and Jewish mothers have much in common.”
Indeed, the laws of Dhabiha halal and kashruth share a number of similarities. Though the methods and protocols for slaughter are similar, and both religions prohibit eating meat killed any other way, kosher laws are exhaustively specific beyond the scope of halal. And though halal-certified products are not considered kosher, the question of whether or not Muslims can use kashruth standards as a replacement for halal’s remains, like nearly everything when it comes to spirituality: entirely discretionary.