Imagine for a moment that you walk into a room with all types of delicious foods. Turkeys, steaks, pasta, apple pies, anything and everything that you would possibly want to eat. It smells great, looks good and you know it would be very tasty.
Yet you also know there is a problem with how the food was prepared. No matter how good it smells, looks or tastes, you can’t consume it; doing so would violate your own beliefs. Because of the problem with eating this food, you are relegated to eating a bland boxed lunch, or worse, a mediocre and tasteless TV dinner.
This sounds like torture; an unwanted, disturbing and perverse hell. Sadly, for many of our students who observe kosher and hallal dietary laws, this is the exact experience they have whenever they eat on campus. According to the Reform Judaism magazine published by the Union for Reform Judaism, AU is the 22nd most popular private university for students of the Jewish faith to come and study. But AU does not provide adequate kosher or hallal meal options for our students. This presents our students with a moral dilemma. They can eat the great food that AU prepares and violate their religious and moral convictions, or they can eat mediocre food and stare as their friends enjoy delicious meals.
AU should not force students to choose between their religious traditions and decent food. It is possible to have both. Many universities have managed to integrate their campus food operations with the kosher/hallal dining requirements. Several schools like SUNY Albany, GWU, SUNY Binghamton and SUNY Stony Brook have found ways to integrate food services. Students observing dietary laws would go to their separate serving lines and enjoy food prepared in accordance with their personal needs, while the nonobservant would grab food from their line and then meet together in the shared dining hall to enjoy one another’s company.
There are, of course, costs of implementing kosher/hallal dining. At the very least for the university to be able to successfully implement this, they will need to create a separate kitchen for meal preparation. On a campus that has a hard time finding space for classes, giving up some of the precious space in TDR will be a sacrifice. But isn’t providing our students with a supportive community well worth it?
In addition to the capital cost of a new kitchen, there are special products to be bought, not to mention the hiring of staff trained in kosher/hallal food preparation. These perennial costs of providing kosher/hallal meals should be borne by those who use the service. For example, when I was an undergraduate at Albany, my kosher friends paid an additional $300 for the option of eating kosher each semester. At a cost of $2,400 over the course of their undergraduate career, it was a small price to pay to keep one’s religious traditions.
Implementing kosher/hallal dining would also be a boon to this institution. Kosher dining options will translate into more students subscribing to on-campus meal plans. In addition, some non-Jewish and non-Muslim students may even subscribe. Many students at other schools who had no religious dietary restrictions, opted to pay more money because the kosher food tasted better than the general campus food. Additionally, prospective students who observe dietary laws will be more likely to come here knowing they can keep their traditions.
I hope this school’s many student governmental bodies will work together with Housing and Dining Programs to quickly address this lack of service and ensure that all students can enjoy food and their religious traditions.
Peter Brusoe is a doctoral candidate in the School of Public Affairs and a campus affairs columnist for The Eagle.
Correction: In Peter Brusoe’s column “Creating Kosher dining options,” every instance of “Hillel” should read “halal.”