Those of you whoe have followed my posts here on the MHK blog as well as my status updates on Facebook and Twitter probably already know that I like to support high quality halal vendors and suppliers and all the products they produce. When I find those people, I like to tell everyone what I know so they can also benefit from the information I’m able to gather.
Whole Earth Meats is one of those businesses I’ve learned a lot about in the past couple of years. They’re a local (to Chicago) company that offers organic, completely halal meats that is grown and processed in the least environmentally-impactful way possible. The main man behind the business, Qaid Hassan, is mindful of every aspect of the farm-to-your-door delivery process and cares about how he can make it possible for people, schools and organizations to be able to afford what he considers the naturally best meat that should be a standard for human consumption.
MHK: How did you get started in the food business?
HASSAN: I got started in the food business on a farm. About ten years ago, I worked on an organic vegetable farm an arrow’s aim away from the U.S. Everglades picking avocadoes and star fruit for personal consumption and harvesting micro-vegetables for trendy, haute Miami restaurants. Sleeping outdoors, under the vast sky brought me immense wonderment.
In that short time spent on that family farm, I had the chance to internalize the harmony of celestial and terrestrial existence.
Honestly, organic just makes sense. It feels good. The other option is antagonistic, aghast, repulsive, and downright egregious to both the living and non-living. If we (and I mean the universal we) don’t make organic the norm, we are in for more trouble. We should yearn, aspire for a time when the term organic doesn’t need to be distinguished; that is, where organic is the only way in which food is produced and harnassed. A time when organic food is found at corner stores, food trucks and public school cafeterias..
Organic is what it must be, for all of us, all of the time!
Whether we are talking about food, facial astringents, sandalwood perfume, or cell phones, organic is the way that keeps some level of sanity for everyone.
MHK: How does organic keep people sane?
HASSAN: Organic food, organic modes of production and processing promotes a more sane way of shopping and consumption because it rids us of ambiguity. A shopper can go into the marketplace with more assurance that the products that she is purchasing good for her, her family, and the eco-system.
MHK: Can you tell us a little bit more about the farmers that supply Whole Earth Meats and why you chose them? How do you get the animals slaughtered halal? Are they hand-slaughtered? If they are hand-slaughtered, are they hand-slaughtered by Muslims?
HASSAN: The farmers that we source from are all small, family farms that are committed to sustainable agriculture. We choose them for their integrity. We choose them because they choose us. It’s a mutual agreement where Whole Earth Meats and the farmers find mutual benefit.
Our animals are hand-slaughtered, by Muslims. I haven’t come upon any hand-slaughtered method that isn’t done by a Muslim.
MHK: Can you tell us a bit more about why it’s so important to take care of what the animals eat and how they live? How are Whole Earth Meats’ products different from the rest of the halal meats we find in the grocery or ethnic stores?
HASSAN: Well, the reality is that what’s naturally occurring on the land where the animals historically have grazed whether in Tibet or Peru is most likely to be of most benefit to the animal. Whole Earth Meats is concerned with the farming methods. WEM is concerned with the way in which the animals are handled. WEM meats are dry-aged. There is a committment not only to the slaughtering method but to the quality of the product- that the animal was raised on grass rather than grain, in the case of cattle, and similarly for other animals. WEM is committed to preserving the ecology through its farming practices.
MHK: We hear all the time that grass-fed beef is better? Can you explain why?
HASSAN: Grass-fed beef (or meat from any rumen animal) is good for you and the environment because it’s an organic way of farming. It’s taking what’s naturally occurring in the land through the normal modes of transport and the simplest ways of achieving the best health of the animal. Grass-fed beef means that the cow gets to do what it knows best, which is graze. Grain-feeding a cow isn’t grazing. The chemistry of the cow is severely transformed and obfuscated. The cow is forced to be something that it wasn’t created to be - a gluttonous, disconnected, sub-species that harms the land, water, and air. By grazing, the cow harnesses the elements. When we buy grain-fed meat, we are indirectly harming our ecology. I have consistently observed whether at a farm or slaughterhouse, that cows that are fed grain are more aggressive and easily agitated. I am sure that to many of us the thought that grain, that food stuff that grows on earth can have such deleterious consequences on animal that eats it sounds ridiculous. But, it’s true. We have to be willing to look past our pocketbooks. If we can’t afford grass-fed, zabiha-halal meat, we should eat less meat.
When we buy grain-fed meat, we are promoting the accretion of cholesterol and fatty deposits around our heart and a number of other life-threatening illnesses. There is no cloud around this topic. This is a fact.
MHK: You’re really interested in building community around your business. Can you tell us how you do that and why?
HASSAN: Most of the time when trying to do this, I start with those most in reach. We try to find folks who are interested in similar things. We are not so effective at doing that, at building community though. Soon, inshallah ta’ala (God willing).
MHK: I know that you do farm tours, as you’ve been kind enough to invite my family to participate. Why do you do these? Do you have information on upcoming tours and how people can get to them?
HASSAN: Farm tours are a way to bring those living in more suburban and urban communities to venture outside and see how food lives and thus needs their continual, heartfelt involvement. It’s intended to inspire an ethic towards preserving the land, water, air, plant, and animal life that too many of us often take for granted.
Because Ramadan is so close at hand, we are scheduling farm tours after Ramadan. None of them are confirmed yet.
MHK: You have some upcoming discounts for Ramadan. Can you tell us a little more about that and how people can order?
HASSAN: We do have discounts coming up for Ramadan. However, our prices are so inelastic that discounts aren’t that common, aren’t that significant in terms of them being a big bargain, and are actually instances when we lose money.
We have a discount on our beef. If a customer purchases one of our bulk orders of beef before July 15th, 2011, they’ll get a 20% discount off of their order. Customers can shop online to find this discount at http://www.wholeearthmeats.com.
MHK: Any last comments you’d like to leave readers to think about?
HASSAN: The thing about our food system as it stands now is that cheap food with cheap prices is what we have become accustomed to and it really hinders the farmer from doing good things for all of us. This is serious. Many organic farmers, purveyors, distributors, and chefs are losing on the profit opportunities in the food industry. The larger corporate convention food-doers are making the bank. Consumers have become so conditioned to opt for cheap foods, discounts, and other supposed ‘sale opportunities’ that they don’t have a true understanding of value. It’s all about getting a deal, a discount. What about quality?! Now honestly, the consumers (most of them) need larger salaries and wages in order to afford high-quality, organically farmed products. It’s a somewhat complex issue, though I believe that it can be handled relatively simply. All of us have to jump on board and be committed.