Some US colleges and universities have become trailblazers in their efforts to offer halal food services for their Muslim students. Campuses with halal food service kitchens or halal dining halls include Virginia Tech, Harvard University, Dartmouth College, Yale University, New York University, Texas A & M, and others. The question is, are some of these efforts little more than giving lip service to halal?

Mount Holyoke College, in South Hadley, Massachusetts, is an all-women college where four percent of the student body is Muslim. In the year 2000, Muslim and Jewish students approached the administration, noting that they were outgrowing the small student-run kitchen they shared in the Religious Life building. They wanted a dining hall that catered to their religious dietary needs. Students, faculty and staff, as well as religious advisors came together to discuss logistics. The end result was a proposal – a new Halal-Kosher Kitchen. Ms. Hennessey, Director of Dining Services at Mount Holyoke, says that creating a Halal-Kosher Kitchen was expensive and challenging. Meat and dairy products do not mix according to kosher dietary laws whereas according to halal dietary laws, the mixing of meat and dairy is not a big deal, she says. According to halal dietary laws, alcohol, pork, and their by- products are not consumed so changes were needed to create a kitchen that was both kosher and halal, in order to suit students’ dietary religious needs, says Ms. Dale Hennessey.

“The former Wilder Dining Hall was converted and the kitchen was completely redone. New equipment was purchased and dining staff members were trained on everything from separating dairy and meat items to scrutinizing ingredients like vanilla and mustard just to double check if they were free of alcohol,” Ms. Hennessey elaborated.

By 2001, a Halal-Kosher kitchen was up and running. Since then, typically, five entrees are served for lunch and five different entrees are on the menu for dinner. Any full board student is free to eat here and the entrees aren’t simply American, South Asian or Middle Eastern fare. They run the gamut from Lamb with Dried Fruit, Persian Chicken in Walnut Sauce, Baked Eggs with Herbs, Chana Masala, Bulgur Pilaf, Sweet Orange Rice, Lubyi bi Zyat (Green Beans), and Date Nut Pastries. The recipes are reflective of the tastes of a very international student body. However, despite all these efforts, nine years down the road, halal meat is yet to be actually served in this “Halal-Kosher” Dining Hall, as of this writing.

“This comes as no surprise,” says Dr. Muhammad Munir Chaudry, President IFANCA. “Universities often wrongly assume that Kosher is adequate for Muslim students. Organizations such as IFANCA can come in and offer training for food service staff and we can introduce universities to halal meat suppliers. It’s unfortunate that Muslim students have to make do with Kosher when halal is so widely available.”

Requests for halal by Muslim students have led the school to consider introducing halal, albeit in a measured manner. Halal meat, from Fall 2010, will be served twice a week. It may also be offered during Ramadan.

Ironically, when offering advice to other colleges and universities who are considering a Halal-Kosher kitchen for their students, Ms. Hennessey says it is not impossible. She points out that success depends on the space available at the school, thoroughly researching students’ needs and working with what is available. Mount Holyoke being a small college, administrators worked with limited space to start the Halal-Kosher facility. “It was indeed a challenge,” she adds, “but it did work out fine.” Muslim students may not quite agree with that conclusion. After all, it has taken nine long years since the inception of the Halal-Kosher dining hall to actually serve halal meat here.