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On campus, religious dietary restrictions hard to meet

Steve Richichi of Chapel Hill, picks up a few things at the Mediterranean Deli Market on Monday evening. He says he enjoys the fresh produce and the prices are great too. Employee, Lukas Zdanavicius.
Steve Richichi of Chapel Hill, picks up a few things at the Mediterranean Deli Market on Monday evening. He says he enjoys the fresh produce and the prices are great too. Employee, Lukas Zdanavicius.

She mostly eats pasta, salad and the occasional veggie burger. She’s delighted when there is breakfast food.

“It kind of sucks having to eat the same thing every day,” said Khan, a junior. “I still have a meal plan because when I’m on campus I feel like that’s my only option.”

Senior Shira Chandler did the same when she was a first-year student.

“I mostly ate salads because I couldn’t eat any of the meat that was in the dining hall,” Chandler said.

Khan and Chandler’s food options are limited because of their religious beliefs. Khan is a Muslim, and Chandler is a Jew. Both religions have dietary restrictions — ones that UNC students sometimes struggle to follow when they are on campus.

The Islamic religion requires its believers to abide by the halal lifestyle, which means Khan cannot consume pork, and the meat she eats must come from animals that are raised ethically and slaughtered in a specific method that includes invoking the name of God.

The kosher dietary laws for Jews ban its believers from consuming pork and other specific types of meat. Utensils and cooking equipment cannot come in contact with non-kosher food; dairy and meat cannot be eaten together.

Dining halls on campus do not offer halal or kosher meat. Mediterranean Deli, which reopened in 2013 in Lenoir Main Street, is the only outlet offering halal meat on campus. But it is only open on weekdays until 3 p.m. There are no kosher restaurants in Chapel Hill.

Junior Aisha Anwar stuck to seafood and bagels in her first year. Mediterranean Deli on campus wasn’t open then.

“Oh God, I’m so tired of bagels,” she said. “It was kind of rough. Hummus Cafe opened later and that was awesome.”

Brandon Thomas, director of communications for Carolina Dining Services, said they have only received two inquiries for kosher or halal food in the past two years.

“It’s something that we would consider if enough students showed interest,” he said.

For Jewish students, Chandler said there might not be enough demand for kosher food on campus.

“I think that there are a small number of Jewish students who keep kosher,” she said. “A lot of Jewish students here are from the Judaism sect that doesn’t follow (the kosher diet).”

Hinduism requires its believers to abstain from all meat. Vegetarian options are available in the dining hall and in Lenoir Main Street.

Senior Anita Gandhi said while she hopes vegetarian food is cheaper on campus, the addition of an omelet station in the dining halls was great.

“It’s very hard to get the protein you need (as a vegetarian),” she said.

Limited food options

According to a 2013 UNC survey of 5,948 undergraduates, 0.9 percent of the respondents identify as Muslims, 2.6 percent identify as Jewish and 2 percent identify as Hindu. The Association of Religion Data Archives 2010 data reports that there are 26,045 Muslims, 18,161 Jews and 10,270 Hindus in North Carolina, out of that year’s state population of about 9.5 million.

The 2010 U.S. Religion Census data reports Islam to be the largest non-Christian group in North Carolina. Orange County had a 50 percent or more gain of Islam adherents. A 2015 Pew Research Center report indicated that Islam is expected to be the fastest growing religion in the United States.

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Muslims students — a majority of whom do follow halal restrictions — have to adapt to the relative lack of food options in Chapel Hill compared to other North Carolina towns with larger Muslim populations. But many say access to halal food has improved over the years.

Before, there was only Mediterranean Deli on West Franklin Street. Now Muslim students can choose from Hummus Cafe, which opened two years ago, and more recently, Jasmin Mediterranean Bistro.

Cholanad and Guru India also said they offer halal food options, while Mint only offers halal beef and lamb. All three are high-end Indian restaurants on West Franklin Street.

Khalid Shahu, an Arabic lecturer at UNC, said it is much easier for him to find halal food now compared to 1995.

“I think back to the time you need to drive at least one hour or so to find halal meat,” Shahu said. “Now it’s all around, maybe 10 to 15 minutes.”

He said his children go to a public school in Wake County and find it harder to cope in the school cafeteria. He tells them to stick to fish and vegetables — and if there are cookies or cakes, to check if it has gelatin, as it is derived from pigskins.

Increasing awareness

Many businesses are beginning to cater to the Muslim population’s needs, but it comes with its criticisms. When Whole Foods partnered with Saffron Road, a halal frozen food provider, the company was attacked by bloggers whom the Saffron Road CEO called Islamophobic.

On the other hand, reception toward the Muslim community in Chapel Hill has been relatively welcoming. Jamil Kadoura, owner of Mediterranean Deli, the first halal restaurant on Franklin Street, said after Sept. 11, he received overwhelming support.

“People ask me 10 times more after 9/11 about Islam,” he said. “What is this religion that came in here and bombed the hell out of us? I tell them this is not our religion. Islam is a beautiful religion, it’s the fanatics that try to translate Islam.”

Kadoura said halal meat tastes the same as any other meat — and even though most people don’t know about it, they shouldn’t have a problem with it just because it’s not their religion.

Ari Gauss, executive director of N.C. Hillel, said he hopes one day there can be a meal plan that serves both Jewish and Muslim students’ needs. Hillel and Chabad, two Jewish communities, are the only places in Chapel Hill that have kosher kitchens.

Chandler and Thomas said the same.

“Like halal food is offered in Med Deli in Lenoir Main Street,” Thomas said. “I can foresee something prepared in a kosher kitchen and then offered for sale on campus.”



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