Dining Services tests halal options on campus

Over the last year, University of Houston Dining Services has implemented many changes to its offerings, including adding new locations and improving the dining experience for gluten intolerant, vegan and vegetarian Coogs.

To continue improving its offerings Dining Services hosted a special halal tasting and focus group on April 1 to get a better understanding of the needs and preferences of the campus population.

With a population of more than 40,000 students from over 127 countries, UH is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse universities in the nation. With this diversity comes great responsibility to provide dining options that fit a variety of preferences, religious needs and allergen concerns. UH Dining Services recognizes these needs and is constantly taking action to meet them.

"Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the nation and our campus is a definite reflection of that," said University of Houston Dining Services Dietitian Sarah Feye. "The University of Houston Dining Services team embraces the diversity of our community. With an ever-growing Muslim population, it's imperative that UH Dining provides more dining outlets to those on a halal diet."

Halal is a type of meat that has been blessed before becoming humanely eradicated and upholds strict processing guidelines. It must be prepared separately from other non-halal (haram) meats, alcohol and any products derived from pigs, such as gelatin and lard.

The tasting and focus group was geared toward giving UH Dining Services insight into what students want. Nearly 200 students attended the tasting and focus group. District Executive Chef Michael Bargas served two dishes from different flavor profiles. The first dish was chicken and tomato balti with rice pilaf and baba ghanoush. The second dish was barbecue chicken accompanied by southern potato salad.

After attendees enjoyed the tasting they were given a survey to judge the dishes and overall experience. According to the survey, 94 percent enjoyed the dishes. Sixty percent liked the chicken and tomato balti while 40 percent preferred the barbecue chicken.

Overall comments from attendees were positive.

"I liked the event," said Diana Gutierrez, a senior sociology major. "It's a great idea to cater to the established and growing Muslim population on campus. I have a few friends who live on campus and tell me they never really eat at the dining halls because of the lack of halal foods."

Anonymous comments were also left on the surveys.

"I like how the university is broadening food options to meet student needs," said one.

"Thank you so much for taking this step. Go coogs!" another proclaimed.

"It was great. Your effort to bring halal food on campus is much appreciated," one student wrote.

Moving forward, UH Dining Services will continue researching the feasibility of implementing a halal program in residential dining.

"These comments will be used in the next steps of our halal planning process," said Feye. "As we continue planning our halal offerings in our residential facilities, we will use the feedback to develop healthful halal meals. In addition, their comments better outlined the student vision for the future of our halal program."