Students adapt dietary needs to campus dining options

The All Campus Dining Center offers special options for students who need or elect to follow specific dietary restrictions—halal, kosher, vegan. Some students make exceptions while living on campus. Photo By: Emily Lavaieri-Scull
The All Campus Dining Center offers special options for students who need or elect to follow specific dietary restrictions—halal, kosher, vegan. Some students make exceptions while living on campus. Photo By: Emily Lavaieri-Scull
The All Campus Dining Center offers special options for students who need or elect to follow specific
dietary restrictions—halal, kosher, vegan. Some students make exceptions while living on campus. Photo By: Emily Lavaieri-Scull

Campus dining can be tough­—this isn’t home. The foods aren’t always to our taste. We wanted chicken, but the All Campus Dining Center (ACDC) offered only pasta. However, for students with religious dietary restrictions like keeping halal and keeping kosher, it is even harder to abide by dietary needs.

Farah Aziz ’16 didn’t expect Vassar’s campus dining to have any halal options and appreciates that it even has any.

“I think it’s very considerate. But at the same time, I know the halal meat isn’t the freshest,” Aziz wrote in an emailed stament. She went on to acknowledge, “Many students don’t strictly stick to eating halal meat on campus and it may not be worth special ordering meat that only a handful of students eat on a regular basis.”

In turn, Aziz has found herself keeping a fairly vegetarian diet, since the ACDC provides for vegetarian meals—and vegetarian food is often halal food. “I like having all the vegetarian options. At Vassar, meat itself is not offered as much as it is offered on other campuses, let alone special meat such as halal or kosher,”

Director of Campus Dining Maureen King noted that part of Vassar’s devotion to wider vegan and vegetarian options is a result of a broader change in diets over time. She wrote in an emailed statement, “Many years ago PETA asked colleges to answer questions to determine how ‘Vegetarian Friendly’ they were. Two or three years back, they changed the criteria to focus on vegan menu options. With today’s life styles, it’s easy to accomodate a vegetarian diet, [and] veganism became the new standard by which we were measured.” Though Aziz is satisfied with her vegetarian diet, she admitted halal options would be preferable.

“All in all, I’ll keep wishfully hoping for better halal meat offerings, but I have no complaints because the vegetarian options make keeping halal very simple.”

Echoing Aziz, President of the Vassar Islamic Society Mariam Khan ‘14 noted that her diet is, effectively, vegetarian as well. “ACDC sometimes offers halal options although to be honest I haven’t checked since my freshman  year. My freshman year, [the] Vassar Islamic Society met with [the] Director of ACDC and exchanged several emails regarding halal options,” Khan wrote in an emailed statement.

King said she encourages students to follow suit with Khan’s initiative. “I personally meet with dozens of students each year and I or one of our managers conduct tours of the dining facilities all the time,introducing students to memebers of the staff and allowing them to gain a familiarity with the locations,” she wrote.

Of these, is the Peace of Mind Zone in the ACDC. However, Khan said it still falls short of her expectations. “I felt like our needs were still not dealt with since they only put out halal chicken sometimes in the peace of mind zone. I wasn’t satisfied with it so I stopped checking. Ever since then, I just eat from the vegetarian options.” Additionally, Khan patronizes nearby restaurants like Kismat and Zorona’s—before the fire shut it down—for local halal meat. On occasion she also bring halal meat back to campus from her home in New York City.

Co-President of the Vassar Jewish Union Evelyn Berger ’13 seeks to bring her dietary-specific foods back to campus as well, though she is similarly flexible on her dietary needs.

When Berger was reliant upon the ACDC, she ate non-kosher meat because only it was available. “For people who more strictly keep kosher, the only real option is to eat vegetarian on campus. Even if they do that, they will be eating off of dishes that have come in contact [with] meat which is problematic,” Berger explained. “The dining services at Vassar do not have a kosher kitchen, nor do they have separate dishes and utensils for students keeping kosher…as such, there is only so much that one can do.” The Bayit, Berger noted, offers one way to keep kosher outside of campus dining. The Bayit, which is run out of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, serves kosher vegetarian dinners on Friday nights and houses a kosher kitchen for student use.

“There is not that much that ACDC can do about it, unfortunately. In the past few years, I believe that ACDC started offering kosher deli meat, which is definitely an improvement,” Berger wrote. Berger now lives in the Terrace Apartments and cooks her own meals. However, she has still found it somewhat difficult to find kosher meat in Poughkeepsie’s supermarkets. Berger discovered that the nearby Price Chopper offers a limited supply of kosher meats on Thursday afternoons, but this still poses a challenge.

“I don’t have a car at Vassar, so I rely on my friends for food shopping, making it more difficult to get there at a specific time,” Berger wrote. “I have also had classes on Thursday afternoons both semesters, so I would definitely have to go out of my way to keep kosher while shopping in Poughkeepsie.”

Fardeen Chowdhury ’13, as another Terrace Apartment resident, who buys halal meet in bulk and brings it to campus, has found a way to please everyone. “Usually I’ll buy 30-40 pounds of meat and bring it up to campus and freeze it and use it throughout the semester. The meat is always fresh and my housemates are super cooperative and amazing when it comes to my dietary needs,” Chowdhury wrote in an emailed statement.

However, for students who don’t want to wait until senior year to find culinary success,

King concluded, “I think the most important thing is communication. We can’t satisfy someone’s dietary wishes if we don’t know what they are. Whether it is for religous, ethical, or health reasons, students should feel free to contact Campus Dining.”

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