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Dare to Ask: Restaurants, recipes and religions



I work at a restaurant that serves beef, chicken, fish and eggs. All fried items are fried in the same pans. If I notice someone is of a religion that cannot eat a particular food, should I advise them of how we cook our food? For example, should I advise an Islamic customer who orders rice and vegetables that these were cooked with beef?

Teresa, 21, Christian, Gurnee, Ill.


I believe it is a patron’s responsibility to ask about such things. If they are seriously worried about such issues, they should be informed consumers. If they are really worried about the possibility of such things, they will avoid restaurants where it could be a problem.

Jared W., 26, atheist, Robesonia, Penn.

Observant Muslims and Jews are allowed to eat beef, but not pork. Observant Hindus are allowed to eat pork, but not beef. Confusing, huh?

Observant Jews and Muslims must have the beef or other meat prepared in a particular way (killed with compassion, etc.) for it to be acceptable. I doubt they would enter a restaurant that did not say “kosher” or “halal” [which means “allowable” for Muslims] in large letters on the windows. So if a Muslim is in your restaurant, and the word “halal” is not on your window, I would assume he or she knows what you are serving and is comfortable eating it.

If you like, you might have a note in your menu stating the food is not halal or kosher, but I don’t think it would be appropriate to “warn” someone from a tradition different from yours that your food is not acceptable to them.

Laurie, 56, humanist, Boston

Expert says:

No one’s going to beef if you’re not chicken about bringing up the pork.

That’s the gist of author Sumbul Ali-Karamali’s advice.

“The ethical thing would be to engage in conversation; to say, ‘In case it matters, I just wanted to tell you this is how our food is prepared.’ That way, she doesn’t even have to enter into the whole ‘in case you’re Muslim’ thing,” said Ali-Karamali, who lectures on Islam and wrote the new book The Muslim Next Door: The Qur’an, the Media, and That Veil Thing.

“For example, it would be good to say, if they order beef, that it was cooked in the same pan as pork . . . that would be very much appreciated.”

Yes, most observant Muslims or Jews are going to already be on their toes when venturing out to eat, but it’s the idea of being sensitive and trying to be culturally understanding as the world shrinks that goes a long way, she said.

After all, you don’t want folks in the same situation she found herself in in seventh grade:

“I was the only Muslim in class, and we’re studying China. A classmate’s mother brought in won tons, and as I was eating one the kid behind me asks ‘What’s in this?’ And it’s pork. There I was with my mouth full of pork. I didn’t know what to do. I can’t swallow, I can’t spit it out because that’s rude. I just sat there, and eventually I swallowed it.”

Never fear, though: “I told my parents later, and they said, ‘It’s OK, God will forgive you.’ “

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