Many proclaim that college should be the best time of your life, but that assumption is challenged for students struggling to eat on campus due to mislabeled and religiously inappropriate foods. On Hamline University’s campus, dining services are provided by the Aramark Corporation, and students who live in dorms are generally required to purchase all-access meal plans. This becomes a significant problem if you are a student with dietary restrictions such as Halal. Even my high school cafeteria served no pork products and provided nutritious vegetarian options, reflecting the diversity of our majority POC student body. The fact that this basic need is overlooked at Hamline says that our institution is not prioritizing the health and success of all students, contrary to their much-touted values.
Recent food justice conversations on campus revealed that finding nourishing, religiously appropriate food on campus is a serious problem for Muslim students. According to Hamline administrator Nur Mood, Halal is the practice of consuming only the food and other goods that have been certified as permissible for Muslims according to Quranic regulations. It is an important element of this faith that many have said is difficult or impossible to practice when confined to dining hall meals.
This lack of awareness and action isn’t the norm. Augsburg University, a Minneapolis 4 year institution with similar demographics to Hamline, has successfully implemented a Halal kitchen on their campus. They made the decision that only Halal-certified meats are purchased and prepared to better meet the needs of all of their students. Augsburg dining services director Jeff Johnson shared that this is an initiative that the school and their food service are very proud of, and he is happy to answer any and all questions about how to make this transition.
Leaders from Augsburg have met with Hamline dining services to discuss their process in terms of necessary changes in vendors, training, and cost of reorganization, but no forward motion has been taken. Though there are some financial considerations at play, ensuring food security is an absolute must for those with meal plans. As much as students are in support of the shift to Halal, Hamline leadership has not shown the eagerness or commitment to serve students in this way. If the company we contract with refuses to meet the needs of students and can’t safely accommodate dietary needs, Hamline must reconsider this partnership.
As it stands, the All-Access Meal Plan that is offered costs nearly six thousand dollars per year, and the alternative for on-campus students is an arduous appeals process that some students have said is lengthy, complex, and rarely yields a helpful accommodation. The university’s residential life website itself states that “dietary restrictions do not always constitute a valid reason for canceling your meal plan contract.” Further, there are no open community kitchens on campus and the dormitory kitchens are under-resourced and inadequate. Hamline administrators have recently committed to improving our existing Food Resource Center, where students can receive free food with no strings attached as well as be referred to SNAP benefits counseling. Though this is wonderful news for food justice efforts, the FRC is only part of addressing the underlying causes of student food insecurity. Improving current dining services is an essential step for those living on campus.
As students, we must demand better of our university’s dining services in pursuit of food justice for all. When Hamline claims to be inclusive of diverse identities, we must call out the ways in which this institution isn’t living up to its own values. Food is a human right, and no Hamline student should have to sacrifice their deeply held values simply to eat nutritiously. If you want to support the effort to get Halal food on campus, please reach out to the director of dining services with your concerns at Cawthonemail@example.com, and spread the word about utilizing the FRC and WRC as existing resources for student basic needs.