Freshness and quality are the keys to Zayed’s success. Three other Egyptian Muslims perform the ritual Islamic slaughter, zabiha, early weekday mornings. The cleaned animal is made to face east toward Mecca, the spiritual center of Islam. The butchers say the prayer bismellah, “in the name of the God,” over the animal. They cut the animal’s jugular vein. The animal must be conscious so its heart can pump out most of the blood in its body.
Under federal and state regulation, both halal and kosher slaughter fall under ritual meat processing laws. Rabbis are authorized to perform kosher slaughter, a ritual that also cuts the jugular vein to force out blood. Stunning, shooting, and sticking the animal’s hide are forbidden.
All other kinds of slaughter in the United States require that the animal be stunned either by an electric shock, or a shot in the head, between the eyes and ears.
At large plants for regular meat processing, this process is mechanized. But at Badr Halal Farms the entire process is done by hand. The carcass is thoroughly rinsed to remove all blood before it is inspected. It remains hanging, chilled, and unpackaged until it is moved into a refrigerated truck that will take it to market.
Unlike what most Midwestern consumers see at the grocery store, the head, heart, and liver remain attached to the entire carcass until it reaches the specialty ethnic and religious butcheries where the meat is sold. Zayed said the presence of these organs guarantees local freshness and customers prefer regional meat that has not been frozen.
Many Indian and Pakistani buyers cook with the heart and liver—which can be hard to find here. The importance of freshness is one reason why halal meats don’t often make it into the typical grocery store.
“The US system is set up for a huge amount of very heavy consistent demand,” said Hannah Lewis, a master’s student in rural sociology at Iowa State University.
Many immigrants, accustomed to fresh slaughter rather than frozen packaged meats, choose to buy a live animal and take it to a meat locker.
Bud’s Custom Meats in Riverside, Iowa caters to this custom market, allowing individuals to perform their own ritual slaughter.
Caleb Hunter, Communications Director of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship said no inspection is required for meat slaughtered for personal use.
Owner and operator of Bud’s Custom Meats, Doug Havel, said that his business is 75 percent custom, and he has worked with several international customers from diverse religious backgrounds.
Havel was raised Christian in Riverside and acknowledged that the area was just white and Christian when he was young, but is becoming more diverse with time. “[Being a butcher] has helped me a lot over the years as a person. Now some of my good friends are black,” he said.
For Havel, ritual slaughter is business, and as long as it is humane, he takes no moral issue with it.
On a smaller scale, many Amish farmers also sell and slaughter animals on their private farms. This private slaughter for personal consumption is legal under state and federal regulations.
One Amish farmer in Iowa slaughters sheep and goats for private consumption regularly in addition to selling chickens and eggs. In the past he took orders from Muslims in other states to come to his farm and slaughter 30 sheep in one day.
When he found out that this was associated with Eid-al-Adha, or the Muslim feast of sacrifice, he stopped taking the orders because the ritual conflicted with his beliefs. The Amish farmer believes that Jesus Christ is the only true sacrifice, and now only does business for individual slaughters for personal consumption.
For his family and their business, what matters is the common need to put good food on a family’s table.