At the start of the spring semester, Bon Appétit administrators discontinued the Usdan Marketplace Halal food program, which had been running on a trial basis since Oct. 25, citing the program’s financial impracticality. The announcement frustrated many Muslim students, who can no longer purchase Halal meat under the meal plan.
According to Director of Usdan University Center Michelle Myers-Brown, only five or six students picked up Halal meal tickets each week. After Thanksgiving, Bon Appétit administrators decided to switch the program from lunch to dinner in hopes of generating more interest, then cancelled it entirely for the spring semester.
Myers-Brown said that the bulk of the financial burden came from hiring an additional chef who worked 20 hours per week.
“To avoid potential contamination with other foods, the preparation had to be done in a separate kitchen which meant this individual could not also work on other kitchen needs for the general population,” Myers-Brown wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “Meaning we had hired an individual as special cook for, what ended up being, five to six students.”
According to Ali Chaudhry ’12, who has advocated for a Halal program since his freshman year, there are only 20 to 25 students on campus who identify as Muslim. However, Chaudhry said that the relatively small number of Muslim students on campus does not mean that the program is less valuable.
“Often the school says that if the demand increases they will provide Halal food,” he said. “But that’s a really dangerous kind of argument, because then they are saying the minorities aren’t important in a way.”
Although participants were required to pick up their meal tickets every Monday morning, the food was offered to all students one hour before the end of each meal. According to Chaudhry, each meal was prepared for between 40 and 45 students. Chaudhry said that he believes the Halal station should have been open to all students for the entirety of the meal, just as the kosher station is.
“[40 to 45 students] is a little absurd, because the Muslim students on campus are 20 to 25, and you can’t expect each and every Muslim student to eat there,” he said.
Myers-Brown said that Bon Appétit has explored a number of alternatives, but has not found any to be feasible. Last year, they fulfilled the demand by purchasing frozen meat and selling it for point. However this program required students to prepare the food themselves, and was seen as a temporary solution from an administrative standpoint.
“We have had numerous conversations and looked at many ways we could financially support a program; we have discussed the issue with colleagues on other campus who have strong Halal programs; we have discussed it with [the Finance Office] and with students, we have reached out to distributors,” Myers-Brown wrote. “A big piece of any solution, however, will have to be actual student participation—that did not materialize last semester.”
Chaudhry said that many Muslim students will now have to purchase Halal meat on their own.
“Many of us who are from Muslim programs are on financial aid plans, and expecting us to spend $50 to $100 per week on Halal food is a little outrageous, especially given that we already have a meal plan, which we paid for,” he said.
Chaudhry said he hopes the cause will garner support from the greater University community.
“The idea now is to get student support from across campus,” he said. “To try and get some kind of petition started to get a movement started to get Halal food on campus.”