General Manager Doug Stenfeldt and Executive Chef Joseph Peterson eagerly took notes from the opinions of around 10 students, representing the faiths of Islam, Judaism and Christianity during a Student Senate food diversity session. The notes would help them make the caf more accessible to students with a variety of religious food requirements.
As a freshman, junior and Student Senate Diversity Chair Amn Farooq had the unpleasant experience of finding bacon, which is not halal, twice in her vegetable cheese omelette. She was concerned that Dining Services were making vegetarian and non-halal omelettes on the same surface, as there was no thought for the repercussions of contamination. After listening to the concerns of students, the new Bon Apptit administration has changed the situation.
“They have separate areas for that [halal], so there is more consciousness about it,” Farooq explained.
The session on Jan. 23 allowed the student body to ask questions, discuss concerns and bring new ideas directly to the heads of Bon Apptit. Such topics included new recipe ideas, food preparation concerns and employee understanding of requirements.
“[It is] a great example of how the people who are here to serve our students, really want to serve the students. And what’s a better way than to be face-to-face and be able to hear the needs of the students,” Director of Spiritual Life Monica Corsaro said about the session.
This was the second food diversity session, this one focusing on religious and spiritual needs for students. A good portion of the Knox population faces dietary restrictions due to their religion — most notably people of the Jewish and Muslim faiths, who need to stick to a kosher or halal diet respectively. Farooq, Student Senate Diversity Chair, explained the intricacies of preparing meat to be halal.
“There’s a whole process,” Farooq said. “They have to be killed in a certain way and you have to recite an Arabic verse.”
Another important factor of the halal diet is that there can’t be any intoxicants or alcohol in it, Farooq explained.
“If there is, like, beer-battered fish, even though we can eat fish we can’t eat it when it is beer-battered,” she said.
Farooq feels that consciousness and willingness to learn and understand about the sometimes complex dietary restrictions involved in religion is prevalent under this new Dining Services administration.
“Chef Joe [Peterson] has actually asked me a few times, ‘Oh hey I have this mustard sauce, it has this ingredient in it, is that halal?’” she said.
This new open dialogue between staff and students stresses respectful diversity and open communication about what is not working. Junior and Student Senate Dining Services Chair Nathan Errampalli remembers students pointing out issues with the way Dining Services had handled a cultural holiday.
“A few years ago there was this huge Cinco de Mayo incident that happened in the caf, where a lot of people felt that it wasn’t right for the caf to celebrate it,” he said. “They had good intentions, but the thing is they didn’t know exactly what the significance behind these events is.”
Errampalli feels that the way to avoid similar situations in the future is hearing from the students. He says that, after hearing from students, Dining Services will have a better idea of how to portray cultures appropriately.
Along with the caf, the Gizmo has seen the emergence of a more dietary diverse menu with more vegetarian and halal options than ever before. Farooq said that in her first year at Knox there was only one halal option on the Gizmo menu.
“But now compared to that there are like five halal options on the Gizmo menu,” she said.
Corsaro, a vegetarian, was proud to see that the Gizmo now always offers a vegetarian option. She praises the new Bon Apptit administration and their willingness to communicate.
“They do realize that we, the Knox community, are the customer and they want to please the customer,” Corsaro said.
To Corsaro this hasn’t only been apparent when regarding religious dietary restrictions. It has also been seen in their responses to suggestions from students when recommending favorite foods to be brought back, or even accepting recipes.
“Once they had this walnut ice cream I really liked and then stopped having it,” Corsaro said. “So then I filled out a form, like ‘Hey why don’t you have it anymore?’ I loved it. Then Chef Joe emailed me, I think two days ago and he was like ‘We have it, it’s back.’”
Dining Services and Student Senate plan to hold more food diversity sessions throughout the year, focusing on more specific cultures as well as workshops.
“All I know is that we are going to have different examples of some dishes and have we the customers try them and talk back,” Corsaro explained.
Errampalli stressed that it is up to the student body to continue the dialogue between Bon Apptit and students.
“If you’ve had a bad experience with the caf before, don’t let this distract you from making a change because there’s new administration,” he said.
Feedback forms are located inside the caf by the main entrance, suggestions are welcome.