Middle-class Muslims Fuel French Halal Boom

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

french halal Retailers and restaurants cash in on rapidly expanding and highly profitable market in halal food and drinks

Halal butchery and poultry shelves in a supermarket in Illzach, eastern France. Photograph: Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images

Few things define the traditional good life in France better than champagne and foie gras, but few would have thought them symbols of social integration – until now.

A boom in sales of halal products, including alcohol-free bubbly and goose liver paté approved by Islamic law, is being driven by the emergence of an affluent middle class of young Muslims.

Known as the beurgeois – a play on bourgeois and the word beur, slang for a French person of North African descent – these new consumers are behind a rapidly expanding and highly profitable market in halal food and drinks.

With spending power worth an estimated €5.5bn a year, according to the opinion pollsters Solis, these under-40s are forcing international food suppliers to cater for their demands.

Yanis Bouarbi, 33, an IT specialist who started the website paris-hallal.com, which lists restaurants in France serving halal food, says young Muslims are at the heart of a mini social revolution.

“When our parents and grandparents came to France they did mostly manual work and the priority was having enough to feed the family,” said Bouarbi, who arrived from Algeria at the age of three.

“But second or third-generation people like me have studied, have good jobs and money and want to go out and profit from French culture without compromising our religious beliefs. We don’t just want cheap kebabs, we want Japanese, Thai, French food; we want to be like the rest of you.”

The demand for halal products, currently increasing by an estimated 15% a year, has captured the attention of food giants such as the supermarket group Casino, which has stocked an increasing variety of halal foods – mostly meat products – for the last three years.

The fast-food chain Quick has a number of halal-only burger bars; the opening of the most recent caused a political storm before the regional elections last month, but the row has since blown over. Muslim corner shops selling exclusively halal foods and drinks including eggs, turkey bacon and pork-free sausages as well as alcohol-free “champagne”, known as Cham’Alal, are also flourishing.

Halal foie gras, first introduced into supermarket chains across the country two years ago at the end of the Muslim feast of Ramadan, has proved an unexpected success. “It’s one of our best sellers; we have around 30 foie gras bought a day,” Cyril Malinet, manager of a major Carrefour supermarket, told Libération.

Annick Fettani, head of Bienfaits de France, which specialises in halal duck, said: “Until now we’ve had to fight to sell our foie gras but today everyone wants it.” Bouarbi believes the halal boom is taking place because young Muslims have more money. His website now lists more than 400 restaurants in Paris and its suburbs, and he plans to expand it to other French cities.

In Paris’s trendy 11th arrondissement, Les Enfants Terribles restaurant, run by brothers Kamel and Sosiane Saidi, serves halal French haute cuisine. “Before, Muslims wishing to eat halal would go to a restaurant and it was fish or nothing. Now we have a choice,” said Sosiane, 28, who worked in the property market before setting up the restaurant three years ago.

“Young Muslims have money and want to eat out like everyone else but according to their religion. The food doesn’t taste any different; we have many French customers who don’t even know we’re totally halal. To us, that is what integration is about.”

Like Yanis and Sosiane, younger members of France’s estimated 5 million-strong Muslim community – with whom relations have been strained by the recent debate on national identity and threats by Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-of-centre government to ban the burqa – are asserting their economic muscle. As one French website put it, halal is “very good business” for French companies.

“Supermarkets aren’t benevolent charities, they’re in it for the money,” said Bouarbi. “And they’ve discovered halal sells.”

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Phys Ed: Why Doesn’t Exercise Lead to Weight Loss?

November 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times

(image below: Sven Hagolani/Getty Images)

For some time, researchers have been finding that people who exercise don’t necessarily lose weight. A study published online in September in The British Journal of Sports Medicine was the latest to report apparently disappointing slimming results. In the study, 58 obese people completed 12 weeks of supervised aerobic training without changing their diets. The group lost an average of a little more than seven pounds, and many lost barely half that.

How can that be? Exercise, it seems, should make you thin. Activity burns calories. No one doubts that.

“Walking, even at a very easy pace, you’ll probably burn three or four calories a minute,” beyond what you would use quietly sitting in a chair, said Dan Carey, Ph.D., an assistant professor of exercise physiology at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, who studies exercise and metabolism.

