Mabee meat? Maybe not: MSA asks for clarity


Photo credit: Genevieve Humphreys

Photo by Genevieve Humphreys

Students in Trinity’s Muslim Student Association (MSA) have been in meetings with Aramark staff over cross-contamination and poorly labeled meat products in Mabee Dining Hall. The issue first came up last fall in a meeting between the MSA and David Tuttle, dean of students.

Muslim students have expressed concerns about the ability for students with dietary restrictions to eat at Mabee. More specifically, the halal and kosher requirements frequently require extra attention to ensure there’s no cross-contamination with food that contains pork, for example.

Arisha Ali, junior and president of MSA, explained the issues that she and other students have been having with dining on campus.

“A lot of the meats are not labelled,” Ali said. “Muslims don’t eat pork, so since a lot of the meats are not labelled, we don’t know what’s pork and what’s not and what has pork in it. On top of that, I’ve had instances where pork ended up in my food when I didn’t ask for any meat in my food. It can ruin your day if you’re going for breakfast, and you don’t have time and something like that happens.”

After Tuttle met with MSA, he put students in touch with Aramark staff.

“My immediate response was, ‘This is something that can be addressed fairly easily,’ ” Tuttle said. “My other reaction beyond saying, ‘Let’s not commingle meat with non-meat products,’ was that we could actually do some innovative things in terms of special meal nights and things like that because of the addition of the Batch 101 test kitchen in Mabee Hall.”

After a nudge from Tuttle, Dining Services reached out to MSA following this meeting, but Ali explained that she does not feel that the responsibility of changing things in Dining Services should be left to the students.

“This is for the entire university, and we have enough going on with school and organizations on campus, so I don’t think it’s the students’ responsibility to take care of where we get our food and making sure that it’s labelled and clean,” Ali said. “This school preaches diversity and uses it as a major selling point to prospective students. You can’t use diversity as a recruitment tactic while failing to uphold that value for actual students. We believe it is a basic human right to just have our dietary needs fulfilled. That sounds like a lot, but we’re just asking for the meats to be labelled and make sure that there is no pork in our foods when we don’t ask for it. It’s appalling that we have to meet with the chef of Aramark rather than the institution taking the initiative themselves.”

Tuttle responded to Ali’s claim of the university’s lack of attention towards diversity, agreeing that it should provide a more inclusive atmosphere for all students.

“I’m not going to invalidate her opinion about that. To me, it’s not really a philosophical issue for the university. For me, it’s the execution of Dining Services and whether or not it’s meeting the needs of students,” Tuttle said. “Of course we support diversity, we ask for a diverse student population here, and we need to provide the climate for them, including in the dining hall, and I think that’s what’s happening with them forwarding their concerns and us passing those concerns to Aramark and monitoring those concerns.”

Arianna Siddiqui, vice president of MSA, also feels that solving this issue should not be the responsibility of the students, but after time passed and nothing changed, she decided to reach out to dining services and schedule a meeting. (Siddiqui is the social media coordinator for the Trinitonian.)

“As we were waiting for the administration to do something about it, we had more and more students approaching us, saying ‘I thought you guys were taking care of this,’” Siddiqui said. “So finally I was like, I know it shouldn’t be my responsibility, but I’m going to take care of it in the way that I know how.”

According to Tuttle, after he introduced members of MSA and Aramark staff, Aramark reached out, but MSA members didn’t respond for multiple months.

“When students raised to me that this was an issue, we talked about this and I took it immediately to Dining Services and connected them with MSA, and Dining Services were responsive,” Tuttle said. “Aramark reached out, and I don’t think it was reciprocated in the fall by MSA.”

Eventually, Siddiqui met with Charles Robles, food service director, and Brent Gorman, executive chef for Trinity dining to discuss her concerns. Robles said he would start implementing suggested changes from their conversation.

“We just had these concerns voiced by the Muslim Student Association, and we are actively making changes to positively impact student experiences around support dietary and religious diet restrictions,” Robles wrote in an email interview. “Students may always ask to speak to the manager on duty as well should they have specific concerns or need more information about a dish.”

Potential changes include changing where the vegetables and meats are located at the omelette station. Currently, the meat is farthest away from the griddle, which means it is carried over the vegetables on its way to be cooked.

Siddiqui also requested that halal and kosher options be available at Mabee.

“They said that kosher would be physically impossible with the budget and the space at Mabee, but the head chef said that he would inquire about halal options from the vendors that supply Aramark,” Siddiqui said. “But he couldn’t guarantee because he said because Trinity’s Muslim population is so small that he couldn’t guarantee that vendors actually sell halal meat.”

Siddiqui feels satisfied with how the meeting went but still believes that the administration could have better handled the issue.

“For now, based on the promises that they made to me, I am definitely satisfied, and I do feel like they heard me,” Siddiqui said. “I don’t know if sending me in to meet with the head of Aramark was the best solution. I think that Trinity should have taken the cause up themselves. I’m going to take it upon myself to keep an eye on Mabee and make sure they’re keeping their promise about cross-contamination and to ask my members to do the same, and to come to me if they feel like the promises that were made weren’t being met.”

Robles explained that any students who have further concerns should feel free to reach out to dining services.

“We take medically diagnosed allergy and dietary restrictions very seriously and can offer a one-on-one meeting to discuss these concerns,” Robles wrote. “If there are any dietary concerns, chef Brent Gorman and myself are available to discuss specific needs. Additionally, we even have regular visits from our dietician who is always very happy to meet with anyone looking for one-on-one support.”

additional reporting by Kathleen Creedon, executive print editor