Section: News

Mixed messages lead to confusion over halal food options

Mixed messages lead to confusion over halal food options

Signage now labels haram meat. | BRITTANY LIN

On Sep. 30, Spiritual and Religious Life at Kenyon emailed the College’s Muslim Student Association to let them know that some of the meat served in Peirce Dining Hall that students had been eating for the past semester with the understanding that it was halal was, in fact, not. An Oct. 12 follow-up email clarified that although all meat marked with an orange “H” was halal, Muslim students had also been eating unmarked meat under the mistaken impression that all Peirce chicken was halal. Rafey Abbas ’25 forwarded the message in an all-student email with the subject line “False Promises,” condemning the College for failing to support Kenyon’s Muslim community.

Halal, an Arabic word that translates in English to “permissible,” is associated with a particular way of slaughtering an animal in accordance with Islamic law. It involves slitting the animal’s throat and draining the blood from the carcass while reciting a dedication invoking the name of God. Abbas began advocating for halal chicken in the dining hall during the spring 2022 semester, when there were very few halal options available due to supply chain issues, and said that around Ramadan, the administration had communicated that all of Peirce’s chicken would be halal beginning the following semester.

“I did not think that unmarked chicken was halal,” Dean of Student Development Robin Hart Ruthenbeck said. However, Abbas asserted that many Muslim students had assumed all chicken was halal, and the email from Spiritual and Religious Life read, “We had been under the impression that ALL chicken in Peirce would be halal this year.”

Consequently, Muslim students consumed meat that was not marked with an orange “H” for halal, believing that it was all being prepared in accordance with Islamic law. When a student went to the manager of Peirce, however, he was told that only the few dishes marked with the “H” were actually halal.

Spiritual and Religious Life apologized for the mix-up. “Although this was unintentional, it does not reflect the care and inclusivity that this campus strives for each and every day. We need to do better and we must do better in taking care of our community and ensuring that this does not happen again,” Spiritual and Religious Life wrote in their email.

According to Ruthenbeck, part of the issue arose from the change in Peirce’s resident director in the fall. 

“Our understanding as we worked with that director was that he was working to ensure that other than processed products — chicken nuggets, things like that — he would be doing his best to source halal meats. This year, there was a change in the director of AVI, and that director was doing his best to make sure that meat was labeled as halal, and doing his best to source halal meats,” Ruthenbeck said, explaining that students who had heard last year that all chicken would be halal this year may not have realized this was no longer the case. “There was just not a moment where we paused and said, ‘Let’s take a step back, and let’s investigate all of the assumptions that everybody is making.’”

In their follow-up email to the Muslim community, Spiritual and Religious Life outlined the dining hall’s next steps. According to the email, most of the fresh chicken going forward would be halal and marked with the orange “H,” and at least one halal meat dish would be available daily at both lunch and dinner. Abbas has not seen evidence of any changes, however, saying that the only place he has seen marked as halal is the sandwich bar. While other stations occasionally offer halal meat, the sandwich bar remains its most consistent source.

Ruthenbeck said that AVI had been facing supply chain issues in sourcing halal chicken, which is already hard to come by in rural Ohio, and said that the dining hall has been doing their best to provide halal meals to the extent that they could obtain the meat. 

“[AVI] can’t make a promise because they don’t control the source,” Ruthenbeck said. “We have asked that if it looks like they are going to run out, that they hold aside some halal meat so that a student who needs halal meat can go and ask for a halal chicken breast.”

Abbas expressed his lack of faith in the administration to follow through, saying that he had been misled twice already: first when he first arrived at Kenyon and was promised lots of halal options, and secondly when he was led to believe that the unmarked chicken was halal. “I was fooled twice. I just don’t think that I can find that trust within me to be able to trust them once again and be fooled a third time,” Abbas said.

Despite AVI’s previous issues with supply, Ruthenbeck is optimistic for the future, saying that the price difference between halal and non-halal chicken has decreased recently. She emphasized that AVI would do its best to provide as much halal meat as possible given the circumstances.

“There was never an intent to confuse or mislead any students. The intent is, as I see it, to make sure that we are doing what we can to provide access to something that there is limited access to in this part of Ohio. And I’m hoping that we continue to do better,” Ruthenbeck said.


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