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Halal dietary options are limited at Penn and those that are available are not widely advertised (Photo from The Daily Meal).

During my first year at Penn, I was presented with a wide array of food choices — from Houston Market’s delicious potstickers at Bento to Quaker Kitchen’s ornately crafted gourmet dinners, Penn gave me a plethora of delicious options to choose from. I reveled in delight at how each dining hall had a particular quality and began freely associating the halls with their respective characteristics: Lauder and Quaker Kitchen were the fancy dining halls, 1920 Commons and Hill House were the jack of trades, and Falk Dining Commons in Steinhardt Hall was the kosher dining hall.

For over a year, I easily identified Falk Dining Hall as being the sole harbor of religious eating. Therefore, I was shocked when I discovered in May that King’s Court English House, the dining hall my friends and I jokingly associate as being “Hill, but better,” was actually the designated dining hall for halal diets. This newfound knowledge prompted me to engage in an impromptu experiment where I asked students from all different demographics and years two simple questions:

1. Did you know that Falk Dining Hall was the designated kosher dining hall?
2. Did you know that King’s Court was the designated halal dining hall?

The responses seemed to reflect my own prior knowledge about the available food options on campus: While an overwhelming majority of students answered “yes” to the first question, a much larger chunk of students answered "no" to the second question. Even when students did answer “yes” to the second question, many of them told me it was relatively new information to them. I came to the conclusion that in comparison to other dietary lifestyles, Penn simply does not readily promote halal food to its students. Even when King’s Court extended their hours from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. in recognition of Ramadan, many students, including those who are Muslim, remained unaware of this change. Penn’s lack of initiative to feature its halal dining availability manifests as an informational barrier that willingly limits Muslim students’ ability to maintain a religiously fulfilled diet.

However, Penn’s offenses don’t just stop at informational negligence. When Muslim students do recognize King’s Court as the halal food option on campus, two problems still come to the forefront: they either dislike the current options available at the dining hall, or they find that the times and days that King’s Court serves food are heavily restrictive. The first issue is often remedied by eating the various vegetarian and vegan options that are available on campus, particularly those from Houston Market. Muslim students often must look to vegetarian options because they do not know whether the meat is “zabiha halal” (the practice of slaughtering and processing meat in accordance to Islamic law). Although this does not appear to be the perfect solution to creating food diversity for Muslim students, it is nevertheless somewhat tolerable.

The second issue is unfortunately much more complex and pressing than simply liking or disliking particular foods. Every Saturday, virtually all of Penn’s available food options are shut down — including King’s Court and Houston Market. The only dining options that remain available to students are Hill House and 1920 Commons, both of which have multiple reported food health violations, including cross-contamination. This means that haram (non-halal) foods could possibly be contaminated with halal variants and indirectly expose food goers to haram foods. Given Hill and Commons’ questionable track record, it stands reasonable that Muslim students would be wary of finding themselves eating at these two dining halls.

As a result, Muslim students may try to confide in non-Penn food options, such as exploring Philadelphia’s wide array of delectable halal food carts. These foods, though, prove themselves to be financially weighty to students who may not be able to consistently afford to eat out and rely on their prebudgeted dining plan. Assuming that a student eats out twice a day at a food cart, and these meals individually cost from $7–10, that would total to a cost of $15–20.  What turns from a minimal $15–20 a week on buying safe halal food can quickly turn into a monthly expense of over $80 alone. Moreover, this cost seems to be increasing in pressure with halal carts increasing prices on their customary meal offerings. As a consistent food cart lover myself, I am no stranger to these price increases; both of my favorite food carts, located on 34th and 33rd streets, respectively, were forced to increase prices in response to the inflated price of buying proper ingredients. 

Penn has a continued, multi-year legacy of not properly offering sustainable food options for Muslim students. It is long overdue to address this issue. In order to resolve this tension, Penn administration must heed the rally call of students and take the appropriate action to cultivate a dining experience that successfully integrates multiple dietary regimens. Few of many solutions could include extending halal food options into Saturday, more openly featuring halal accessibility on its mainstream social platforms, and giving a space for Muslim students to share their own ideas on how to expand dining choices. By embracing these necessary changes, Penn can create a dining environment that embraces diversity and meets the needs of all its students, ensuring that every individual feels supported and included in their dietary lifestyle.

MAX BRODY is a rising College sophomore studying english and health and societies from Oklahoma City, Okla. His email is