News  McGill’s cafs offer patchy support for kosher, halaal diets

McGill’s cafeterias, contracted to Chartwells Food Services, have been long chastised for failing to carry foods that are vegan, kosher, or halaal, making it difficult for students with religious dietary needs to keep proper nutrition.

Last year, Chartwells’ cafeterias began serving kosher sandwiches and pastries. They are all branded with the encircled “MK” logo of the Jewish Community Council of Montréal, and are certified kosher for all sects of Judaism by the Montreal Va’ad Hair.

Hartlee Zucker, president of Hillel McGill, was happy that the decision was made independent from any action by Hillel.

“[There are] 5,000 Jewish students who encompass a wide spectrum of observance,” wrote Zucker in an email to The Daily.

Zucker added that it was very important for every cafeteria to stock kosher foods.

“[It] demonstrates a level of cultural sensitivity that will allow many Jewish students to feel more at home on campus,” she said.

Ghetto Shul, a grassroots student-run synagogue, serves kosher meals on holidays, and may potentially serve kosher lunches in the future, according to Bez Scimansky, who works at the Hillel House.

Scimansky also recommended the Second Cup on McGill College or the Chabad Centre on Peel, which both serve kosher food. The Hillel House on Stanley accepts McGill meal plan cards in its fully kosher kitchen.

Special treatment for religious dietary concerns aside, Lisa Winberg, VP External of McGill Hillel, said that even though she doesn’t follow the religious guidelines, she chooses kosher sandwiches for their quality.

“The kosher tuna sandwiches at the library are quite good,” she said in an email to The Daily.

Halaal food is not as readily available as Kosher goods on campus, although new rez and Repath caf do dish it out.

Sana Saeed, VP External of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and a Daily columnist, was disappointed with the shortage of halaal options.

“In Montreal there are tons of Halaal restaurants, making the lack of halaal foods at McGill surprising,” Saeed said in an email to The Daily, adding that it was crucial to nutritional inclusivity that there were kosher options available at McGill.

Both Muslim halaal and Jewish kashrut are religious prescriptions of what is permitted for the faithful to eat. While the certification and qualification process of both halaal and kosher are similar, they are not interchangeable to the most stringent followers.

In both the Jewish slaughtering ritual Shechita and the Muslim ritual Dhabh, animals are slaughtered quickly, painlessly, and humanely with a single uninterrupted sweep of the jugular.

But nuanced differences do exist between the two rituals. For example, the whole cow or sheep is halaal, but only the front half is considered kosher. To be kosher, a prayer must be recited once a day by the butcher, but in Dhabh, Allah’s name must be invoked individually on each animal.

“Muslims are permitted to eat properly kosher meals if non-halaal choices are unavailable,” said Saeed.

The most religious Muslim students, however, are either forced to eat vegetarian meals or must dash off-campus because there are not many halaal choices for them. Al-Taib in Gert’s is halaal, but the fact that it is situated in a bar makes it impossible for MSA to endorse them.

“It’s a constant balancing act,” said Nafay Al-Alam Choudhury, former president of MSA. “Sometimes, it’s impossible to stay halaal on campus.”

Saeed believed that around 50 per cent of Muslims on campus keep halaal. These students mostly eat the newly available kosher non-meat products, which the MSA welcomes.

She also described a personal gratitude to the Midnight Kitchen, which provides choice to both the large and active Muslim and vegan populations.

“[It’s] the most inclusive food service on campus, in terms of dietary, ethical, and financial restrictions,” she said.

Currently, the halaal options provided by Chartwells vary in the availability, and often don’t exist at all.

A representative for Chartwells said that menu expansion was contingent on student opinion.

“Chartwells is always accepting input from customers upon menu choice, this decision to serve kosher items was likely made in response to McGill student feedback.”

Bill Pageau, McGill’s Food Services Administrator, was unavailable for comment.