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Lack of halal food on campus disappoints UConn Muslims

By Daniel Candella
On November 11, 2012

  • UConn Dining Services provides halal options, or foods that are permissible to eat under Islamic law. Halal options are available at Gelfenbein Commons in the Towers Residence Hall area. Some Muslim students said there is not enough variety and that the access is limited. NATALIA PYLYPYSZYN/The Daily Campus

Maschal Mohiuddin, a sophomore, majoring in biology and journalism. said he believes the university does not provide enough food ptions for Muslim students that follow Islamic law.
 "I'm very disappointed in the halal served on campus," Mohiuddin said. "The food quality is not good, the meat smells and it makes my life difficult, regarding my nutrition, because I am primarily a meat eater."
Mohiuddin is not alone in her struggle for a proper halal menu. Just last week a congregation of students in the Muslim Students Association expressed their discontent with the halal offered on campus.
Halal, in Arabic means "permissible." It is a term designating any object or an action which is permissible to use or engage in, according to Islamic law. Muslims are taught through the Qur'an that all animals should be treated with respect and well cared for. They claim that Islamic law aims to keep the world ecology balanced in a stable and healthy way. In terms of food choices, Muslims are not permitted to eat pork, or animals that are slaughtered in the name of god other than Allah, and the use of alcohol is strictly prohibited, including alcohols found in common items, such as vanilla extract.
Director of Dining Services C. Dennis Pierce said halal became available eight years ago on campus around the same time kosher foods were introduced.
"We thought it was the right thing to do," he said.
Dining Services is owned by UConn but gets no financial support from the university, generating all revenues from the sale of meal plans. Halal only became possible through donations by a benefactor in Hartford.
"Halal has been a learning curve," Dennis said. "For us to change, we need to know what they want."
When halal first started, Dining Services was able to provide 60 meals per day - that number has since doubled. Despite the increase in demand, halal is still only available at one of the eight dining halls, Gelfenbein Commons, on campus. The hours are specific and restricted. Lunch is offered until 2 p.m. while dinner ends promptly at 7 p.m. There is no choice for a halal breakfast.
"The accessibility is not convenient. I live in the all the way across campus, walking to Towers (Gelfenbein) is not always an option," said Mohiuddin, who lives in the Alumni Quadrangle.
The Dining Services website states that kosher meals are available seven days per week. Halal, however, is not available on Saturday or Sundays.
"In terms of their diet, there are so many other options we don't feel it's necessary to offer halal every day," Pierce said. "When the minority is so minimal it doesn't require that."
For a practicing Muslim, this means adopting a vegetarian diet on the weekends. Fawad Yaqoob, a devout Muslim and junior on campus, said it is unfair that kosher meals are available seven days a week while halal is not.
"The university should be open to all dietary needs at the same time," he said. "I've had to change my lifestyle because I can't rely on halal."
Yaqoob's diet consists mainly of pizza, cheese quesadillas and salad most days of the week, which he said is influenced by the lack of halal offered on campus.
Another concern Muslims have on campus is the authenticity of the meals.
Some of the halal meals offered have included BBQ chicken with cornbread, Salisbury steak and white bean chicken chili. These are not authentic Middle Eastern cuisines, students said.
"We went for items that met requirements, it was not our intent to provide true Middle Eastern dishes," Pierce said.
This lack of authenticity could also be contributed to the automation of the menu process. Pierce said that the menu is generated by a computer program known as FoodPro, which develops a menu on a four-week cycle.
Changes are coming. Starting this spring UConn has hired Rob Landolphi to be the Certified Culinary Arts Instructor and Culinary Development Manager. He is an author and chef whose most recent book, Quick-Fix Gluten Free, became a bestseller. He will be in charge of "authenticating" the meals offered here on campus. Pierce instructed concerned students to contact the Muslim Student Association in order to express to Landolphi their needs of a more traditional Middle Eastern diet.

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