"Eat from that which is Good" – Chocolate Cupcakes Cross Examined

chocolate cupcakes

On May 21st, I gave a khutbah at the University of Pennsylvania in which I talked about food as it relates to Muslims but examining the Qur’ānic imperative:

كلوا من الطيبات واعملوا صالحا

“Eat from that which is good and perform righteous acts.” Qur’an, 7: 100.

This statement crossed my mind again that day as I stopped in at a 7-Eleven to get a sports drink. Across the cooler, laying inconspicuously, was an attractive looking package [for a junk food addict that is], which read on the front: “Chocolate Cupcakes: rich, chocolaty goodness — mouthwatering chocolate cake covered with chocolate frosting”.

At the same time, a recent converstaion I had with a close friend of mine, in which we discussed the modern woes of food production as well as the absence of any critical Muslim dialog and involvement in it, entered my head.  In the conversation, the brother asked me to watch a video entitled, “Food Inc.“.  The video, which can be seen on Youtube, lays out and illustrates a reality about food production that should of interest to Muslims, especially given the above imperative. During our conversation, I became aware of my own lack of congnisance regarding the subject and have thus endeavored to make myself more aware of its importance.  But in doing so, my desire was to take the conversation about “healthy food” away from the fringe, where it is perceived to be the property and proclivity of vegans, vegetarians and other minority groups who are conscious, and steer it towards the mainstream of the typical Muslim.  In essence, it is my hope that we can have a communal conversation and perhaps even change of action, regarding food, that goes beyond the halāl/non-halāl dichotomy. I also saw it as a missed opportunity that Muslims could have in terms of da’wah and dialog with the broader American public.

But back to our story … So there I was, in a spot we’ve all been at, at some time or another.  Tempted by some sweet delicacy.  And as my hand reached for its cellophane wrapper, brother Muhammad’s voice and conversation entered my head, and I recalled the verse I had recited from the minbar again: “Eat from that which is good and perform righteous deeds“.  And as I did, I glanced down at the ingredients and I must say, it was startling.  Not only for its sheer incomprehensibility and daunting chemical vocabulary, but also at some of the ingredients themselves—my concsiousness made aware from Food Inc.—a few of them stood out, for which I have highlighted.  This is a far cry from the chocolate cupcakes my mother made me as a child!

Sugar,water, corn syrup, enriched unbleached flour and bleached flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, palm oil, eggs, cocoa (natural and processed with alkali), contains 2% or less of the following: modified food starch, dextrose, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate), cornstarch, calcium carbonate, wheat gluten, mono- and diglycerides, chocolate liquor [say what?!], salt, calcium sulfate, methylcellulose, agar, soy lecithin, datem, sodium stearoyl lactylate, cellulose gum, polysorbate 60 [what happened to the other 59?], guar gum, titanium dioxide (color – titanium for color? C’m on!), artificial flavors, lactic acid, sorbitan monostearate, sodium hexametaphosphate, annatto (color), citric acid, xanthan gum, caramel color, preserved with potassium sorbate, sodium propionate, and sodium benzoate.

In light of the above verse and this laundry list of chemical agents, it is high time for Muslims to have a voice in the public discourse on health.  We have our own long tradition of health-related eating practices [both Qur’anic, Prophetic and from the Tradition].  One can walk into any hospital and find a large number of Muslim doctors but how many Muslim public health officials do we have?  I am reminded of Dr. Jackson’s talk on the “quietism” on behalf of Muslims when it comes to race.  I would indeed agree, though I would push it further and contest that Muslims are “quite” on the vast majority of topics that are of interest to the society that they live in as a whole.  How can we remain quiet in the face of not only racial injustice, but of practices on the part of the food industry that have the potential to affect us all?

Food for thought.

Extra Links

  • Halal Scanner: www.halalscanner.com/
  • Halal and kosher food safer?: Scientist Live [is it really? And does halal necesarrily equate “tayyib”/”good”?]
  • American Halal Association: americanhalalassociation.com/

12 Replies to “"Eat from that which is Good" – Chocolate Cupcakes Cross Examined”

  1. AA-

    Amazing how I too recently watched the Food Inc documentary and I must say my eyes have opened up to a slew of related topics, the questionable contents of our food being only one of them.

