BY SHEBATI SENGUPTA ’19
With the opening of the new Dining Commons in January, the College set out to build community through food. Reflecting the diversity of Mount Holyoke’s students, the Commons features new stations such as the Global station, the Wok station, the L’Chaim (Kosher) station and the Baraka (Halal) station. The latter is undergoing changes as the College works with students to create a more inclusive dining experience.
According to Elizaveta Lozovaya, the Muslim advisor and chaplain to the College, “Halal is about slaughtering animals in a particular way, raising them in a particular way and then reminding humanity about our responsibility in how we treat living creatures.” Having a separate station for Halal food ensures that the meat served adheres to Halal standards, and that no ingredients used contain pork or alcohol, which are prohibited in Islam. Lozovaya added that Halal is rooted in “religious understandings of being merciful and mindful to living creatures as part of God’s creation.”
When Director of Dining Services Rich Perna arrived at Mount Holyoke five months ago, he inherited plans which included a joint allergen-free and Halal dining station. After reaching out to students and representatives at the Eliot House, home of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, he realized there was a high demand for Halal options on campus. Based on this feedback, the decision was made to create an independent Halal station and keep allergen kits at every station.
“There was an overwhelming amount of support to make [this station] Halal,” Perna said, “but the issue is the timing. We made this decision in the final hour.”
In order to ensure the station could open with the rest of the Dining Commons, Dining Services fell back to the basics. Making the Halal station everything community members wanted it to be was something they knew would need more time. “We haven’t even really begun,” Perna said. His vision for the station is to be able to provide a full meal in one place. “It’s in some ways similar to how the Kosher [station] is designed: it’s one station, it’s all things Kosher,” said Perna. “Well, why can’t we do that with Halal?”
This switch from an allergen-free and Halal station to a purely Halal station is the result of conferences held between representatives from Dining Services and from the Eliot House. “They really worked with us,” said Lozovaya. “I was invited to give a workshop to the staff on what Halal is, how to handle Halal food, so on and so forth. It is my 10th year, and it is the first time I was invited to do that.”
Lozovaya expressed gratitude to Dining Services for their efforts to communicate with students, a sentiment which was echoed by Tehreem Mela ’20 and Prokriti Shyamolima ’19. “I’m grateful [the Halal station] exists and I use it often,” said Mela. She said the increase in Halal options this semester has significantly improved her experience with dining. Some students found it difficult to eat on campus in the past, but that is beginning to change with the arrival of a station fully devoted to Halal food. Shyamolima said she “liked that there was actually a separate Halal station,” but that she felt like the station “could use some more diversity.”
Both Shyamolima and Mela voiced their desire to see more of the foods featured at the global station, such as chicken shawarma or chicken tikka masala, at the Halal station. In their view, introducing a wider array of recipes would make the station seem more welcoming, reflect the various backgrounds and tastes of the students, and give them more options. They expressed hope that the quality will get better with time, and also had the impression that Dining Services was working on incorporating more diverse recipes. Perna confirmed that “[Dining Services is] about three weeks away” from beginning to incorporate the recipes that students are sending in, but that they welcome more recipes and feedback from students.
“It will take some time,” said Lozovaya. “It is a huge step, for everybody on this campus.”