USC Dining lacks dietary diversity

Jenna Gestetner | Daily Trojan

I grew up in a town very comically, very stereotypically called Gilbert, Arizona. Yes, Gilbert, like a farmer boy born and raised in Arkansas might be named. Most of the time, I found myself feeling very much on the outskirts of this majority Latter Day Saints town filled with white girls in blue poplin dresses and boys donning Bass Pro Shops hats who looked at me as if I were an alien from another planet. Unsurprisingly, being Black, visibly Muslim as a hijabi and in a place no one has ever seen the two together will draw stares — not the good kind. 

A very inconvenient and even further isolating facet of growing up in such a community was the fact that halal food was nowhere to be found. The nearest halal grocery store was a 30-minute drive away in Tempe, a city notably more diverse than Gilbert. My parents, who worked while also raising four kids, rarely had the time to make the trip, and we found that it was simply easier to shop at grocery stores near us. Everything we needed was at Target or Walmart, each a five-minute drive from our house.

The term “halal” means permissible by God, and for Muslims, applies to all aspects of life. The term “haram,” or forbidden, means the opposite. Food items and drinks that are haram include pork, carnivorous animals and alcohol, but also include meat not slaughtered in a halal way. In order for this to happen, the name of God needs to be mentioned, the butcher must be Muslim, Jewish or Christian, at least three of the four main jugular veins must be cut and, of course, it must be done in the most humane way possible. The term for halal meat is “zabiha,” and I had no idea it existed until I was 15. This is the case for plenty of other Muslims in America. Friends from states such as Texas and Kansas had similar experiences not eating zabiha meat, and after coming to USC, I found that the majority of Muslim students that were raised in California, or other states with more diverse populations, ate zabiha. 

There’s a sense of guilt that comes with seeing other Muslims do something that you don’t. I often find myself thinking twice about picking up the bulgogi fried rice from the Trader Joe’s frozen section or a chicken breast for pasta night. Though I now try to take the meatless option as often as possible or make it a point to find zabiha restaurants when out with Muslim friends, it’s still difficult to be able to eat it consistently. Unfortunately, being a student at USC does not make it any easier.

USC has very few halal options. If you ask, you can pay for a frozen halal meal at the Village Dining Hall, and eat just the beef — but nothing made with ground beef — from any of the dining halls. But other than that, there isn’t much else. The nearest halal butcher and halal restaurants aren’t close enough to walk or Fryft from campus and are not easily accessible to students without cars. As a result, campus dining is all that some have. 

Many Muslim freshmen find themselves having to pay over $3,000 for the required meal plan and not even being able to eat much of what is offered. Why should Muslim students have to eat frozen packaged meals while other students can eat the majority of what’s served in the dining halls? Shouldn’t the dining hall cater to everyone? If the beef is halal, why not the chicken? The same can be said for students who eat kosher food, which while I don’t have much knowledge of, I do know that USC’s dining options alienate students with dietary restrictions outside of being vegetarian. 

Muslims on campus have proposed that Dolan’s, a halal restaurant that specializes in Uyghur cuisine, be opened in the USC Village. It’s not as though this would drastically impact others who aren’t Muslim either, as there’s no tangible difference between zabiha and non-halal meat. If anything, a new halal restaurant in the Village would not only give Muslim students another option but also offer a new cultural cuisine that would add to the Village’s already diverse dining options. Even though a petition for this gained almost 1,000 signatures, it remains overlooked by USC’s administration.

For a school that claims to care about each and every one of its students, USC isn’t very good at showing it. It should be the school’s top priority to cater to the needs of every student, regardless of identity. While it may cost more, an impactful investment would pay for itself in a much more meaningful way — and we know USC’s budget can afford it.