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Muslim students express concerns about halal-labeled foods in UNC dining halls

A Lenoir dining hall employee serves students food on June 22nd, 2022.

UNC dining halls have offered halal-certified meals since 2022. However, concerns with food sourcing make some Muslim students hesitant to eat them.

Carolina Dining Services has an online menu that allows students to view their dining options on campus, that some students with dietary restrictions use as a resource when planning out daily meals. Halal foods are foods permissible under Islamic law because of the way the meat is slaughtered and prepared. Certain foods, like alcohol and pork, are never halal.

Because of how the menus at Chase and Lenoir Dining Halls label varying assortments of vegetables, plain noodles and pork Italian sausages as halal, some students find themselves wary of the dining halls.

“I think there's a certain level of uncertainty that we have with halal meat,” UNC sophomore Mariam Matin said.

Matin said she rarely goes to the dining halls because she thinks there is some ambiguity around where meat used by CDS is sourced from. She also said she has concerns about cross-contamination efforts by employees who may not understand the significance of halal protein to Muslims.

After working with the UNC Muslim Students Association in 2022, CDS began offering halal protein at least seven times a week in Chase Dining Hall. CDS defines their halal menu items, marked with an orange H on the online menu, as halal-certified meat that excludes pork products, such as gelatin or cooking alcohols.

UNC alumni Dalal Azzam collaborated with CDS during her senior year to bring these halal options to campus.

“They never intentionally excluded us, and when we brought it to their attention, they were really passionate about rectifying the issue as soon as possible,” she said.

She said the initiative arose after surveying MSA members, some of whom had to switch to vegetarian diets or eat off-campus. When she communicated this, she said CDS worked to address the concerns.

Azzam worked with CDS to explain what halal means, helped identify halal food sources and explicitly explained cross-contamination in addition to answering questions. She was not explicitly told vendor names.

CDS offers halal chicken, lamb and brisket options but doesn’t name their providers online. They have a list of local sourcing partners on their website — of these partners, lamb vendors are not listed, and the partner for chicken, Joyce Farms, states on their website that their products aren’t halal.

Sophomore Jaidyn Bennett said she checks the online menu almost every day. She said she thinks there are more halal options this semester, but she can also feel confused about knowing what the halls are actually offering.

“You've clicked on the little ‘halal’ thing, and it will say next to it, it just says spaghetti," she said. "But then they just mean the actual noodles of the spaghetti.”

Chase’s “seasoned chicken breast” and “cilantro marinated chicken” are both marked as halal, yet the former’s ingredients specify itself as “chicken breast halal” while the latter only says, “chicken breast.” Chase’s “steamed baby carrots" are designated with the orange H while their “baby carrots” aren’t.

Some, but not all, of Lenoir's vegan options are marked as halal. 

"We recognize that non-meat items flagged as halal is confusing as the definition of 'halal' on our website includes halal-certified meat and excludes pork products, including gelatin, and cooking alcohol," UNC Media Relations said in a statement to The Daily Tar Heel. They said they are working on unflagging non-meat products with the halal dietary preference.

Azzam said she thought of UNC as a home away from home and wanted others to feel the same.

“For a lot of Muslim students, not having access to halal food was something that kind of hindered their UNC experience from being that way,” she said.

Instead of going to dining halls, some Muslim students, such as Matin, cook for themselves and eat at local halal restaurants like Momo’s Master and GRK YEERO. Matin brought more halal options to campus through her organization, Halal Heels, that Matin founded with her friend Ndumbeh Boye after their first year at UNC. She said they hold pop-up sales where all their profits go to charity.

She said that maintaining a halal diet is meaningful to her and many Muslim students because it upholds the tenets of Islam and ensures that the food was treated with kindness.

"Things like that are very important to me and many of my peers, and so knowing that the meat that we're eating is clean, and it's not an additional problem in America when we have so many already, it's really important to myself," she said

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