Halal ... and Locally Grown

July 6, 2008

Author: Tara Tuckwiller

Source: The Charleston Gazette


When Ruby Abdulla moved to Charleston 32 years ago, she and her husband started looking around the grocery stores for halal foods - the only foods that are lawful for Muslims to eat.

"I have to tell you - when we first came here, we couldn't even buy bread," said Abdulla, a realty agent with Old Colony. "Sunbeam bread was the only one that had vegetable oil. The rest of the bread had lard. Cookies - we couldn't buy those, either.

"But things have changed quite a bit."

As the Kanawha Valley's Muslim population has grown, a couple of locally owned stores have started carrying halal foods. The foods must contain no pork or alcohol, among other things, and the meats must come from specially slaughtered animals.

But almost always, those foods are trucked in from out of state. Almeshia Brown, an agriculture extension specialist at West Virginia State University, wants to change that.

Brown is Muslim - and she says she has to buy about 60 percent of her groceries over the Internet.

"Why couldn't we keep that money here in West Virginia?" she asked.

Brown is part of a statewide project to teach the West Virginia public - including farmers, stores and restaurants - about the potential cash cow that is halal food.

"We've got to educate farmers," said Teresa Halloran, a marketing specialist with the state Department of Agriculture, who is part of the project. The department is working on both halal and kosher certifications for West Virginia foods, from honey, salsa and bread to goat, chicken and beef.

"This is an avenue to [farmers] to distribute their meat," Halloran said. "Rather than taking it up to Pennsylvania for slaughter, they could keep it in the state."