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Mislabeled dishes burden students with specialized diets

Mislabeled dishes burden students with specialized diets

Photo: This sign located in the Student Center depicts a pork dish as a Halal option. Photo Courtesy of the Muslim Students Association.

Students at Hofstra recently noticed a myriad of cases where food items offered on campus were improperly labeled which administrators believe to be caused by student tampering.

The Muslim Students Association (MSA) identified one such example that was labeled "Halal pork."

Hofstra Vice President for Facilities and Operations Joseph Barkwill, as well as representatives from Campus Dining Services, attended the Student Government Association’s (SGA) open Senate meeting on Thursday, Feb. 15 to address student concerns about certain foods being mislabeled.

According to Abby Normandin, vice president of SGA and a junior public policy and global studies major, representatives from Dining Services said they were aware of the issue.

They believed students were the cause of the issue, claiming that students themselves moved labels around. According to Normandin, Campus Dining Services is working to change the previous method of signage in response to the problem.

Michael Cenicola, the regional director for Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services, said that Student Center managers are educated daily on which items are vegan, vegetarian, gluten free and Halal. Together, they are responsible for making sure appropriate signs are placed with the correct items.

“At the start of the spring 2018 semester, we implemented a new signage system to avoid any misunderstanding that may have resulted from signs being moved or misplaced – whether inadvertently or intentionally,” Cenicola said.

Hofstra dining only began serving Halal meat on Oct. 23, 2017. But according to Maryam Qureshi, president of MSA and a junior double major in political science and public policy and public service, Compass Dining was preparing Halal meat in ways that were unacceptable to observers of the Halal diet. ‘Halal’ in Arabic translates to ‘permissible’ according to Islamic law.

For Muslims, meat is acceptable when it is slaughtered and prepared in accordance with Islamic guidelines. Additionally, Muslims who follow a strictly Halal diet do not consume pork, blood or anything with alcoholic ingredients. But according to Qureshi, Compass was presenting Muslim students with dishes such as rum sauce chicken, bourbon chicken and Halal pork chops.

“This was when Muslim students really lost trust in dining services on campus, because this was a huge mistake,” Qureshi said. “Nonetheless, Muslim students have been accommodating throughout this process, but now their patience has run short.”  

Muslim students aren’t the only ones having issues with Hofstra’s food labels. John Potz, a junior economics major and a vegetarian since his sophomore year of high school, said, “I’ve heard of [meat] broth being put into something labeled as vegan, so I’ve noticed that a lot of people have seen it as a pervasive problem.”

Marli Delaney, a junior majoring in public relations and music, aims to be vegan but says a lot of times, due to skewed labeling at Hofstra, it can be difficult. Still a strict vegetarian, Delaney said, “I think [Hofstra] could definitely do better. They claim that they are trying and you do see the efforts. I’ve seen a lot of efforts on the to-go foods ... And I see new options coming up every semester. But I feel like they should also look more into the mistakes that people are telling them about.”

Rosheen Awais, MSA co-vice president and a junior studying psychology on the pre-medical track, said that MSA tried to speak to dining services privately, hoping to clear any misconceptions, but she said it didn’t have much of an effect. Awais said they continued meeting with various administrators during the past few weeks.

Qureshi and Awais sat down with a number of administrators Wednesday morning to discuss the issues addressed at the prior Senate meeting.

Those present included Barkwill; Richard Maha, the resident district manager for Compass Dining; Gillian Atkinson, the associate director of Intercultural Engagement and Inclusion; Joseph Fitzpatrick, the associate dean of students; and Colin Sullivan, the director of communications for Student Affairs. Awais said MSA received an apology regarding the misunderstanding and that the administrators laid out “how they will continue their efforts towards making Halal a trustworthy resource for us on campus.”

Instead of individual signs above each item in the self-service stations, Cenicola said they will have full menus fixed on the glass above each station.

“Moving forward, Campus Dining will continue to handle labeling and signage at dining areas across campus on a case-by-case basis,” Cenicola said. “Many areas are made-to-order stations or have static menu boards already in place, so we will focus on implementing more fixed labeling practices, especially in self-service areas.”

Qureshi said Compass addressed MSA’s concerns about cross contamination, miscommunication and visibility. According to Qureshi, Compass is working to turn the Student Center’s G8 station into a Halal station, complete with specific signage. Acording to her, their goal is to have this resource in place by around March 5. Additionally, Sullivan will work to increase Halal option visibility through Hofstra’s social media accounts.

Qureshi said, “By accommodating their diet needs, Hofstra can ensure that Muslim students feel a part of the greater Hofstra Pride and not have to resort to off-campus options.”


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