Halal food gives students more options in the dining halls


Photo courtesy Calvin's Dining Services

Dining Services recently made its menu more accommodating for Muslim students by adding food considered halal.

For Muslim students, the dining halls are a little friendlier this semester thanks to the introduction of halal food options. Dining Services announced the introduction of halal food — food that fits guidelines specified in the Quran — to its menu on Jan. 6. Dining Services staff say the addition is an effort to make the menu accommodating for more students.

It is an addition that has been highly anticipated by students on campus who were previously restricted by the lack of halal-specific menu options. Oula Salih, a senior and practicing Muslim, reported that associates of hers were restricted to vegetarian options in order to abide by the eating practices in the Quran during their time at Calvin. 

Salih recalled moments when she could not eat in the dining halls because of the options. Sara Hag Ali, a first-year student at Calvin who is also a practicing Muslim, recalled recently only eating fries because the majority of food options were made with pork — a banned ingredient for halal food.

“Having halal meat now actually allows people to actually eat meat and actually eat whatever they want rather than having to change their diet to something they never wanted in the first place,” Salih said.

Salih is a member of the Interfaith Student Alliance, a student organization composed mostly of religious minority students. Salih said the organization is glad to see these first steps towards inclusion. “Calvin actually recognizing and taking this step and accommodating people for this is really good,” Salih told Chimes.

Hag Ali had a lot of good things to say about her ongoing experience at Calvin. “I went to international orientation. It was the first time since I came to America that I felt like I belonged,” Hag Ali said. 

However, both Hag Ali and Salih said they have experienced microaggressions during their time at Calvin. They hope halal food in the dining halls is a step to making Calvin more accommodating for religious minorities.

Leading the halal food program is Estelle Bean, director of Hospitality Operations. Bean has been working with Dining Services to meet the dietary needs of all Calvin students. Having spearheaded bringing halal food to Kalamazoo College’s dining halls, she has experience making the addition. According to Bean, the addition was spurred by growing demand. 

The addition likely will not involve any noticeable changes to the menu, according to Bean, as halal describes a wide variety of options. The main focus of the effort is to provide options that are not “haram” — the Arabic word for prohibited. Haram foods are distinguished both by content and method of preparation, so some ingredients and preparation strategies will change.

“A lot of the stuff we already do would be considered halal. So the only real difference is we are now substituting some of our chicken we get in with the halal chicken. It tastes exactly the same,” Bean told Chimes. “It’s not going to change the dish at all, it just really kind of changes the way we may make it, because with halal there are some items that they can’t eat.”

Dining Services will not be certified halal because there are currently not enough resources to allow the dining halls to become fully halal. “You would have to have separate storage space, separate equipment, separate ovens, all of that to truly say it’s certified halal,” Bean said.  For Bean, the challenge is to increase inclusion via available resources. “What can we do with the space that we have to be able to accommodate these students who do need to eat differently?” 

Because halal involves preparation methods and ingredients, educating staff has also been key. “I think the biggest challenge has been educating our staff and making sure they understand. Because we certainly don’t want to label something as halal and not treat it in the way we should and not prepare it the right way,” Bean said.

Calvin Dining Services offers dietary accommodations for all students, whether that means adding new options to the menu or adapting on a one-to-one basis. Dining Services is willing to work with all students to make sure they can stick to their dietary preferences, according to Bean.