In the winter quarter of 2020, the UCR Dining Services made an unprecedented effort to implement halal food in the Highlander Union Building by incorporating it into the Chronic Tacos menu. Though limited and only including halal chicken, it was met with celebration and appreciation by the Muslim population at UCR and was available for all students to purchase upon request. However, a little over a year later and following the return to in-person classes, Muslim students were met with the withdrawal of this availability, causing many to express dissatisfaction and feelings of exclusion.
Halal food refers to what is deemed religiously permissible for Muslims to eat. Though there are specific meats that are inherently impermissible, such as pork, the distinction of what is halal is also determined by the means taken to slaughtering the animals. A more humane method of slaughter and humane treatment prior to it, both in contrast to the mainstream methods used in most slaughterhouses, are what designate the meats as being halal/permissible to eat.
There are currently food options that do fall under Islamic guidelines, such as seafood, vegetarian or vegan choices, but these choices tend to be limited and often costly. Fourth-year political science major, Maher Oueida, explains the financial disadvantage that this often poses. “It limits my availability to eat on campus … There are increased prices for alternatives to beef and chicken in places like Panda Express, which has shrimp as the only halal protein and costs extra.”
For students unwilling to pay the extra price, many express the inconvenience of either having to prepare food at home or suffer the consequences. Awad Hani, a fourth-year biology major, stresses, “I am left most days without a meal to eat as I spend full days on campus.”
Another common complaint by Muslim students is the feeling of social exclusion that this can create. Students sometimes resort to leaving campus to get food, as there are numerous restaurants around UCR that do provide halal meat. “If Muslims are uncomfortable with eating on campus, it becomes hard to arrange meals with friends. Some of us miss out on social gatherings and have to worry about leaving campus to get food instead,” Maimoona Naveed, a third-year psychology student, explains. Naveed is also a board member for the Muslim Student Association at UCR and a community outreach intern for the Middle Eastern Student Center.
In response to these concerns, students representing the Middle Eastern Student Assembly are currently drafting a piece of legislation to reflect the demand for halal options on campus. “This conversation has been on the table since 2017, and little to no progress has been made. As a campus that prides itself on holding the most diverse student body population, the lack of food diversity to fit the needs of the student body is disappointing to say the least,” states Jeanine Nassar, a second-year political science and administrative studies major and president of the Students for Justice in Palestine club.
To be discussed in the resolution is the idea of implementing a restaurant that exclusively serves halal and vegan options in place of the MOD Pizza that has closed. Alaa Mido, who is a third-year business analytics and economics double major, an outreach intern for the MESC and the president of the MESA, discusses this idea. She states, “The inclusion of a halal menu would greatly serve the Muslim population and make them feel represented on campus. Having halal meat is not hard or costly, and expanding halal options would make us feel included.”
“There’s a lack of vegan, gluten and halal food on campus, and UCR should have a restaurant that supports students’ dietary needs,” she emphasizes. Among the restaurants to be mentioned in the proposal for consideration are The Halal Guys and The Halal Shack, the latter being specifically designed to be on college campuses, as Mido explains.
The resolution aims to amend SR-S21-010, Proposition to Diversify Food Options for Various Dietary Needs. It will be proposed in the senate in the weeks to come.