The Halal Snack Pack Appreciation Society Is Uniting Australia With Kebab Meat
It's the Facebook group with no time for politics. They just want "a sick pic of ur halal snacky, where'd ya get it?, is it sick?, is it halal?"
In a corner of the Melbourne Showgrounds, a man wearing a "rapefugees" shirt sat with blood streaming down his face. He'd been injured in a massive brawl that broke out at a halal festival over the weekend. Predictably the fight was between anti-halal protesters and far-left anti-racism protesters.
When somebody posted a photo of the brawl's injured man in the Facebook group Halal Snack Pack Appreciation Society (HSPAS) there was one overwhelming response: his face reminded them of the sauces that don the group's beloved snack packs.
The group was started four months ago by Sydney friends Luke Eagles and Ryan Durrington after a "mythological" experience with a Halal Snack Pack (HSP) which is a no-holds-barred mix of halal meat and hot chips, topped with gnarly mix of sauces including garlic, chilli, and BBQ. When this group saw the man's bloodied face, they naturally saw past the xenophobia to something that looked a bit like chili sauce. You see, HSPAS aren't interested in the politics around halal, only in the best late night HSPs around Australia.
HSPAS' rules are simple. "Show us a sick pic of ur halal snacky, where'd ya get it?, is it sick?, is it halal?" Since its founding in December HSPAS has clocked up more than 75,000 members.
Luke says the perfect HSP will be forever debated, but some factors are more agreed upon than others. "The chips have to be crispy and cooked well, creating a bed for the freshly shaved meats to rest upon," he tells VICE. "And the mix of sauces needs to be done in proportion so one doesn't overpower the other."
Even for an outsider who's never had the apparent pleasure of tucking into a HSP, the group is very funny. Most posts begin with the compulsory "Greetings Brothers" (and sometimes sisters) before breaking their HSP experience down into categories like price, greeting, meat, and even styrofoam packaging. Photoshopping HSPs into photos is another big pastime: Shannon Noll makes an appearance, as does a couple who posing with their new beloved baby.
Despite running a large community that celebrates halal food, Luke and his fellow administrators say they don't buy into the politics surrounding halal certification in Australia. "We're really happy that the group has brought together such different types of people, but when politics gets involved it normally ends up in a never ending cycle of over opinionated keyboard warriors," he says, emphasising that they try to keep the chat strictly HSP-related.
Outside, in the real world, halal food (halalmeaning "lawful" or "permitted" in Arabic) has been the target of heated debate for years. Some protesters claim the halal method of killing animals (slitting their throat with a knife) is cruel or believe halal-certified foods finance terrorism. Then there are those who see it as a sign that Australia's Muslim population (around two percent) is poised to "take over."
The furore even built to a senate inquiry into halal certification last year, headed by conservative Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi. It's mission was to probe "where the money ends up," even though the Australian Crime Commission has repeatedly stated it isn't aware of any links to terrorism. The inquiry received thousands upon thousands of submissions from the public, many demanding the halal certification be scrapped, and most displaying a very poor understanding of how halal actually works.
It's for these reasons that the straight-talking, people-hating food critic and early HSPAS adopter Darrell Beveridge (aka Cook Suck) says it's difficult for the group to avoid being politicised in the current climate.
"[HSPAS] is a natural mirror to the issues going on at the moment, and the whole idea that it's not a political group or a political arm is some sanity among the madness," says Darrell, who, as the owner of a beef jerky business has experienced being the target of an anti-halal boycott himself.
Darrell says HSPAS "humanises" the side of the debate often drowned out by the louder opposition, and hopefully convinces people Australian culture isn't being imposed on by halal food—it's being enriched.
"I like the way the group is so resilient. I mean, the demographic is just a bunch of kids, they're uni students laughing at the whole situation and that infuriates people." Significantly, they're a multicultural bunch of kids. Even within the administrators, there's a Filipino from New Zealand, a Bengali, and a couple of white guys.
As for the HSP itself, even Darrell admits it's a once every two or three months treat. "They're delicious and they're disgusting," he says. "But I love that they're so ingrained in traditional late-night bogan drinking culture."
Dozens of favourites are bandied about but Eagles says Metro One Kebab Pizza and Pide in Ashfield wins a majority-rules vote between the five administrators. The HSP is mainly served up in Sydney, but Viva Kebabs in Melbourne's CBD makes the cut, as do a few other interstate joints.