Options limited for religious diet restrictions in dining halls

Flushing senior Casey McNally serves lunch to Cedar Springs senior Andrea Dreyer in the Robinson Dining Hall on Nov. 18. Alanna Sparks | Staff Photographer

Sumaih Altalhi thinks there are many options in the residential restaurants on campus. Finding food to eat is only challenging when she can't tell what is in it.

"Sometimes it's just little pieces of pork (in food) and you can't tell," said the Saudi Arabia freshman.

Whether meat adheres to Islamic law isn't something every student pays close attention to; but for Muslim students like Altalhi, it can mean cutting meat out altogether to avoid taking a risk. With many international students at Central Michigan University, Altalhi said Campus Dining should label food more clearly. Altalhi is just one example of a student with a religious food restriction that limits what she can eat in the residential restaurants on campus.

"(Muslims) don't eat pork," she said. "We eat meat (if it's) killed in a specific way. Some students go vegetarian here (because they can't tell if the meat adheres to Islamic law)."

Anyone with dietary needs can request menu consultation with Campus Dining, which involves helping students figure out how they can meet dietary needs while eating in residential restaurants, said Campus Dining Marketing Manager Nikki Smith. There aren't other meal plan offerings in place specifically for students with dietary needs.

Bangladesh graduate student Jillur Rahim doesn't eat on campus often, but he thinks there should be more vegetarian options if providing halal meat or kosher meat isn't feasible.

"More vegetarian options helps Jews, Hindus and Muslims (find food they can eat) even if they can't eat meat," he said.

Rahim said in areas of campus where there are many international students, such as Herrig Hall, food should be prepared with religious restrictions in mind.

"Many Hindus don't eat beef or red meats, many Muslims like to eat halal meats and Jews prefer kosher meats," he said. "Where there are students from different countries and backgrounds, foods should be prepared and served in a way so everyone gets to eat."

Smith said with special dietary needs there is no one answer or approach that meets all needs, making it necessary to handle special dietary needs with an individualized approach. Students with special dietary concerns can contact Campus Dining by email at dining@cmich.edu to request a personal menu consultation regarding their food allergy or intolerance. Ingredients of all meals can also be viewed online.

As a Catholic, Indiana junior Tim Van Atter said finding food on campus during Lent is usually easy because the rules are not difficult: he can't eat meat on Fridays, excluding fish, and he personally chose to give up desserts.

"On Fridays, it's nice to see meals that aren't meat based," he said. "I'm sure any regular vegetarian goes through the same thing."

Though he hasn't had much of a problem finding food, he thinks on-campus dining locations should pay attention to religious dietary needs.

"On a college campus, there's so many people affiliated with so many different religions," Van Atter said. "I can imagine it's difficult to take them all into account, but at least for the major ones, the rules are pretty simple so it shouldn't be too hard to sort of plan menus around them."

Macomb Township senior Karan Sandhu, who is a follower of Sikhism, can't eat beef and sometimes has trouble finding food on campus because beef is mixed in a lot of different meats.

Sandhu said Campus Dining should work on providing more vegetarian options for religious students. She would like to see more ethnic foods on campus.

"In Herrig, there are many Chinese students but they can't enjoy Chinese food on campus so I think if the school can provide different food from different countries, it'd be great," said Xiangxin Zhang, a freshman from China.

Altalhi agreed and said overall, she likes eating on campus, though she would also like to see more international dishes.

"I like the dining here at CMU," she said. "They offer jobs for a lot of international students — I like that. I like the options (the dining halls) offer. They work hard there."