DHFS looking into adding halal, kosher options to UT dining halls

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The Division of Housing and Food service recently began looking into halal and kosher options for UT dorm dining halls.

Halal and kosher foods are names given to products which adhere to specific religious restrictions under the Islamic and Jewish faiths. Some requirements for these foods include restrictions on certain foods, specific regulations on slaughtering animals and strict rules against the mixing of dairy and meat products. 

While halal and kosher options are not common in dining halls, there are currently vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and other types of allergen-free options for students.

A registered dietitian in DHFS has recently started research on adding halal and kosher food options to that list, according to Rene Rodriguez, director of food services in DHFS. Rodriguez said he was inspired to look into more options for students after visiting Michigan State University, which recently began its own halal and kosher food program. 

“They contracted with a kitchen, with an outside kitchen, to bring in this food, and it’s all prepackaged, and it’s all wrapped with separate utensils and everything else,” Rodriguez said. “One of the things we want to do, for hopefully next semester, is to make a survey for students to see if they would need these different options.”

Rawand Abdelghani, psychology senior and president of the Muslim Students’ Association, said the group started a petition on change.org that garnered more than 100 signatures in order to get halal food options added to the UT dining hall menu.

“A lot of Muslims don’t go to the dining halls because it doesn’t meet their dietary needs,” Abdelghani said. “It’s really hard to get a burger at the hall because it’s not certified halal, so I think we can help make some sort of difference.”

Rodriguez said DHFS is looking to contact locations in Austin that sell halal and kosher options in order to contract with them or receive insight about their process. For kosher options, those locations include the HEB Kosher Store, Madras Indian Pavilion and Joe Bob’s Kosher BBQ. For halal foods, options include The Halal Corner, Halal Bros and Phoenician Resto Cafe. 

Nutrition senior Meital Boim said she now strictly follows a kosher diet but lived in Kinsolving and ate at campus dining halls for two years before she made her dietary change. Once Boim decided to follow a kosher diet, she decided the dining halls on campus could not serve her dietary restrictions, and she moved to her own apartment.

“I think that because there’s such a low demand for it at UT that we understand that the dining halls can’t offer it because it will require a more involved process,” Boim said. “But I think that it definitely deters more fervent Jewish students from attending UT because there’s not a lot of resources for them.”

Rodriguez said about five years ago, DHFS tried having a halal option for students that failed because of poor advertising. He said if students want the extra options, then he is sure a new program could succeed.

“We are stewards of students’ money,” Rodriguez said. “If it’s feasible and we have enough students that are requesting this, then we would entertain the idea and figure out where and how we can do it.”