Got Halal? American Universities Offer Halal Dining Services
How mainstream is Halal meat becoming? If making it to the menus at Dining Services at plenty of American universities is a yardstick, perhaps it won’t be too long before Halal meat graces every grocery store freezer or deli. Harvard University, Syracuse University, University of Connecticut, Cornell University, Boston University, and Dartmouth College are just a few of the schools whose dining services offer Halal meat.
At Dartmouth college, University Dining Services began offering Halal meals in 2001 with an American menu, based on foods they were able to purchase at the time. The menu has since then developed into a delicious South East Asian and Middle Eastern one revolving around mostly lamb, chicken, and ground beef. Some common dishes are—Kahra Masala Lamb, Chicken Dopiazo, Spicy Tandoori Chicken, Lamb Punjabi with sides such as Washed Basmatti Rice, Curry Rice & Peas, Indian Pilau Rice. Most of the Dartmouth College’s Halal cooking also involves a large amount of “hands on” work. They buy a lot of the herbs and spices fresh and hand grind them.
At Boston University, Halal meals were made available only as recently as October 2005, during the month of Ramadan with the exception of weekends. Those partaking of it, however, weren’t just those enrolled at BU. By the time Ramadan drew to a close, Dining Services here decided to keep the meal plan afloat year round. How did Muslim students at BU and Dartmouth pull it off?
Some Halal meal programs are more consistent through the years than others, but they all go to show that even small groups of Muslims committed to Halal food can influence the courses served. So what exactly is involved in getting a university kitchen to go Halal? We talked to Mr. Yasir Bugrara (ENG ’06), the ameer, or president, of Boston University’s Islamic Society and to Mr. Robert Lester, Pavilion Manager at Dartmouth College to find out.
“The Pavilion had a ‘soft’ opening in November 2001; we served lunch and dinner, Monday through Friday. Customer counts the first year were 50 people each day. We still have the same operating hours during 2005/2006, however, we currently serve 450-500 people per day. When you think that Dartmouth currently has approximately 50 members of Al Nur, 450 members of Hillel, you can quickly see that the majority of the Pavilion’s customers are not eating Halal food because they ‘should’. They are eating it because they ‘like it,”‘ says Mr. Lester.
Mr. Yasir Bugrara is the president of Boston University’s Islamic Society (ISBU). “We had weekly Halal meals for the year previous to my term. This was in place for one year before we approached the BU administration (for Halal dinners in Ramadan). There was tremendous demand. There were many Muslims on campus that kept participating in the Halal dining meals…30 plus people per dining meal,” says Mr. Bugrara.
Originally during Ramadan, members of the Islamic Society at Boston University, made arrangements for an on-campus Iftaari (or meal with which to end the fast) with local restaurants that served Halal food. In 2005 with the University Dining Services stepping in with full-service Halal dinners, instead of doing the organizing themselves, Muslims just needed to “show up” for dinner after they’d opened their fast.
“The Islamic Society of BU was very involved in moving the university to provide Halal meals during Ramadan. We had approached the Dean of students to try to transform our weekly Halal meals into a daily iftaar event. Allowing the university to cater our Halal food allowed students to use their dining meals and saved the Islamic Society a great deal of money in providing the daily Iftaars,” says Mr. Bugrara. He speaks highly of BU’s interest in a Halal meals program.
“It was very easy for us to approach the administration. They were very open and very supportive of the Muslim community. They were excited at the prospect of helping ISBU.”
The meal was served between Maghrib (at twilight) and Esha (after nightfall) prayers and was available to all students who are on the meal plan. “Because the University Dining hall required everyone at the door to pay for a dining meal, Non-Muslims were not exempt from participating in our daily Ramadan Iftaars. Students who purchased Iftaar tickets had the same access to dining hall food and meals as any other student,” says Mr. Bugrara. An Iftaar meal was the regular menu BU offers all its students but the meat entree was Halal. “A night BU offers pork, or anything non-Halal, they devise a different menu for us adhering to the Islamic dietary guidelines,” Mr. Bugrara points out.
As for those who weren’t students at BU or weren’t on the meal plan, the Islamic Society did some fundraising so that it could sell discounted meal tickets to those interested. In an interview with the campus paper, Dining Services director Josh Hubbard said, “We wanted to make sure it wasn’t exclusionary. There’s been a wonderful cross-section of the Islamic community that comes and eats with us.”
Mr. Hubbard, according to the report says, ‘This has been a real benefit to the community and something we want to keep in place. We want to make sure that all the good work that’s been done here doesn’t get lost”, referring to Dining Services’ decision to continue with Halal meals throughout the year.
“We have expanded the menu and quality of the Halal dining meals after Ramadan. However, ISBU is planning on changing the amount of days Halal dining occurs in the upcoming year,” adds Bugrara.
Mr. Lester echoes Mr. Hubbard’s sentiments. “The Pavilion is only open right now from September to June. We are closed during the summer months. However, we do work with the students that are keeping Halal in other ways so they do not have to go without,” he adds.
What advice does he have for universities looking to implement a Halal menu? “Just do it! It’s fairly easy to implement. The customers receive a higher quality of end product. You will find that the Muslim community will be very helpful in answering your questions and very appreciative of the availability. The only hurdle that I found was locating and setting up Halal food deliveries to Hanover, New Hampshire in October 2001. We currently do not experience any problems with our Halal deliveries. Although I have no actual numbers to justify the direct relationship of student enrollment to Halal dining, I can tell you that this was built into the original business plan. It surely has not hindered admissions enrollment at all.”
Editor’s Note: The meat suppliers in this story may or may not be certified by IFANCA. Halal Consumer’s references to them do not imply IFANCA’s endorsement of their slaughter processes.