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Public School Works With Muslim Locals to Put Halal Meals On The Lunch Menu

As the 'Food Revolution' continues to try and ensure all schools will serve nutritious meals to students, a new topic was brought to the table in a high school in San Diego.

The local Muslim community is asking that halal meals, meals that are in line with Islamic dietary requirements, be offered at local schools. Plans are now underway to make that happen.

The Food Revolution movement was sparked by celebrity UK chef Jamie Oliver in 2010. His focus has been on trying to get American schools to improve the quality of meals served to children, most of whom are on reduced or free lunch programs.

Oliver's tour was just about to wrap up on Saturday at a cooking demonstration in San Diego, California when Muslims from the area came to raise the issue of their need for halal meals.

Parents and their children who attend Hoover High School in City Heights came with members of the Food Justice Momentum Team to explain what halal restrictions were to the chefs at the workshop. Muslim women and their daughters went into the kitchen, tied on some aprons and demonstrated their special food needs.

Muslims are not allowed to eat pork products, anything with alcohol, animal fats, vanilla extract or gelatin. They also can't eat dairy foods made with animal rennet. Unfortunately, even a lot of fruits and vegetables served in the schools come with sauces, preservatives or dressings with the forbidden ingredients. They can eat beef and poultry, but it must come from certified sources.

There is a large population of Muslim refugees in the area, many of whom have children in City Heights. They say their kids sometimes go hungry because the things offered by the school are against their strict religious diet. They also say poor refugee families can't always afford to pack a lunch, so kids often end up going hungry.

"I feel like the free and reduced lunch is a waste, because you're providing me with resources to get lunch because of my low income but, at the same time, you're not providing me with the lunch that I'm supposed to be eating," said student Faduma Adam Haji.

Adina Batnitzky, a sociologist at the University of San Diego, has been trying to help the local Muslims work in their new communities. One effort she spearheaded was to get the local YMCA to offer special swim hours just for Muslim girls because they didn't feel comfortable swimming with men.

This sparked some controversy, but eventually, the Muslims won.

Batnitzky is ready to lend a hand in getting halal meals served at the local schools.

"If these children are not given the opportunity to eat foods that are congruent with their religion, then they're either going to not eat, which of course is not conducive to learning, or alternatively they're going to focus on eating only foods they're familiar with that follow their dietary restrictions, and that's often junk food that you can easily read the ingredients and say, 'OK, this would be all right,'" Batnitzky said to KPBS.org.

"But I don't think we want our children just to be eating potato chips all day."

Source: KBPS
Photos: You Tube Screenshots

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