But few people, an overwhelming body of research shows, achieve significant weight loss with exercise alone, not without changing their eating habits. A new study from scientists at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver offers some reasons why. For the study, the researchers recruited several groups of people. Some were lean endurance athletes; some sedentary and lean; some sedentary and obese. Each of the subjects agreed to spend, over the course of the experiment, several 24-hour periods in a special laboratory room (a walk-in calorimeter) that measures the number of calories a person burns. Using various calculations, the researchers could also tell whether the calories expended were in the form of fat or carbohydrates, the body’s two main fuel sources. Burning more fat than carbohydrates is obviously desirable for weight loss, since the fat being burned comes primarily from body fat stores, and we all, even the leanest among us, have plenty of those.

The Denver researchers were especially interested in how the athletes’ bodies would apportion and use calories. It has been well documented that regular endurance training increases the ability of the body to use fat as a fuel during exercise. They wondered, though, if the athletes — or any of the other subjects — would burn extra fat calories after exercising, a phenomenon that some exercisers (and even more diet and fitness books) call “afterburn.”

“Many people believe that you rev up” your metabolism after an exercise session “so that you burn additional body fat throughout the day,” said Edward Melanson, Ph.D., an associate professor in the division of endocrinology at the School of Medicine and the lead author of the study. If afterburn were found to exist, it would suggest that even if you replaced the calories you used during an exercise session, you should lose weight, without gaining weight — the proverbial free lunch.

Each of Melanson’s subjects spent 24 quiet hours in the calorimeter, followed later by another 24 hours that included an hourlong bout of stationary bicycling. The cycling was deliberately performed at a relatively easy intensity (about 55 percent of each person’s predetermined aerobic capacity). It is well known physiologically that, while high-intensity exercise demands mostly carbohydrate calories (since carbohydrates can quickly reach the bloodstream and, from there, laboring muscles), low-intensity exercise prompts the body to burn at least some stored fat. All of the subjects ate three meals a day.

To their surprise, the researchers found that none of the groups, including the athletes, experienced “afterburn.” They did not use additional body fat on the day when they exercised. In fact, most of the subjects burned slightly less fat over the 24-hour study period when they exercised than when they did not.

“The message of our work is really simple,” although not agreeable to hear, Melanson said. “It all comes down to energy balance,” or, as you might have guessed, calories in and calories out. People “are only burning 200 or 300 calories” in a typical 30-minute exercise session, Melanson points out. “You replace that with one bottle of Gatorade.”

This does not mean that exercise has no impact on body weight, or that you can’t calibrate your workouts to maximize the amount of body fat that you burn, if that’s your goal.

“If you work out at an easy intensity, you will burn a higher percentage of fat calories” than if you work out a higher intensity, Carey says, so you should draw down some of the padding you’ve accumulated on the hips or elsewhere — if you don’t replace all of the calories afterward. To help those hoping to reduce their body fat, he published formulas in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research last month that detailed the heart rates at which a person could maximize fat burning. “Heart rates of between 105 and 134” beats per minute, Carey said, represent the fat-burning zone. “It’s probably best to work out near the top of that zone,” he says, “so that you burn more calories over all” than at the extremely leisurely lower end.

Perhaps just as important, bear in mind that exercise has benefits beyond weight reduction. In the study of obese people who took up exercise, most became notably healthier, increasing their aerobic capacity, decreasing their blood pressure and resting heart rates, and, the authors write, achieving “an acute exercise-induced increase in positive mood,” leading the authors to conclude that, “significant and meaningful health benefits can be achieved even in the presence of lower than expected exercise-induced weight loss.”

Finally and thankfully, exercise seems to aid, physiologically, in the battle to keep off body fat once it has been, through resolute calorie reduction, chiseled away. In other work by Melanson’s group, published in September, laboratory rats that had been overfed and then slimmed through calorie reduction were able to “defend” their lower weight more effectively if they ran on a treadmill and ate at will than if they had no access to a treadmill. The exercise seemed to reset certain metabolic pathways within the rats, Melanson says, that blunted their body’s drive to replace the lost fat. Similar mechanisms, he adds, probably operate within the bodies of humans, providing scientific justification for signing up for that Thanksgiving Day 5K.

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