Halal Struggles in Usdan
In an attempt to cater to the Muslim community on campus, the Usdan Marketplace began offering a Halal option on Oct. 25, which complies with Islamic dietary restrictions on the preparation of meat. However, the program has seen limited success in its first two weeks and may not continue past Thanksgiving break.
“The idea for this program originally started during my freshman year in 2008,” said Ali Chaudhry ’12, who was instrumental in bringing the program to campus. “There were quite a few Muslims on campus who followed Halal, so we thought it would be a good idea if we could get some form of protein.”
Yet with only about 30 students on campus who identify as Muslim, the program has gotten off to a rough start.
“This program is a trial program until Thanksgiving, although we hope to have it run all the way through the end of this semester,” wrote Michelle Myers-Brown, Director of Usdan University Center, in an e-mail to The Argus. “The product cost is much higher than other similar, non-Halal products, and Bon Appétit must employ a prep person for just these meals; therefore if we do not have a significant number of students who keep Halal participating, we will not be able to continue the program.”
According to Chaudhry, the lack of a viable meat option for observant Muslim students has been extremely problematic in past years.
“At first it might seem that the Halal restriction was not a big deal, but we did have students who had medical issues because they weren’t eating enough protein,” he said. “To be honest, I never saw my friends at dinner or lunch. Whenever someone invited me over, I had to say no because I had to eat Halal meat.”
Last year, Bon Appétit agreed to set up a temporary food plan for Muslim students, which provided them with frozen Halal food for a certain amount of points. Although this solved students’ basic dietary concerns, the program, which required students to prepare the food themselves, was still restricting.
“When the service of the frozen food was offered, freshmen didn’t have a place to cook the food all the time,” said Zuleikha Hester ’11. “It was also a burden for the Usdan staff, who had to convert specific students’ meal plans so that they could use all points.”
“We felt it was still problematic that we had to cook food for ourselves, since most of us had busy schedules,” Chaudhry said. “We still couldn’t eat at Usdan, and it was almost like social isolation, in a way.”
Hester began working with Chaudhry last spring to draft a proposal for the Halal program. After working with the Dining Committee, Bon Appétit, and the Muslim Students Association, the two finally received approval for a Halal option.
“Once Bon Appétit and Wesleyan decided that they were going to be able to make Halal a reality, we were excited and willing to work with them,” Hester said. “However, when we did get to campus, there were some problems. There were delays in getting it started, so even though there was hype created about it last semester, no one really knows it exists right now.”
The Halal option, which has introduced South Asian and Middle Eastern food to Usdan’s Classics station, is available only to Muslim students with an appropriate ticket before 1 p.m. After 1 p.m., the Hallal food is opened up to everyone in order to make the program more sustainable and generate less waste.
Hester and Chaudhry are now attempting to increase interest in the dining program for Muslim students and the entire campus.
“One thing we’re going to try to do is make sure Muslims do their part, but also encourage other students to try it,” Hester said. “If they like it, we hope that they speak up and tell administration that this is good and they want it to be here. If it’s not just the 30 students who really need it here, but the rest of campus showing that they want it here, that would have a different impact. We want to get it to a point where it becomes a part of the dining experience in Usdan.”
“The food has actually been really good,” Chaudhry added.
The two also believe that the program could diversify the University by providing a pull for prospective Muslim students.
“If I’m a Muslim and I’m applying to different colleges, I would see this Halal option as a positive sign,” Chaudhry said. “With all the recent controversy of Park51, it shows other colleges that Wesleyan is taking the initiative to combat Islamophobia.”
Nevertheless, Chaudhry is realistic in his aims.
“We’re also open to the fact that if it doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t make sense to keep it,” Chaudhry said. “But we would definitely like to give it a try and see how far we can go with this.”