    GE (Genetically Engineered) seeds for example. Monsanto is one name that we should all become familiar with and not only because of the health hazards involved in GE seeds. I’m actually more put off by their predatory business practices that hamstring local American farmers into dealing solely with their seeds. And talk of their attempts to infiltrate overseas markets is also very scary (http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/05/17-7). Capitalistic greed gone wild!

    Here is a documentary titled ‘Future of Food’ that profiles Monsanto and GE seeds:

    Another worrisome topic is that of the toxic chemical BPA, recently found to exist in dangerous quantities in canned foods and plastic baby bottles.

    And the list goes on. Sadly Muslims have fallen short in calling for a much needed reassessment of our dietary habits. Glad to see you trying to get the ball rolling here.

  2. 1) I miss your khutbahs at UPenn
    2) I am fasting today and these cupcakes have increased the challenge of the day 10-fold 🙂

    Take care brother. Good to hear from you, even if virtually.

  3. @Naeem,

    Wa ‘alaykum salaam. It’s been almost two years since we visited as a group. In sha’Allah, we can make it back again soon to see you all. Please give my salaams to Amin!

    You raise some good points that I didn’t have time to write earlier in the post but the part about seed patenting on the part of corporations such as Monsanto is really striking. I was also struck by some of the info regarding cord fed versus grass fed cows and how that caused issues for the cows, which in turn causes serious health risk issues for people. I would like to try and follow up on that and verify it. I will check out the Future of Food film shortly.

    Let me know if you have any other related material. I will try to compile it on a page here for future reference.

  4. @Amad

    Wa ‘alaykum salaam. Sorry to make your fast more arduous. May Allah strengthen you in the middle of your cupcake crisis!

  5. @All,

    I also think the role that imagery plays in convincing [or even coercing] people to buy food from these vendors. Images that represent a type of cultural purity and innocence that simply does not exist.

  6. You raise some good points that I didn’t have time to write earlier in the post but the part about seed patenting on the part of corporations such as Monsanto is really striking. I was also struck by some of the info regarding cord fed versus grass fed cows and how that caused issues for the cows, which in turn causes serious health risk issues for people. I would like to try and follow up on that and verify it. I will check out the Future of Food film shortly.

  7. Very important post. BarakAllah fiikum. Fast Food Nation is also an important book that will open another discussion. InshaAllah we become more aware of this. For those of us in the Gulf we see that poor health choices and bad nutrition combined with a love for fast food has resulted in obesity. Our bodies are an amana and subhanAllah we need to care for them and use them for doing the good.

  8. Assalamu Alaikum,

    I had read this when you first wrote it, and intended to come back to comment, but went on vacation and forgot, my apologies.

    First (and foremost, as chocolate is always first), chocolate liquor isn’t anything to worrya bout alhamdulilah. It’s non alcoholic, and is simply the processed, unsweetened chocolate in liquid form.

    Second, I can’t tell you how happy I was to see another muslim talking about this issue. There is, alhamdulilah, quite a bit of information out there on the whole industrial food complex, and a growing network of people who are working to reform food policy and the way people eat. I think as muslims, we have a duty to investigate not only if our meat was slaughtered properly, but also the care and raising of the animal, what it was fed, how much medicine was pumped into it, etc etc etc.

    I’ve heard that on the day of judgment, animals will testify as to how we’ve treated them. I really don’t want to be faced with a field of chickens with their beaks clipped off (as industrial farms do so they can pack them closer together in cages) and cows who weren’t fed what Allah (swt) intended them to eat (like tons of grain and rendered bits of other animals), thus causing an increase of ecoli, which in turn contaminates our nation’s crops.

    The blog Civil Eats – http://civileats.com/ – is a good jumping off point, with lots of articles on a wide variety of issues, with suggestions as to where you can look for further information.

  9. Salaam

    This post reminded me of an excellent short talk by Shaykh Hussein Abdul Sattar on eating pure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.