If you recently tried hosting a dinner party, you probably know that it’s not as easy as it used to be. Creating a menu involves taking into consideration everyone’s diet restrictions. Canapés must be made with gluten-free bread, additional vegetable dishes must be prepared for the vegan guest, and chocolate and strawberries must be substituted for cheesecake to accommodate that lactose-intolerant husband of your friend. Yes, it’s a lot to consider, but it’s better than serving food that no one will touch. Last year, a well-meaning acquaintance invited me to a party, where she served pork and beef, alongside two salads guests brought. When she noticed me eating only the salads, she was apologetic and realized she should have consulted about the guests’ dietary restrictions prior to the event.
While inability to eat the main course at a party is not a big deal, imagine being unable to eat anything at your place of residence. That’s the issue many Jewish college freshmen face when they move into a dorm, only to discover that the cafeteria doesn’t offer any kosher options. Many give up their lifelong tradition of keeping kosher, while some attempt to bring about change. For instance, this year, the Jewish and Muslim students at University of California, San Diego, worked together on establishing a dining spot that would offer kosher and halal meals. They haven’t succeeded just yet, but are hopeful to bring their plan to fruition.
Similarly, back in 2011, Max Gilbert, a staff writer at The Amherst Student, the Amherst College newspaper, wrote an article on the lack of dining options at Valentine Dining Hall for those who keep kosher (about 10 percent of the student body is Jewish). The Jewish students had to contend with kosher microwavable meals and no kosher microwave to cook them. Currently, students have the option to prepare their own meals in a kosher kitchen at The Cadigan Center for Religious Life.
Some area schools ensure that their Jewish students don’t go hungry:
University of Massachusetts Amherst has a kosher kitchen, and the school’s Hillel House offers free Shabbat dinners and lunches.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Maseeh Hall has a kosher station; those who live in other dormitories may have kosher meals delivered to them with a 24-hour advance notice. Also, MIT’s Kosher Dining serves Shabbat and holiday dinners at the Hillel in the Religious Activities Center.
Boston University’s Florence and Chafetz Hillel House serves a kosher menu that includes free Shabbat dinners for students, as well as daily breakfast, lunch and dinner. Additionally, BU’s Granby St. Café offers kosher foods on the go, and Rhetty-to-Go provides bagged meals for lunch or dinner at Hillel House.
Tufts University boasts a kosher deli with menu items – and prices – that rival those of Katz’s Delicatessen.
Mount Holyoke College offers kosher meals at its Wilder Dining Hall.
Brown University Dining Services has a kosher meal plan. However, a year’s worth of kosher meals (20 a week) costs $822 more than the same number of regular meals. In addition, Brown RISD Hillel serves Shabbat and holiday meals. During orientation, the university supplies kosher lunches and dinners using local caterers such as Divine Providence Kosher Catering.
The Harvard Hillel provides bagged lunches for pickup, and its dining hall serves glatt kosher meals. Also, beside the fact that much of the food in its dining halls is certified kosher, every Harvard University dining hall has a Kosher Corner – a service that offers frozen meals and deli options that can be heated up in a kosher microwave and toaster oven.
Brandeis University’s Sherman Dining Hall houses a kosher buffet. In addition to a kosher vending machine, Brandeis offers packaged kosher food items in its eateries and in a couple of stores on campus. Unlike Brown, Brandeis does not charge extra for kosher meal plans.
But many schools in Rhode Island and Massachusetts don’t provide kosher meals to their students. For instance, Aaron Guttin, Jewish Student Life coordinator at University of Rhode Island, said that to his knowledge, URI has no plans to offer kosher dinning. However, he says that the university Hillel provides kosher Shabbat dinners twice a month, kosher brunches once a month and meals for all holidays.
Similarly, Bryant University and Providence College do not offer a kosher dining option, and – according to Stu Gerhardt, general manager for Sodexo, the PC food provider, – “there are no immediate plans to add this option.” Bryant has just changed its 12-year provider Sodexo to Aramark, whose mission is “to enrich and nourish lives.” But there is no information as to whether this includes a kosher meal option.
Johnson & Wales University doesn’t have a kosher meal plan either, but the school’s executive chief of auxiliary services, Ken Watt, said “yes” the university offers kosher dining options. He explained by saying, “we make every effort to accommodate the dietary needs or choices of every student.” When pressed to provide examples of how JWU “work[s] with suppliers to meet [their] student’s [sic] needs,” Watt did not reply.
Rhode Island College’s dining services don’t have a kosher kitchen, but offers kosher-friendly options during Jewish observances and holidays. Arthur J. Patrie, associate director, Dining Services department, said, “We are in the initial stages of reviewing a line of prepackaged items which are kosher.”
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth students who keep kosher are exempt from the regular meal plan and enjoy special choices in housing to enable them to live in dormitories with kitchens. Rabbi Jacqueline Romm-Satlow, director, Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, coordinator for Jewish Culture, said, “I have been working for several years to try to develop a kosher meal plan at UMass Dartmouth. So far we have been unsuccessful.”
IRINA MISSIURO is a writer and editorial consultant for The Jewish Voice.