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Muslim Students Association demands more information on halal meat in cafeteria

Photo by Tina Wallace

The University of Ottawa Muslim Students Association (UOMSA) is seeking access to more information from Food Services about halal meat at the cafeteria after several students reported eating a Quiznos sandwich thinking it was halal, only to discover the sauce is not.

Muslim students who ordered the chicken carbonara sandwich from Quiznos in the cafeteria were under the impression that ordering it without bacon would ensure the sandwich would be halal. But Ahmed Hussein, president of the UOMSA and member of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa’s (SFUO) Board of Administration, said the sauce used in the sandwich contains bacon bits in it that he and others didn’t know about. He said students want a definitive answer about what is and is not halal in the cafeteria.

Hussein said there is a lack of information about where the meat originates and “a lot of students want answers.” He said cafeteria staff should have better knowledge as to what constitutes halal.

“If someone that works there doesn’t understand what halal is and aren’t sure about it, then is it really halal?” he said.

Halal is an Arabic word meaning “permissible,” which in the context of food means it may be consumed according to Islamic law. The permissibility is specified by the animal’s origins and manner of death.

In an email to the Fulcrum, U of O spokesperson Caroline Milliard said “halal food is not offered at Quiznos and the station does not claim to offer it,” and that students should consult the alternative food options section of the Food Services website for a list of halal options.

SFUO vp university affairs Chris Hynes said although the chefs may know what constitutes halal versus what does not, the issue lies in how to communicate that to the frontline staff. The SFUO is looking to have Food Services distinguish between halal meat and non-halal specifically. He said complaints do not come just from the UOMSA.

“We’ve also heard complaints directly from students. Whenever we ask for feedback on Food Services, it inevitably comes up,” he said.

Hynes said members of the SFUO met with Food Services on Nov. 27 to discuss halal labeling and other issues.

“(We) did talk to Food Services about these concerns, specifically the variety and availability of halal options on campus,” he said. “We also brought up concerns around how that food is being administered — so, how it’s being prepared, but also how it’s being served.”

Milliard said Food Services is committed to providing healthy food options to the U of O community and also pointed out that halal chicken is offered at Shish and Menutainment.

“We value our student customers and wish to meet their wide range of dietary needs by offering a variety of food options,” she said.

Hussein said there is a “big risk” in not knowing whether  food is halal.

“There’s only certain days you’ll find there is halal foods available in the cafeteria,” he said. “We want to ensure that there is frequent halal food available.”

Hynes said the SFUO is also working with Food Services to adopt halal choices at the Food Services locations outside the University Centre.

—With files from Sofia Hashi