By: Fatima Ashraf Our system of food production is becoming more and more complicated and we are becoming less and less confident in the quality of what’s going inside our bodies. Understanding food today is much more than reading nutrition facts labels. Last month, thousands of people on facebook posted a guide to decoding produce stickers. Four numbers means chemically treated, five numbers starting with an ‘8’ means genetically modified, and five numbers starting with a ‘9’ means organic.
Learning and adhering to our Prophet’s diet is one way to maintain confidence in what we’re eating and to shift to a more uncomplicated foodstyle. There are three practices of Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) that I find especially helpful (and relatively easy!).
1) Eat less, specifically, less meat
Food today is ominous. Generations of humans survived just fine without having vending machines, food trucks, and fast food spots at every turn. According to NPR, the US Department of Agriculture reported that the average American eats ONE TON of food each year. In simpler days, say those of seventh century Medinah, this amount of food consumption would be condemned (not to mention, impossible).
The Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said, “Nothing is worse than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be: one-third for his food, one-third for his liquids, and one-third for his breath.” (Tirmidhi)
When it comes to meat, we all know the dangers of unchecked meat consumption — from food poisoning to chronic disease — and the horrid secrets of the factory farming industry are quickly being revealed to us. According to Dr. T Colin Campbell, author of “The China Study,” eating meat was a classist affair. Our notions of meat and nutrition come from a very biased, elitist, and arrogant field of nutrition in nineteenth century Europe. If you were civilized, you ate plenty of protein. If you were rich, you ate meat, and if you were poor, you ate staple plant foods like potatoes and bread. The lower classes were considered lazy and inept as a result of not eating enough meat.
Even during the period of early Islam, it was the rich that ate meat once a week and the poor that saved it for Eid celebrations. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was not a wealthy man. He did not eat meat often, and he generally warned against meat as he said, “Beware of meat. It has addictiveness like the addictiveness of wine.” (Malik) According to Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, there are no hadith mentioning the Prophet (peace be upon him) eating beef and there are plenty of hadith where the Prophet emphasizes the diseases that may result from beef consumption.
Eating less and eating less meat go hand-in-hand. If you have ever sacrificed or watched the sacrifice of an animal, you know that it is serious business. Ever since my husband sacrificed his first goat, he has reiterated that it is a difficult process and not one that he would like to do over and over again. He surely doesn’t want to become desensitized to taking a life (any life). For me, it’s important to know where my food — especially meat, comes from. If I can’t trace the origin of the animal, it’s part of a complicated system that I’d like to avoid. Putting these two sentiments together results in my family’s dramatically decreased consumption of meat – we either sacrifice the animal ourselves or we go to a trusted, known source like Green Zabiha.
2) Eat locally and seasonally
Prophet Muhammed (peace by upon him) was definitely not getting his dates shipped in from California or his milk trucked in from Wisconsin. His food was locally grown, and therefore, he ate what was in season. There is an ayat in the Quran that emphasizes eating seasonal foods. “It is He Who produces gardens, with trellises and without, and dates, and tilth with produce of all kinds, and olives and pomegranates, similar (in kind) and different (in variety): eat of their fruit in their season, but render the dues that are proper on the day that the harvest is gathered.” (Quran 6:141).
In the book “Green Deen,” Ibrahim Abdul-Matin discusses a hadith that relates that the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), when eating, ate from the dish closest to him. Perhaps the spirit of this hadith can also be used to encourage Muslims to buy food from local sources (the ones closest to them).
Two years ago, my husband and I committed to joining a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture. In our hood of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, a few hundred people gathered together, selected a farmer in upstate NY, and paid him to receive whatever produce his crops yielded for the winter and summer months. Every Saturday morning, we picked up our big box of fruits and veggies, and for the rest of the week knew, without complication, that we were eating wholesome, chemical free foods.
3) Eat with others
While there might not be statistical facts and figures directly proving the health benefits of eating together, there is no doubt that eating with friends and family is far more fun than eating alone. Perhaps sharing your food with others leads to you eating less. Perhaps eating together results in laughter, and well, laughter is the best medicine! The Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said, “Eat together and not separately, for the blessing is associated with the company.” (Ibn Majah)
Anyone who invites guests to his/her house knows this. No matter how nervous you are about the quantity you have for everyone, it is always more than enough. Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) also said, “Whoever has food enough for two persons, should take a third one, and whoever has food enough for four persons, should take a fifth or a sixth.” (Bukhari)
With Ramadan in full swing, you all are likely breaking bread in congregation. Why not try to adopt an uncomplicated foodstyle. As you purify your intentions and seek spiritual renewal, seek a confidence in what you are eating as well.
Fatima Ashraf is former senior policy advisor for health and education to Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City. Currently, in her new role as mom, she is committed to feeding her family and running her household in a health conscious, zero-waste way. She is also a contributing writer for the American Muslim Health Professionals(AMHP) where she has been featured as part of the “Healthy Ummah Series.”
Photo credit from kayepants