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Halal options on campus scarce

University and food service provider blame low demand

Correction appended February 18, 2014.

Practicing Muslim students continue to face limited availability of halal foods at McGill, and the situation remains largely unchanged since The Daily last reported on the issue in 2008.

Halal meat, which must come from an animal raised and slaughtered according to Islamic rules, is available at several McGill dining halls, including Bishop Mountain Hall, New Residence Hall (NRH), and Carrefour Sherbrooke. Additionally, vegetarian meals are also suitable for those who eat halal.

However, the lack of variety in the options offered is unsatisfactory to some students. “The only halal food [in NRH] was beef and chicken burgers,” said Umar Kahn, student and member of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Policy Advocacy Resource Committee. “After a while, you can’t keep eating the same thing.”

Others pointed to the prohibitive cost of the halal options. “New Rez is ridiculously expensive,” said Tanbin Rafee, student and member of the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) and Daily staff member. “Food is expensive on its own, and halal options [are] even more [expensive].”

On campus, halal options are even more scarce. “There’s none that I know of in terms of meat,” said Karim El-Baba, a U1 Engineering student.

Instead, Muslim students turn to off-campus locations for halal food. “I don’t think there’s [many halal options] around. I have to eat at Arabic or Egyptian restaurants,” said Rafee.

“Sometimes, we have to go to Concordia to get food,” added Kahn.

The food service provider Aramark, which manages many food outlets on McGill’s campus, justified the lack of availability by citing low demand. “Halal being for a very small minority of students, they are not regular items. We accommodate them on a case-by-case [basis]. If we supply the cafeteria with halal food and nobody buys it, then we make a loss,” said Marketing and Nutrition Counselor for Student Housing and Hospitality Services Monique Lauzon.

MSA President Nazem Husseini suggested that the demand is in fact substantial. “The demand is pretty high among Muslim students,” Husseini wrote in an email to The Daily. “If the Food and Dining services [show] that they are willing to offer halal meals, they will find a huge number of Muslim customers to add to their regular customers.”

Lauzon placed the onus on students to make sure that their needs are met. “They would have to manifest an interest. We haven’t received [much] communication from Muslim students. If we suddenly had lots of interest in halal food, we would adjust,” she said.

Rafee spoke to the accessibility problems posed by this request-based approach. “Not everyone is confident enough to ask in front of people,” he said.

Husseini echoed that sentiment, blaming the administration for its lack of cooperation. “Most just opt for the vegetarian meals or get halal meals from food outlets off campus […] as they don’t expect the University will address their demands for halal meals,” he wrote. “McGill’s administration has not been very cooperative in accommodating religious needs on campus, and this definitely discourages students from taking initiative.”

According to SSMU VP Clubs and Services Stefan Fong, the SSMU building stands as an exception and provides a greater variety of options suitable for Muslim students than other outlets on campus.

“There are many more available options in the SSMU building than I would expect there to be on campus, namely all of the vegetarian and vegan options we have,” he wrote in an email to The Daily.

“While they may not include meat, Midnight Kitchen offers free vegan lunches and The Nest provides more vegetarian options than I, as a vegetarian, have seen at any other restaurant on campus.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly labelled Monique Lauzon as an Aramark representative; in fact, she is the Marketing and Nutrition Counselor for Student Housing and Hospitality Services. The Daily regrets the error.