Halal Foods at Hospitals
Imagine walking into a restaurant that has the feel of a Northern Michigan lodge. Your food is cooked to order fresh from any of the restaurant’s seven different chef-manned stations. Fresh does mean fresh in this restaurant, because you will not find any freezers, deep fryers or canned goods in the facility. It only serves certified organic produce, and here is the best part: it even serves halal meat. So where is this too-good-to-be-true eatery you ask? The restaurant is called Henry’s Cafe, and it is located inside the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital (HFWBH) in Michigan. Yes, you read that right: hospital.
The hospital opened its doors in March 2009, not only to patients but to the community-at-large. On average, the restaurant serves eight hundred people daily, 25% of whom come here for no reason except to enjoy a meal. West Bloomfield has a very diverse demographic, and the hospital wanted to make sure everyone felt welcome. The hospital administration accomplished this by meeting with focus groups comprising area residents of various ages, ethnicities, religions, and races in order to determine the needs of the community.
“We wanted the hospital to offer total care from a wellness perspective, sick care perspective, and spiritual care perspective,” said HFWBH Director of Public Relations and Marketing, Carey Chesney. “This way customers get their unexpressed needs met easily. They might not be comfortable asking for a diet that meets their religious/spiritual needs but are glad it is available,” he points out.
In Ramadan, the hospital sponsored a community iftaar. Over 200 physicians from around the Metro Detroit area attended it. The hospital served halal food and let the physicians know that it was readily available to their patients and staff on a daily basis and not just during Ramadan. This garnered the support of local physicians who in turn began referring their Muslim patients to the institution.
“By bringing quality products, more Muslims are attracted to the hospital,” Dr. Zahid Sheikh, who has been with Henry Ford Hospital for over 15 years, shared in an interview with Halal Consumer. “From a business perspective, one should be willing to offer great service for the consumer who is purchasing the product. That is what HFWBH has accomplished by respecting our ethical values and accommodating our needs,” he adds.
Ghalib Abbasi, an Information Systems Pharmacist Specialist at HFWBH, suggested that they make “halal” more apparent on Henry Cafe’s menu by putting an H enclosed inside a circle next to halal-friendly items. Further, if questions are asked regarding the halal menu, the kitchen and restaurant staff are well-informed and well-trained to explain and understand the concept of halal to customers.
“The hospital is very open and accepting of the Muslim community and staff,” shares Abbasi. “The display and explanation of what foods are halal are very precise. I think it is great what HFWBH is doing for us, and we need to take full advantage of this kind of opportunity,” he adds.
HFWBH also wanted to teach the community the right way to eat. It is both a hospital and a wellness center that offers tools and shares means that individuals can use to live and feel healthier. By offering halal meat on the menu, the hospital is encouraging the importance of eating healthy.
“What we are doing in essence is teaching people how to live and eat healthy,” notes Frank Turner, the Executive Chef and Director of Food and Nutrition at the hospital. “Halal meat is healthy and at times even non-Muslims ask for the halal menu at Henry’s,” he says.
Turner also shared other ways HFWBH is promoting good health to the community. “People eat at Henry’s to be healthy and also seek lifestyle improvements from our wellness center, Vita, learn how to cook right from our chefs in our 90-seat Demonstration Kitchen, and even learn how to shop healthy at our farmer’s market.”
Muslim residents of the Metropolitan Detroit area are fortunate to have HFWBH. However, to meet the needs of Muslim senior citizens who are home-bound, Michigan started its first halal Meals-on-Wheels program for those in the Detroit area. It is a pilot program serving 20 or so seniors in Dearborn, Michigan, and parts of Wayne County. Every two weeks, an ample supply of halal meals from a halal-certified vendor are shipped via FedEx in coolers, to members of the program. According to Arab Detroit News, “The meals, which cost about $7 to prepare and ship, include entrees such as Chicken Biryani, Lentil Stew with Ground Lamb, and Italian chicken.” That is a great halal selection to enjoy in the comfort of one’s home for seniors who otherwise may not have been able to shop for or prepare their own meals.
Advocating for senior centers that meet the dietary and cultural needs of the aging South Asian population is a priority for the American Association of Retired Asians (AARA), and its founder, Dr. Talat Razvi, of Darien, IL. “For the elderly, psychological issues compound the physical ones and having food that adheres to their religious requirements is really important,” she says.
Detroit is setting a great example for other communities in the United States, but it is not the only town catering to Muslims’ halal food needs. When awareness is created and the need is presented properly, then action can be taken accordingly. That is what was done at St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey recently. The hospital has three maternity units and one of its obstetricians approached the food service department to look into options for halal food for her Muslim patients. Since then, for the last year, the hospital has offered a variety of IFANCA certified J&M Ready-to-Eat Halal Meals to its Muslim patients.
Debbie Signorelli is the food service manager at St. Peter’s University Hospital. When Halal Consumer asked her if it was difficult to start a halal food program at the hospital, Signorelli responded that it just depends on the availability of distributors. “We are open to learning about other halal distributors in order to offer a variety of meals to our Muslim patients,” Signorelli says. “Right now we are only working with one supplier, so the choice is limited for our patients,” she adds.
If more Muslims ask for halal foods at their local hospitals, and in nursing homes, it won’t be such a far-fetched idea in the near future. Organizations such as IFANCA exist to help institutions connect the dots between suppliers of halal products and training institution staffers on creating halal kitchens. Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital and St. Peter’s University Hospital are just some of the institutions who have begun the journey. Patients, here, can now request a halal diet, thus making the stay at the hospital relatively less stressful. Remember to ask for halal and it will only be a matter of time till it is ubiquitous.