Brands such as Omnipork from Hong Kong, Phuture Minced Pork from Malaysia, and Impossible Pork from the US are becoming more familiar in Asia’s food scene. But do these products, which use the word “pork” in their name, appeal to Muslims in the region?
Of Asia’s 4.14 billion-strong population, 27.5 percent, or 1.14 billion people, are of the Muslim faith. One of the rules of Islam is to abstain from eating pork, a food considered haram, an Arabic term which means forbidden. Other haram practices include the consumption of alcohol and gambling.
Indonesia is home to 225 million followers of the world’s second largest faith, making it the largest Muslim nation in the world. The majority of Indonesia’s Muslims are conservative, therefore any food with the name “pork” in it still holds negative connotations – regardless of whether it has been certified halal (permissible or lawful in Islam).
Indah Kusmini is a practicing, albeit liberal, Muslim living in Jogjakarta, Indonesia, a city which is considered to be more conservative. She believes having the word ‘pork’ in the name of the product will deter Muslims from trying the product. “I think most Muslims would avoid buying any plant-based meat with the word “pork” in it, even if it has a halal certification,” she tells me. “Hearing the word ‘pork’ in the name gives me doubt to buy it.”
According to Kusmini, the topic of plant-based pork is a sensitive one and must be approached with some delicacy. “This is due to deep-held philosophical and social stigma around the consumption of pork, which is strictly forbidden in our religion,” she explains.
For younger Muslims living in big modern cities, the sentiment is different. Lisa Joesman lives in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, and works for an environmental NGO. She feels there is no moral dilemma so long as she can read the ingredients to ensure it actually is 100 percent from plants.
Omnipork, Phuture Minced Pork and Impossible Pork are not readily available in Jakarta, but if they were, Joesman admits she would try it. “I don’t feel there is any moral dilemma around eating a plant-based pork alternative,” she says. “I can just check the ingredients to make sure there’s no actual pork in it.”
Echoing this sentiment is Erika Anindita, a millennial who lives in Jakarta.” I would love to try it since it’s plant-based and has a halal certification,” she says. When asked if she would feel morally conflicted for consuming such products in any way, she answered, “I wouldn’t feel conflict because it is plant-based, so it doesn’t contain any actual substances from the pig.”
Anindita says there are social connotations attached to the consumptions of such foods. “I think people would be afraid of the discourse that may follow if they choose to consume foods with the word “pork” in it,” she adds.
Kusmini urges us to imagine this scenario: A Muslim person goes to the supermarket and puts a pack of plant-based pork in his or her shopping trolley. He or she then bumps into a friend, who sees the pork product in the trolley, but doesn’t understand that it’s not actually made from pigs.
“This could lead to all kinds of questions being raised about his faith, which could ostracize him from his community,” Kusmini says. “Until every single person in the country has been educated and fully understands the ingredients and reason behind plant-based pork products, this will continue to be in the back of our minds when thinking about the consumption of such products.”
And it’s not only in Indonesia that the view of using the word “pork” in plant-based products can lead to confusion. In neighbouring Singapore, 14 percent of a population of 5.7 million identify as Muslim (Statista, 2018). According to the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), foods with the word “pork” in it may cause “confusion” since it is a clearly prohibited food item.
MUIS says it needs to be studied whether there are any negative social consequences of consuming such foods. Their current advice to Muslims in Singapore is to refrain from the consumption of plant-based pork items.
If brands wish to truly infiltrate the vast population in Muslim-majority countries with their plant-based pork alternatives, they may need to consider using a different name to avoid social shame and misunderstanding. Muslims such as Kusmini agree that this would make the products more appealing and accessible to people of her faith. “If it was named Omnimeat or Phuture Meat, I would have no hesitation to buy these products,” she shares.