This semester, Café Mac’s East and South meal stations began serving halal meat, mostly chicken, on Mondays and Thursdays.
The new additions are the product of lobbying efforts by the Center for Spiritual and Religious Life (CRSL).
Chaplain Kelly Stone called for the accommodation based on the the feedback of Muslim students who keep to a halal diet. “I was hearing from students that if they had halal meat that they would be overjoyed,” Stone said.
For meat to be considered halal, livestock has to be slaughtered according to Islamic law which, among various stipulations, requires animals to be conscious when killed. Halal dietary restrictions ban pork and alcohol altogether.
Stone said she became aware of the unmet needs of Muslim students at Macalester through relationships forged through her work in the CSRL. Stone said international Muslim students form a large part of the Muslim community and were less forthcoming.
“One of my personal speculations is that there’s likely some pieces of being polite and that maybe some of our international students weren’t as quick to say ‘I demand that the college provide this,’” Stone said.
Eman Ahmed ’18, from Lahore, Pakistan worked closely with Stone and Vice President of Student Affairs Donna Lee to push for Café Mac to adopt halal meat. She did not keep to eating halal meat in her first semester, but became vegetarian in her second semester.
“Meat was an essential part of my diet, however being here at Mac made me question my faith, my values,” Ahmed said in an email.
Like Ahmed, Leyla Suleiman ’17 also felt uncomfortable eating on campus in her first and sophomore years. She feared the food in Café Mac had come in contact with pork during its preparation. She did not strictly keep to a halal diet, but required her food to be devoid of pork.
Suleiman periodically had conversations with Stone and ultimately requested that Bon Appétit prepare her a catered meal that consisted of non-pork meat. “I had to call ahead for them to warm it up, which sometimes could be inconvenient,” Suleiman said. “I wish that I could go into Café Mac to eat the halal meat, and show that there is a market and that people are grateful.” Suleiman currently resides and eats off-campus.
Douglas Tigges, an Executive Chef at Bon Appétit who oversees the menu on campus, said the halal meat is not contaminated with pork products because state health regulations already require different meat types to be handled separately. Conversations with Bon Appétit personnel on halal meat started last summer, according to Stone. Tigges said it was not difficult to source halal meat, a process he started in the fall of last year. He found various suppliers in the list of vendors approved by the caterer and narrowed in on a supplier within two weeks. This saved him the hassle of having to get new suppliers certified by Bon Appétit, a process which could have dragged out for a year.
Bon Appétit General Manager Chuck Parsons wrote in an email that the meat was originally sourced from Sysco, a major food supplier based in Houston, but is now supplied by a local supplier through Stockyard, a feedlot company that connects caterers to meat suppliers.
Initially, Tigges feared that halal meat would be more expensive, but found prices comparable to those of non-halal meats.
“What you’re seeing is an increase in demand in the States particularly… it’s become much more mainstream and once I was able to find a vendor, we found that the price, particularly on poultry, was equivalent to what we’re paying now,” he said. “I would like to bring in lamb more, but it’s obviously more expensive.”
Tigges is hoping to expand halal offerings, but said that the caterer has other needs to serve. He has found it challenging to find a supplier who can stock the cafeteria with enough meat to serve halal food on more days. Tigges is optimistic, though, and said, “they [the vendors] are seeing increased demand and the more they sell it, the more they will stock it.”
The provision of halal meat has also raised questions over kosher offerings in Café Mac, which are currently not provided. Muslims who consume halal meats can consume kosher meats, as the livestock is slaughtered in similar ways. However, kosher food involves more stringent preparation, like requiring meat not to be in contact with dairy products. According to Stone, Bon Appétit’s kitchen is not equipped to handle such preparation, and providing halal meat would serve more students.
She added that the CSRL’s decision to push for halal meat was made after consultation with both Rabbi Barry Cytron and Muslim Chaplain Ailya Vajid. Nonetheless, “conversations about all students from all religious traditions are never ending,” Stone said.