Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

An exploration of UMass’ kosher dining options

Students on the kosher dining plan share concerns about the quality and accessibility of their food

The University of Massachusetts is known for its No. 1 dining, but some students on the kosher dining plan face quality and accessibility issues.

Leah Sellam, a sophomore computer science major, has kept kosher her entire life. She said that eating kosher at UMass was a big change from eating kosher at home.

“Even though I pay for an unlimited plan to have options and to have access to the five dining halls and all that, I only get one option for lunch,” Sellam said. “So, there aren’t really any options.”

According to Sellam, there are over 100 UMass students on the kosher dining plan, who must pay an upcharge of $200 for kosher food access aside from their main meal plan of choice.

For students who keep strictly kosher, however, they are unable to use the dining hall’s regular food since it doesn’t meet these requirements, despite paying full price for a meal plan option with the additional 200-dollar fee.

The kosher station is located in Franklin Dining Hall, where the menu usually consists of one meat option, one vegetarian option and a side. A dessert is not offered every day. According to the UMass Dining website, kosher meals are available Sunday to Thursday for lunch and dinner and on Friday solely for lunch.

Sellam explained that with these conditions, she essentially pays for around nine meals a week, because kosher dining is not open for breakfast, is closed entirely on Saturday and only provides sandwiches on Sunday. She could be eating out for cheaper, Sellam said, but there are not many kosher options in the area.

Alternative kosher options include buying food from the grocery store, which requires a kitchen to prepare it in, or going out to eat, but the closest kosher restaurants are in Boston or Connecticut.

Sellam is looking forward to living in an apartment with a kitchen next year, with a few other kosher students, where they can make their own kosher meals.

The kosher station at the dining hall offers both meat and vegetarian options, but it may not fully accommodate students with various dietary restrictions or those seeking healthier lifestyle choices  , Sellam said.

She explained that there are not a lot of fresh food options, and the food is often heavily salted and oily. UMass diningoften speaks  about how their food is nutritious, and nutrition levels are posted for every meal, but the nutrition levels of the kosher food are not displayed.

Additionally, the kosher menu is not on the UMass Dining website or app, meaning students cannot see what is offered for lunch and dinner unless they are in Franklin or ask a friend what is being served.

Sellam said that she wants to eat more nutritional meals, but this isn’t possible because she must eat the kosher food the dining hall provides.

“I would say [kosher dining] has affected me really negatively because I don’t have a lot of options,” Sellam said. “I just have one option, like today. It was fish and chips, which is really fried obviously, but I have no other options. So, that’s what I’m going to eat.”

Another student that does not strictly keep kosher but eats most of his meals at kosher dining, senior engineering major Micah Carr-Gloth, shared how the kosher dining has affected his diet.

“If they give you a small portion that’s kind of what you end up eating,” Carr-Gloth said. “And it’s more of a hassle to go back for seconds rather than regular food…I typically eat less when I’m eating kosher. So, it has definitely affected how much I eat.”

Ben Englander, a junior finance and sports management major, has always kept kosher. Last year he lived in the Southwest Residential Area, which is around a 15-minute walk from Franklin. Englander often had to skip dinner, when it was too late or cold to walk for kosher food.

Kosher dining opens at 11:30 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m. Until last spring, kosher dining closed at 7 p.m. This Many students with late night classes and labs said they often miss dinner or have to plan around the early closure.

Englander said, however, that he would not have attended UMass if there was no kosher dining option. “I think overall it has been a great experience for me,” he said, “and I wouldn’t really have come here there was no kosher food in the first place, so the fact that we have it is great for everyone. I think a lot of people eat it and they enjoy it.”

Sellam noted that it would not be realistic to have more than one kosher dining option in different dining halls. She said that Franklin is accessible, but added it seems like UMass, “clearly doesn’t care that much about the students on kosher dining.”

Carr-Gloth shared that he and some other students that eat kosher have often had to wait to be served because sometimes there is no one at the kosher station. Sometimes it takes up to 20 minutes to be served a kosher meal when Franklin is busy, according to Carr-Gloth.

Additionally, kosher students must rely on Hillel for kosher meal options on Friday nights and Saturdays because the kosher station at Franklin is closed. Every week, Hillel serves Shabbat dinner and Saturday lunch. The food is catered by UMass kosher dining, but since meals at Franklin are not provided on Saturday, students must eat leftovers at Hillel for Saturday’s dinner, or they do not eat dinner.

The chef at the kosher kitchen, Nabil Fahmy, is highly regarded by the students. “The chef has been improving, he’s been asking us what we like and makes a variety of different dishes,” Englander said. Fahmy takes feedback from students and tries to incorporate meals students like because he understands it is their only option.

Sellam and other students have worked with Hillel to ask UMass Dining for more food options and kosher food on Sundays. The lunch options on Sunday consist of tuna and egg sandwiches, which many students believe are not filling or nutritional.

Marc Morrissette is the manager of Franklin and currently oversees the kosher station. He said that they are considering Hillel’s request but noted, “budgets are set for this semester already.”

“So, it is what it is right now,” Morrissette said. “I don’t have any other staff I can put in there right now, or a qualified chef that can be in there right now.”

Having a kosher kitchen consists of a lot of rules and regulations, where all of the materials have to be either meat or dairy. In the case of Franklin Dining, the kitchen is meat-only. Every kosher kitchen needs to have a mashgiach, Hebrew for “supervisor.”

Morrissette explained that the kosher kitchen does not have a mashgiach available on Sundays, so although there is a cook they can’t prepare meals because they will not be certified kosher.

To Sellam, that’s “not an excuse. Like there’s a whole group of students.”

When asked about the Sunday menu, Morrissette stated “…there’s no mashgiach available for us on Sundays so I can only serve vegetarian food in there. So, we are considered a meat serving kitchen and so therefore we cannot have any dairy.”

However, according to students, the menu every Sunday this academic year has consisted of only sandwiches, and not complete vegetarian meals.

Morrissette added, “Nobody’s really asked me to open for breakfast. Not that I have a cook that’s available during breakfast.” Morrissette is in charge of planning the menu and has added foods, like sushi, that students ask for.

Joe Morse, the mashgiach at Franklin Dining, has a close relationship with the students and often helps the chef to prepare the food.

“The kids are great, very appreciative, and Nabil is amazing,” he said.

When asked about some of the difficulties the students mentioned, Morse said “the college has their rules, and the kosher kids have their needs, and sometimes those conflict.”

Despite the extra cost, kosher dining does not include the benefits of a regular UMass meal plan including breakfast, late night or grab-and-go.

“Sometimes I go home just to have food,” Sellam said. “Last time I went home, I made myself tons of food and just [brought] it because I was like, ‘this is crazy.’ But, it’s the fact that I have to do that when I’m paying like the same as everyone else, and more, and I have no food to eat. It’s crazy.”

Morse spoke about how important it is that UMass has kosher dining available, and that it brings in a lot of Jewish students that would not have attended the university otherwise.

Kosher dining has been available at UMass for 40 years, first at Hampden — the building in between Hampshire and Berkshire Dining Commons in Southwest which is now an art gallery — then at Hillel and now in a revamped dish room in Franklin.

Daniella Pikman can be reached at [email protected]

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