Practicing faith through food

Brad Meyer The Daily Illini Max Dayah, a sophomore in LAS takes the husks off of corn for the Cohen Centers Shabbat Service and Meal on Friday Oct. 3 2008. Shabbat is the weekly sabbath for Jewish people and is a day of celebration and prayer.

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Brad Meyer The Daily Illini Max Dayah, a sophomore in LAS takes the husks off of corn for the Cohen Center’s Shabbat Service and Meal on Friday Oct. 3 2008. Shabbat is the weekly sabbath for Jewish people and is a day of celebration and prayer.

By Jennifer Wheeler

When Alia Bilal walked into the dining halls, she was not concerned about the food’s taste, calories or appearance. As a Muslim student who practiced dhabina halal, the traditional dietary laws, she found herself eating solely veggies and starches.

And with students walking around with ashes on t…When Alia Bilal walked into the dining halls, she was not concerned about the food’s taste, calories or appearance. As a Muslim student who practiced dhabina halal, the traditional dietary laws, she found herself eating solely veggies and starches.

And with students walking around with ashes on their foreheads, practicing kosher or eating before the crack of dawn, one can only wonder if dining caters to the vast amount of students who have religiously restricted diets.

“They (students) are welcome to speak with the nutritionist or dining unit manager in their hall and we can accommodate other diets,” said Kirsten Ruby, assistant director of housing for marketing at the University.

Ruby said University Dining Services provides meal options for students of different faiths. Kosher dinner meal options are served Monday through Thursday at Allen Hall for Jewish individuals, Islamic individuals are given the option to prepare a sack lunch or receive a discounted meal plan during Ramadan and the dining halls offer a plentiful amount of non-meat options for Catholic followers.

Daniel Gilpin, freshman in Business and secretary of Footsteps in the Sand, a registered student organization for Catholic students, said there are plenty of non-meat dining options available to students who practice Catholicism both at Newman Hall and at other public housing dining facilities. In his experience, fish and vegetarian options were always present.

“It’s not nearly as intense a Judaism,” Gilpin said in reference to the Catholic dietary law.

Many are also satisfied with the number of kosher options available to Jewish students. In addition to the kosher dinners served at Allen Hall, Shabbat dinners are offered by the Margie K. and Louis N. Cohen Center for Jewish Life. Kosher lunch meals are also sold at the center, said Rabbi Naftali Rothstein, a Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus Educator.

“I lived out of a microwave,” said Robbie Philipp, junior in LAS about the old kosher meals provided to students.

Philipp described the old pre-packaged kosher meals as a step below airline food, and said hot kosher meals offered at Allen Hall offer more options.

Philipp said he was grateful for the options provided by the University which he said stemmed from “student demand and (them) voicing their needs.”

However, outside of the dining facilities on campus, there is not a restaurant on campus that strictly keeps kosher, Rothstein said. Jewish individuals must rely on packaged food from companies that practice kosher, he said.

“One of the reasons students (who keep traditional kosher) go to Maryland, Penn State, NYU is that they have an easier time in terms of food options,” Rothstein said.

However, unlike Catholic and Jewish students, Islamic students who practice traditional dietary law said they struggle to find options on campus that follow dhabina halal.

Bilal said she knows of Muslim students who “go home on the weekends and binge out on meat products.”

She added that she was not aware of any formal attempts to change the dining facilities to accommodate for Muslim dietary needs.

To fill this void, Bilal said she eats the free meals provided by the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center during Ramadan. She also purchases meat products at Casbah, a local deli at 1715 Kirby Ave. in Champaign.

Other local restaurants that cater to Muslim dietary law are Niro’s Gyros on Neil Street and One World Pizza on Green Street.

Through the success stories and woes expressed by the students, Ruby said the University said they try to balance the types of food widely eaten and the options requested, and are “doing our best to accommodate for students.”