Since converting to Islam, I have been attempting to gradually change my life habits to conform with the teachings of Islam. The main area this affects is food, since the Qur’an strictly forbids the consumption of alcohol and pork.
Alcohol was really easy for me to give up– I never drank it very much anyway, and never liked the effects it produced. The fact that alcohol is forbidden in Islam has been one of the things that made me see the truth of Islam– forbidding alcohol is such a wise thing, yet so difficult for humanity to have issued themselves, that I felt it must have come from the wisdom of God. Throughout my life I have seen the devastating effects of alcohol use and abuse. Drunkenness has always been something I abhor and I am grateful to say that I have never been drunk myself.
Pork was not that difficult for me either. My family occasionally ate pork, and especially bacon, but it was never something that was a big part of my life. Plus, before I heard about Islam I had heard that pork often carries dangerous diseases and is a filthy animal. It’s funny that the first place I heard of this was actually in the Bible, in the Old Testament. Yet, Christians today continue to eat pork even though it was forbidden in the Old Testament …
I had originally thought that following these food restrictions in Islam would be very simple and black-and-white. But I have since learned that our society today has integrated alcohol and pork products into so much of what we eat that it is actually much more difficult than I thought.
The first thing I learned about was cheese. Most cheese actually is made using rennet, which comes from the intestines of animals. Most cheese manufacturers use rennet from pigs, although some also use it from cows. Rennet is often labeled as an “enzyme” in the ingredients list. Since finding this out, I have been careful to try and select cheeses that do not use animal enzymes, only “microbial” or vegetarian enzymes. Although this has been very difficult, I have found a great selection of vegetarian cheeses at my local Whole Foods store.
Cutting out cheese that uses animal enzymes has meant that there are a lot of processed foods, too, that we no longer eat. This especially means frozen meals, mac’n cheese, and even simple cheese alfredo to use with pasta. In our busy lives it is often hard to find time every day to make a nice, wholesome meal every night. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE cooking! But I don’t always have the time to make what I want to. Sometimes we need to be able to throw something together really quick, and frozen meals and pasta come in handy at those times. I especially used to love Stouffer’s frozen meals, since they were easy and tasted great too.
Fortunately, I have recently found some great alternatives to traditional frozen meals: Amy’s. I found Amy’s at our local Target, back in the last part of the frozen foods section, next to Kashi and other organic “whole” foods. Amy’s has a large variety of organic, vegetarian frozen meals, and the best part is, Amy’s is clearly marked with the “K” for kosher (Jews follow most of the same rules that apply to Muslims regarding food, such as in this case cheese not being able to have pig or non-kosher animal enzymes). They usually taste pretty good, too– at least, for frozen food that is!
The Muslim Consumer Group has been a great resource for me in helping to understanding which foods are halal or not. You can even search for specific products on their website to see what their verdict is. You can find them at http://www.muslimconsumergroup.com
Here are a list of a few of the cheese products that I was happy to find that the Muslim Consumer Group has verified as halal:
- Sorrento Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese (Walmart brand)
- Daisy Low-Fat Cottage Cheese Small Curd 2% Milkfat
- Philadelphia Cream Cheese
- Cabot Sharp Cheddar Cheese
- Kraft Strong Mozarella 2% Milk
- Amy’s Cheese Pizza
- Cheez-it Original Snack Crackers
- Sara Lee Smooth & Creamy Original Cream Cheescake