UC Santa Cruz recently became one of the only UCs to offer consistent halal options in all dining halls. This change, in effect since January 2018, is the result of three years of conversation between the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and UCSC Dining.
The majority of about 150 Muslim students who attend UCSC eat a halal diet, according to MSA president and third-year Shyaan Khan. Before this year, these students had limited options in campus dining halls. Over the two years Khan lived on campus, he was challenged by maintaining a vegetarian diet, usually his only option for halal food.
“Knowing that there are these options you could have — they just aren’t halal — having that restriction was really tough,” Khan said.
In Arabic the term halal means “permissible,” and as it regards food, refers to a method of preparation and consumption outlined in the the Quran. Important facets of a halal diet include not consuming pork, only eating meat that has been slaughtered for consumption according to Islamic practices and not consuming or cooking with alcohol.
“College poses really significant challenges when it comes to continuing the practice of your faith and being in touch with the Muslim community,” said MSA treasurer and fourth-year Abir Rashid.
By offering halal options in dining halls, it is easier for Muslim students to continue practicing their religion while attending UCSC.
“We started to see a little bit [of halal options] last year. It was more random then, but now it is pretty consistent,” Rashid said. “There will be a halal option every day at every dining hall for every meal.”
This change is the result of an initiative that began three years ago, when representatives from MSA reached out to director of dining services Bill Prime, Associate Chancellor Ashish Sahni and the Colleges, Housing, and Educational Services Associate Vice Chancellor Sue Matthews. After a series of meetings, dining administration decided it was time to provide more diverse meat options in their offerings.
UCSC Dining first began offering halal options at College Nights in fall 2016. Since then, it has expanded its options as it finds new sources for halal meat alternatives. Its new strategic sourcing partnership with Harris Ranch Beef Company allows for cost-efficient halal options, Prime said.
Some campuses handle halal diets on a case-by-case basis, usually opting to label foods thoroughly so students with special diets know what to avoid. UCLA is the only other UC to offer a halal option every day by providing frozen halal meals at one of four dining hall locatio
ns on campus.
UCSC Dining now works with MSA to taste-test foods, approve recipes, learn more about halal cooking and handle other dining accommodations.
“We were very lucky to have a very supportive dining services administration,” said MSA President Shyaan Khan. “They’ve been checking in with us multiple times a year and running everything by us.”
The 60-70 members of MSA work to spread awareness of Islam and the Muslim student experience. Changes in the di
ning hall are just the beginning of MSA’s efforts to advocate for UCSC to be more accessible to Muslim students.
Among other achievements such as recently gaining a seat on the Student Union Assembly, expanding access to halal foods has helped Muslim students attain on-campus visibility and accommodations for their religious and cultural practices.
Recently MSA has been working with dining administration to set up further food accommodations for students who participate in Ramadan, the month-long Muslim holiday where Muslims fast from dawn until dusk, beginning on May 15. In May, UCSC Dining will pilot its alternative dining plan, the “Spring 60,” open to any student, which allows for one halal meal after sunset and the option to take a breakfast box home to eat the next morning before sunrise.
Other MSA projects include lobbying UCSC administration for a prayer/meditation room, which has been on its agenda for about 30 years, and advocating for more diverse representation in Counseling and Psychological Services. Khan said that access to halal food has had a positive impact on Muslim students’ experience.
“[Access to halal food] is bigger than our organization,” Khan said. “It is increasing visibility for Muslims in general, and we have accomplished that.”