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Students and USF Dining at odds over halal options

Many students find halal options on campus dining halls to be inadequate — if not absent entirely.

The number of students at USF who eat halal meat for religious purposes is growing, which makes the demand for the product greater each year — a demand that students say isn’t being met.

“Halal” means “permissible” in Arabic, and this type of meat is eaten typically by Muslims because of dietary beliefs. The difference between halal meat and regular meat is how it is derived from the animal.

Ameer Khawaja, a sophomore majoring in civil engineering, is one of the many USF students who only eats meat if it is halal.

“What differentiates this meat from normal meat is it is a sacrifice in the name of God. The process of sacrificing is that you use a really sharp object to slit the animal’s throat so it feels little to no pain, and the animal must be conscious and healthy when this takes place,” Khawaja said.

USF Dining Marketing Director Jessica Cicalese said “USF is a melting pot of many different ethnicities and religions,” so Dining Services takes into account all dietary restrictions.

Many students have raised concerns about halal options at Champion’s Choice, the dining hall near the Yuengling Center.

Cicalese assures students can find halal products at all campus dining halls.

“We have halal proteins at all our all-you-care-to-eat facilities, that includes Champion’s Choice,” Cicalese said.

She also said that halal options are found at all dining locations that are not a chain.

However, Omar Zafar, a freshman majoring in electrical engineering, said Champion’s Choice does not have halal options.

“I asked the staff, but I was told that they don’t serve halal at Champion’s Choice,” Zafar said.

According to Falak Abbasakoor, a freshman majoring in biomedical sciences, only Juniper Dining, located in Juniper-Poplar Hall (JP), and The Hub carry halal products.

“My experience with halal food on campus has not been the best,” Abbasakoor said. “Champion’s Choice does not have any halal options, and neither does Argos Exchange.”

Khawaja, a former employee of Argos Exchange, said Argos does not carry halal products.

Argos Exchange manager Cheyenne Van Helden echoed Khawaja’s statement.

“We actually do not have halal options,” Van Helden said. “We have vegetarian and vegan options if they would like that instead.”

Khawaja testified to there being a lack of halal options last school year.

“They said they serve chicken, turkey and hot dogs, but they don’t have turkey or hot dogs.” Khawaja said. “At JP I know this because last year multiple people, including myself, have asked and they said they did not have it.”

Biomedical sciences sophomore Adib Khan said that Juniper-Poplar had more variety of halal options than The Hub.

“I am very grateful USF has halal options on campus,”  Khan said. “However, I wish there were healthier options because the chicken patties and beef burgers are fattening.”

Abbasakoor, who also frequents Juniper-Poplar, said the options are still the same this year.

“I do wish there was a better variety of halal options because the only option really is just from the burger station,” she said.

Zafar has been pleasantly surprised with the amount of halal food in the U.S., and is pleased with the selections on campus, but does think it could improve on variety.

“Usually my constant meal is halal burgers, chicken [patties], and beef,” Zafar said. “Most of the time I am happy with it, but would like to see more options, like grilled chicken.

Dining Services now offers halal meat on Taco Tuesdays, according to Zafar, so improvements are being made.

He also enjoys the “Flavor of the World” section at JP because of its good choice of halal options.

Cicalese stressed the importance of students asking dining managers questions concerning their dietary needs.

“We have students call our managers at like 11 p.m. and ask ‘Can you make me a halal hot dog?’ It’s not out there, but we have them, so when in doubt, ask,” Cicalese said.

As for healthier options, Sierra Ditto, USF Dining’s registered dietitian, said students who eat halal can also find vegetarian and vegan options in all the dining halls.

“There are plant-based protein options as well that students may not be aware of,” Ditto said.

Ditto is working on emphasizing a vegan and vegetarian guide across campus.

Aside from a lack of options, Khawaja said that the dining halls ran out of halal protein about six to eight times last year.

“In the first month of the school year they had a lot of halal food,” Khawaja said. “But, two to three months in they didn’t have a lot of it anymore.”

It came to the point where the dining halls would be out for extended amounts of time.

“I asked an employee why they were out of stock for the past three to four days, and he said it was because a lot of people would ask for it, and it would run out and they didn’t have any backup,” Khawaja said.

Khan, although mostly pleased with what he found in the dining halls, also said dining halls were often out of protein options for over a week.

“There was a point for about a week to a week and a half it took to restock halal options, which obviously makes it hard to eat,” he said.

This year, there has not been as many cases of halal options being out.

This is Zafar’s first semester at USF, and he claims that halal options have been out in the dining halls one time since January.

They were out for two to three days and he ate the vegetarian options as a substitute.

Agreeing that halal food is usually available, Abbasakoor said that in her first year here, the dining halls have been out only twice and just for a day.

Cicalese mentioned Dining Services has not received complaints about a lack of halal food on campus.

“I wouldn’t say complaints, but we used to receive suggestions four to five years ago on what we should offer, and we would make it happen,” she said. “Because it is a premium product, and it’s outside of our everyday vendor, it might take a week or two to get in, but we absolutely would accommodate.”

Director of Operations at Dining Services Ryan McElhaney said that running out of halal protein should not be happening, but halal products do present a challenge because it is a premium product.

“It is absolutely a specialty vendor, so we do not have access to it as frequently as we would other products, but we do not want that to seem like an excuse,” McElhaney said. “We need to do a better job with managing our inventory around that.”

“We use Midamar [halal vendor] for all grill items and Koch brand [halal poultry vendor] for all of our chicken breast that we carry in-house. For P.O.D. Market products we go through UNFI for those products,” Cicalese said.

Midamar is a food distributor specializing in halal options, and Koch offers “halal chicken” on their website.

The directors and operators at Dining Services encourage students who have a suggestion for them concerning dining options to use the “Be Heard” online campaign. “Be Heard” is a set of online surveys offered to students regarding their dining experiences and how USF Dining can improve.

According to McElhaney, these suggestions go straight to senior management.

“I think the program has grown tremendously based on feedback and demand, so we will continue to do so, we are always open to all kinds of feedback. There is room for improvement, and we will continue to do that,” McElhaney said.