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In January, George Mason Dining in Fairfax, Va. opened a new Mason Mensch kosher food station as a cart inside their Southside dining hall. It serves kosher dinners from 6-8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday on a first-come, first-served basis.
“Mason is the most diverse university in Virginia,” Mason Dining Field Marketing Specialist Sofya Vetrova said. “Our student body is diverse, and the Jewish community is a big part of that.”
Rather than creating a kosher kitchen, Mason Dining partnered with Char Bar in Washington, D.C., which has a certified kosher kitchen. Food comes daily from Char Bar to Mason Dining, and from there Mason Dining ensures it is kept from cross-contaminating with other food. They also worked with a Mashgiach (expert Kosher supervisor) to ensure everything was being done properly.
The first night the cart launched, 120 dinners were served from Mason Mensch. The reaction from the students has been amazing, and everyone has been thrilled with the launch, Vetrova said. She related how she talked with a rabbi recently, who said a lot of Jewish students will call about applying to colleges, asking if they offer kosher food.
“If the answer is no, then they wouldn’t consider it,” Vetrova said. “Now that the answer is yes, hopefully that will increase attendance.”
Franklin & Marshall Dining (Lancaster, Pa.) has been offering kosher options from its certified-kosher kitchen since 2007, General Manager Drew Niemann said. This requires having a meat side and a dairy side, as part of kosher requirements are that the two are never intermingled. KIVO, F&M Dining’s Kosher location, keeps up kosher certifications, as well as employing Mashgiachs to ensure everything is done correctly. Additionally, KIVO is halal-certified.
In addition to serving kosher food on campus, KIVO also provides kosher catering options, and provides catering for the campus’s Klehr Center for Jewish Life each sabbath and holiday.
Kosher food choices aren’t much different than other food offerings, there are just differences in preparation.
“The reality is anything that you might think of that’s not kosher can and is done (at KIVO),” Niemann said. “They can make meatloaf with mashed potatoes, but you just can’t have milk in the mashed potatoes. There are adjustments or changes to recipes to accommodate those things.”
KIVO’s dairy side has options such as black bean burgers, tuna melts and quesadillas, and the meat side has things like burgers, chicken fingers and chicken wings.
Muhlenberg College (Allentown, Pa.) also has an integrated kosher facility within its Wood Dining Commons. Noshery North (the college's STAR-D Certified Dairy Kitchen) and Noshery South (the college's Star-K Certified Meat Kitchen) serve assorted kosher meals. Additionally, they have Nosh & Go, which provides pre-packaged, kosher-sealed items available for sale in their food court on campus at The General’s Quarters. A robust catering program on campus also provides Shabbat Dinner to the Hillel House each week during the academic year.
Muhlenberg’s kosher kitchen started in 2010 when the college was looking for a kosher component to the dining program.
“About 30 percent of students that attend Muhlenberg are Jewish,” General Manager John Pasquarello said. “It was very important that the college to have a kosher solution and options for the campus community.”
Pasquarello said a lot of work goes into creating a kosher kitchen, with separate kitchens, sourcing kosher vendors, having dedicated storage spaces for kosher items, getting certifications, and hiring two Mashgichim (kosher supervisors), but the reward of having kosher options for students on campus is worth it.
“Students looking to come to school here are very impressed and pleased there is a kosher option,” he said. “A strong kosher program is just another component that supports an inclusive environment on campus.”
Halal food is also popping up more on campuses. Mason Dining’s Executive Chef Jacqueline Craig had helped the team in the past switch to using halal meats in the dining halls whenever possible, so that now, 75 percent of the meats served are halal.
“There’s no difference in the taste,” Mason Dining General Manager Jenita Thurston said. “Halal has to do with the way the animal is killed.”
Mason Dining went a step further, opening a halal retail option at the school’s Johnson Center by partnering with well-known brand The Halal Guys. After soft opening at the end of January, Vetrova said the response has been great with a constant line at the location.
“With a large population of Muslim students, it is extremely important for us to deliver an experience that allows them to feel included,” Howard Dining Field Marketing Specialist Chaheed Campbell said. “In addition to the Muslim population, we have a substantial amount of students who crave The Halal Shack’s menu offerings.”
Offering diverse menu options on campus goes beyond food and speaks also to helping students in their success.
“Attending a university is more than just striving toward a degree, it’s obtaining the proper nutrition and getting support from all aspects of a higher education system,” Campbell said. “By offering a variety of inclusive diets, Sodexo can assist students on achieving their goals, whether academic or personal.”
Chef Craig said maintaining a kosher, halal or any kind of diet should not be at odds with attending college, and likewise college should not interfere with a student’s ability to maintain that diet.
“If you know that you have dietary needs – gluten-free, halal, kosher - that shouldn’t stop because you’re getting higher education,” Chef Craig said. “We want to meet students where they are and give them what they’re used to.”
Tiffany Peden is a regional communications manager with Sodexo Universities.