"Our goal is to make (halal food) available as much as possible," said Zia Ahmed, senior director of Campus Dining Services at Ohio State.
Halal meat is meat that Muslims are permitted to eat according to Islamic dietary guidelines and the Quran. "Halal" means "lawful" in Arabic. The meat, which can never be pork, must be slaughtered in a certain way and in the name of Allah.
Some Muslim students at OSU opted out of eating meat on campus because of the lack of any certified halal meat through dining services.
"As a freshman with a meal plan, I could not eat meat. I had no choice but to eat a vegetarian diet. Many Muslim freshmen, limited to meal plans, do not eat meat on campus," said Maria Ahmad, president of OSU's Muslim Students' Association and a third-year in speech and hearing sciences.
Students unable to eat meat on campus were the main inspiration behind Ahmad's campaign platform in Spring 2010 to bring halal foods to OSU.
Ahmad caught wind of Food Service Express' media outreach via webinars and speeches at conferences that advised students on ways to approach campus administrators about providing halal options.
Don Tymchuck, president of HalalHealthy.com and Med-Diet, a parent company of Food Service Express, spoke at the Muslim Students' Association Conference on Jan. 30 at the Ohio Union.
"Students must create the demand. Campus Dining Services will not provide alternative dining options unless that demand is expressed," Tymchuck said. "It is my goal to prime the pump by guiding students."
After reading a packet on Tymchuck's steps for addressing campus administration, Ahmad contacted Ahmed in Autumn 2010.
"I came from the University of Akron four months ago and my goal is to refocus commitment to student feedback, to address all backgrounds: religious, cultural, and even dietetic needs," Ahmed said. "We've met with students from the USG, BSA (Black Student Association) and graduate societies."
Campus Dining Services is not just waiting for requests; it is also focusing on reaching out to students.
"We are reaching out and soliciting information. But we would never arbitrarily place a product out there … it would not make sense to introduce a product no one wants," Ahmed said.
Tymchuck said there is a niche for halal.
Ahmad said it took three meetings with the Undergraduate Student Government's Diversity Committee supporting the Muslim Students' Association and one meeting with the Muslim Students' Association representing itself to convince Dining Services that halal should be offered.
Ahmed said Campus Dining Services took its time sorting out the logistics of offering halal. Ahmad said it is difficult to provide food that meets religious guidelines. It took two weeks for dining services to get halal meat on the Union Market grill.
"It is important to do something the right way. You can imagine how terrible it would be if we called something halal or kosher and it was discovered not to be," she said.
Food supplier Restaurant Depot now provides meat that is halal-certified to Campus Dining Services. The issues of contaminating halal were also addressed. Halal meat ceases to be halal if contaminated by haram foods — "haram" means "forbidden" in Arabic.
Ahmed said measures were taken to educate chefs about halal and that one side of the grill is used specially to cook halal burgers or halal hot dogs.
"The University will probably see if students respond well to halal. They should; it's a big deal," said Ahmad. "Students want dining to be a home away from home."