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Amid concerns about Halal food accessibility, Princeton touts improved Ramadan schedule

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A Halal food sign in the Graduate College
Louisa Gheorghita / The Daily Princetonian

With Ramadan beginning on March 22, Muslim students have expressed concern over the accessibility and variety of Halal food, as well as a lack of communication. Campus Dining has made changes to food available during Ramadan in response to feedback from Muslim students last year.

Halal is an Arabic word that means permissible to use by Islamic law. Food labeled halal adheres to Islamic law, with the slaughter is conducted in a “respectful manner,” and a Muslim person reciting a dedication with the name of God — known as Tasmia — during the process.

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In a statement from Campus Dining sent to members of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) last semester, the University defines Halal meats as those prepared “on a designated halal-only grill” and with “designated equipment.” It also noted that Yeh, New College West (NCW), and Frist Food Gallery’s grill station only prepare Halal meat on char grills. At all other residential colleges, however, Halal meats are provided upon request.

The statement also pointed to Campus Dining’s website, where daily menus containing nutritional information are posted for each residential college and the graduate college.

Still, many students believe that Halal food has not been made accessible enough for student observers, citing a lack of proper labeling in the dining halls.  

Yushra Guffer ’26 an interview with the ‘Prince’ that she wishes the dining halls “would just label more explicitly whenever [recipes] do use Halal meat.” She pointed out that the menus posted online are not always accurate.

“They'll have stuff written down on the menu and it'll be different stuff when you actually go … so I don't know what meat was used to make this,” she said.

Sameer Riaz ’24, the co-president of MSA, expressed a similar sentiment. “The ideal should be that you don't really have to think about it. It shouldn't be like a thing where you're constantly walking into the dining hall and you're worried, ‘is this thing Halal, or is that thing Halal?’” he said.

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The lack of labeling leads to many students needing to ask dining staff for assurance that certain foods are halal. “Asking every time is kind of annoying,” Guffer said. 

But even when seeking clarification, students are not confident in the responses from dining staff. Riaz said that although he has seen a reduction in these occurrences over the last year, he still finds himself in situations where “you would ask, ‘Is this Halal?’ And then somebody would say yes, and a different person would say no.” 

He stated these miscommunications stem from a lack of “understanding of what the term [Halal] actually means” amongst dining staff and that University dining needs to be “training people and getting them up to the point where they have a good understanding.”

Guffer also wishes there were more clear Halal options beyond “burgers and grilled chicken” as she has been “living off of pizza and fries and salad” since arriving on campus due to a lack of diversity. 

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Leena Memon ’25, the treasurer of MSA, said in an interview with the ‘Prince’ that an email program detailing which meals will be Halal in the dining halls was helpful in previous years and hopes for its return. The emails, provided by the MSA, contained a weekly list of Halal meals at each dining hall. Memon said, “That was really, really helpful. Unfortunately, they're not doing it this year.”

Puneet Sethi, a Campus Wellness Dietician and Daniel Maher, an executive chef, wrote a joint statement to the ‘Prince’ on Halal accessibility.

“Over the last year, we have brought on board new suppliers to help diversify our Halal offerings in both residential and retail dining,” they wrote. “We are planning to pilot new Halal meat products in retail dining — with hopes to expand after testing — and offer  [Halal] dishes from local vendors at the Food Gallery at Frist.”

Sethi and Maher emphasized that Campus Dining is in constant communication with students regarding Halal options. According to them, they meet monthly with student representatives of MSA and maintain that “student feedback guides and drives program development.”

Riaz witnessed these efforts in monthly meetings first hand and said that “dining does a good job of just communicating with us regularly and being an open line.”

This feedback is particularly important as the month of Ramadan approaches, a time when Muslims abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. Sethi says plans for Ramadan 2023 have been underway since last spring.

The plan, shared by Sethi and Maher, included accommodations for suhoor and iftar meals, the morning and evening meals during Ramadan. Students with meal plans can register for the Campus Dining Ramadan Program starting this week which is available on the Campus Dining Website and will be shared with the student body through Undergraduate Student Government (USG), the MSA, and the University Chaplain's Office. 

For suhoor meals, customizable meal kits will be available at Café Vivian in Frist and will include “foods that are both nutritionally dense and that offer variety. Students will be able to select fruits, baked goods, protein items, beverages, snacks, and complete meals in accordance with their dietary preferences and schedules. [Campus Dining] researched options that could be adaptable to a variety of students’ needs and schedules.”

At times, iftar meals fall after the dining halls close, so the University will provide students with grab to-go meals and “freshly prepared in-house Halal meals” at the Frist Food Gallery and C-Store on designated days. There will also be new Halal offerings at the Pizza Station and Food for Thought Station.

Sethi and Maher wrote these offerings will be at Frist so that “it is easier for students to access food while juggling academic and professional obligations as well during this time.”   

Riaz stated that these plans are an upgrade from last year that he hopes many will be satisfied with. He said that people stopped picking up meals last year “because they were not very appealing.”

Mariam Latif ’24, on behalf of USG, wrote that USG paid special attention to the desire to see improved meals, particularly after an article by Ndeye Thioubou ’25 in the ‘Prince.’ 

In an effort to improve this program, the MSA, USG, and Campus Dining put out a survey for students to “express what they would like to see in future Ramadan morning meals,” promising a “much larger variety of options and the ability to select what they would like for their Suhoor meals.”

Riaz added that these meals will also be in reusable containers so that students can pick up food from the dining halls and eat it later. 

Riaz hopes these efforts will help ease Muslims students’ peace of mind as this time of year rolls around: “You know, when I think about like the people in our community, when they have to worry about things like classes, and, all their school work, all their extracurriculars, and just like managing their life, their personal life or family life. I feel like it's silly that in an institution like this they would also have to think ‘Oh, am I even going to have like food that is like good for me to eat?’’’

He added that if students want to be an advocate for Muslim students on campus, “the best thing that they can do is try to understand what it actually is because it's hard to advocate for something that you don't understand.” 

Campus Dining reminds students that “through students who independently reach out, through MSA representatives, and through the Muslim Chaplin, we are always open to and invite feedback.”

Bridget O’Neill is an Assistant News Editor for the ‘Prince.’

Louisa Gheorghita is a News contributor for the ‘Prince.’

Please send any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.

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