Satisfying students’ diverse stomachs

If it’s Thai food or mashed potatoes you want, Queen’s Food Services has you covered. But kosher and hallal are harder to come by, students say

Isra Rafiq, Venera Sejdiu and Samaa Khan show off some halal-friendly fare.
Isra Rafiq, Venera Sejdiu and Samaa Khan show off some halal-friendly fare.

In the depths of February, when the sun takes cover and midterm papers block what light remains, most students long for some good home cooking at the end of a long day.

But whether your home is in Kingston or on the other side of the world, leaving campus for a meal isn’t always an option. That’s where the cafeteria comes in.

Food Services Resident District Manager Phil Sparks said the University’s dining halls have a diverse menu, offering up to 35 options. He said generally, they can make anything someone can cook at home—all students need to do is ask.

“It’s just finding out what the desire is … finding that balance between those that want the super hot thai food and those that want mashed potatoes,” he said.

In recent years, Food Services has worked to cater to those whose dining options hinge not only on their taste buds, but also on dietary restrictions.

“If there was a group out there that required a specific menu or support, the doors would be open to find a way to make it work,” Sparks said. “We really do the grocery shopping for those that need it.”

For Muslim students, halal meals are available in two of the three dining halls on campus: Ban Righ Hall and West Campus. Generally, there’s a 14-day cycle for halal products in the cafeterias—a vast improvement from just five years ago.

Sparks said there are usually fewer students following the laws of Kashrut, but those looking for kosher food should approach a dining hall manager or chef to help them put together a dining plan for the year.

For those who follow a vegetarian diet, Sparks said, there are plenty of options in all of the dining halls as well as a vegan station in Leonard Hall.

“No animal protein goes in that station at all,” he said. “It’s self-contained.”

The cafeterias work with students who have other dietary requirements—such as gluten allergies or lactose intolerance—to construct menus that suit their needs, Sparks said.

“The goal really is about making sure that students can eat while they’re on the campus,” he said, adding that there are no additional costs involved.

Muslim students used to have to pay for meals they couldn’t eat because dining hall hours didn’t coincide with restrictions during Ramadan. But last year Azhar Jiwa, ArtSci ’08, worked with Sparks to give students observing Ramadan cash equivalency for The Lazy Scholar, a café in the basement of Victoria Hall.

Food Services has made strides toward offering more for Muslim students, Jiwa said.

“They’ve made more non-fried, non pre-prepared food,” he said, citing fajitas, stews and curry-style dishes as examples. “I think they’re doing leaps and bounds.”

But Isra Rafiq, ArtSci ’09, said she had trouble finding halal food until she got some advice from the Queen’s University Muslim Students’ Association (QUMSA).

“QUMSA offered food and it was really good food,” she said. “I’d usually just go to our prayer area with everyone else to break fast.”

Now that Rafiq lives off-campus, she and some friends buy halal meat when they go home to Toronto, where they can get it fresh from a butcher. She said students looking for halal food should try to connect with other Muslim students and watch for options available off-campus.

“That’s one suggestion I have, and if you’re not satisfied, just let Food Services know and they’ll try their best to accommodate you,” she said.

But some students have had more difficulty satisfying both their rumbling tummies and their cultural beliefs, said Queen’s Hillel Community Relations Officer Samantha Crystal, ConEd ’10.

“I didn’t really feel that the University itself was that accommodating, because they did have kosher meals, but it was like airplane food,” she said.

Crystal asked Food Services about kosher meals in February of her first year and was told to call in advance so they could defrost a meal for her—one that had been sitting in a freezer since the previous Easter, Crystal said.

But she said she didn’t try to meet with anybody to discuss her problem.

“I was honestly like, ‘I’ll just eat something else,’” she said, adding that she knows others who did the same.

Although kosher snacks are available on campus, they’re not “life-sustaining,” Crystal said.

For most of her first year, she said she supplemented dining hall meals with food from A&P, choosing to stick with non-meat options in the cafeterias.

Crystal, who adheres fairly strictly to the laws of Kashrut, said she would work harder to find kosher food if she were faced with the same dilemma again.

As community relations officer, she said she plans to open the lines of communication between Hillel and Food Services.

Sparks said that people shy away from talking about their dietary needs, but approaching a member of his staff can only help.

“In some cases students don’t want to impose … but it’s probably easier for us to help a student with their diet than it is for them to fend for themselves.”

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Visit https://housing.queensu.ca/foodservices/ to contact Food Services or fill out an online comment card. Students can also leave comments in the dining halls or talk to a chef or dining hall manager.

What’s available in Kingston

Have it halalKeep it kosher• Ban Righ Cafeteria serves a selection of halal dishes at every meal.• Tara Natural Foods, located at 81 Princess St., offers a selection a labeled kosher items, including some diary products, frozen meals, canned goods, crackers and oil.• The Queen’s University Muslium Students’ Association (QUMSA) and The Lazy Scholar, located in Victoria Hall, offer food during Ramadan.• Students can speak to Food Services staff to request kosher meals in any of the cafeterias on campus. Meals must be requested in advance.• Freddie’s Grocery, located at 219 University Ave. (just down the street from Stauffer Library), offers frozen kebabs and burgers.• The Lazy Scholar and the dining area in Mackintosh-Corry sell prepackaged kosher hummus and crackers.• Food Basics, located at 1225 Princess St., has a selection of halal meat products, including chicken thighs, beef, wieners, and occasionally kebasa.• Queen’s Hillel offers dinners once a month on Friday nights and hosts the occasional wine and cheese with products from Montreal.• Famous King, a popular Lebanese restaurant at 505 Princess St., has donair, pizza, poutine, chicken, shish taouk, and shawarma.• A&P, the grocery store closest to campus at Princess and Barrie Streets, has kosher chicken, as well as products such as pickles and salt.• Shawarma Shawarma, which offers Middle Eastern cuisine, is located at 163 Division St., in the heart of the student hub.• Loblaws offers kosher products, but there isn’t a specific section for kosher food. Products are labeled. It’s located at the Kingston Centre, accessible by several city bus routes.• The menu at Rahim’s Cuisine, a Pakistani restaurant at 625 Princess St., includes halal chicken, beef, lamb, goat, scallops and shrimp, as well as vegetarian dishes.• Food Basics, at 33 Barrack St., is a bit of a hike from campus but less expensive than A&P. It sells kosher cakes.

Kerri MacDonald

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