Campus Dining served halal meat in the Marketplace for the first time at lunch Friday after working with the Muslim Students Association (MSA) to bring the dietary option to campus.
Halal is the Arabic word for “permissible.” Meat that is permissible under Islamic law comes from an animal that does not have hooved feet and is slaughtered with a cut to the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe.
MSA President Noorsher Ahmed (junior) and executive board member Hanan Mohamed (sophomore) met with Associate Director for Campus Dining and Hospitality Services Judy Runyon Oct. 1 to discuss the importance of serving halal meat. According to Runyon, the Marketplace does not have a specific policy with regard to religious accommodations, but is responsive to student suggestions.
The halal meat served was ordered from Occidental’s regular food supplier. Runyon estimates the price of halal meat was about 10–15 percent higher than non-halal meat. According to Runyon, all of the halal meat purchased for Friday’s meal was served.
The Marketplace offered halal chicken in a southwest-style sandwich. Because of the small population of Muslim students on campus, members of MSA said they wanted the halal dish to be something American and accessible.
“We wanted American fast food because we felt that we didn’t want to perpetuate any stereotypes of who Muslims are,” Ahmed said. “There’s like two and a half billion Muslims around the world of every culture, it’s not a Middle Eastern or South Asian religion.”
Prior to Friday’s meal, MSA members tried to raise awareness about halal meat within the campus community. The organization co-sponsored a dinner Oct. 17, as part of Food Justice Month, in which they served halal meat and had a representative from a local mosque come explain what halal is, Mohamed said.
In addition to large universities with halal options, Ahmed said that similarly-sized institutions like California Institute of Technology also serve halal meat.
“We decided that now that the number of Muslims are growing on campus — maybe it’s time that campus dining kind of incorporates halal meat into some of their meals,” Ahmed said.
Mohamed believes people can appreciate halal meat even without its religious connection and considers the slaughter process required of halal-certified meat to be more humane, citing the quick slaughtering of the animals and lack of hormone use.
“MSA is trying to get the campus to understand what [halal] is more, because we think that if people knew what it was, they’d be more supportive of having it on campus,” Mohamed said. “We think that it is a good middle ground, even if you aren’t Muslim, to eat meat and not feel bad about it.”
The Friday the meat was served, Claire Sears (sophomore) noticed that the sandwich was marked as halal on the Campus Dining website. Sears did not previously know what the term halal meant.
“It honestly makes no difference to me how my meat is slaughtered, but it does to other people,” Sears said. “To me, it was just a good sandwich — but it makes it better that people who normally can’t eat meat were able to eat it.”
Connor Lewis-Smith (senior) studied abroad in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, where he first experienced halal meat. He liked seeing the option in the Marketplace.
“I was sitting with a buddy and it really sparked a conversation,” Lewis-Smith said. “It’s interesting to see how isolated the U.S. is — a lot of the world takes into account eating halal.”
According to Runyon, it could be possible to offer halal meat occasionally at a rotating speciality station. Due to the minimum order required by Occidental’s meat supplier, Runyon said incorporation of halal meat into a regular station like the grill could yield significant waste and is unlikely to be implemented.
According to Ahmed, MSA is hoping to have halal meat served once a week, perhaps as an option at the all-organic station. At the very least, the group would like to have it served a few times a month.
“We’re trying to create a framework so if Muslim students come to this school, they can easily practice their religion.” Ahmed said. “There is no ‘Oh, I wish we could have this.’ It’s like if you’re practicing, the stuff is there for you. If you’re not practicing, that’s fine also. It’s your choice.”