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Students advocate to expand kosher options on campus

Miami students browse food options at Maple Dining Commons
Miami students browse food options at Maple Dining Commons

Growing up in a conservative Jewish household, first-year games and simulation major Caleb Krainman has always kept kosher as part of his religious expression and identity. 

While personal practices vary, the “gold standard” of keeping kosher incorporates detailed dietary and food preparation guidelines, including consuming and preparing meat and dairy separately, only consuming meat from kosher animals slaughtered according to shechita guidelines and avoiding shellfish.

“In my house, we’d always have kosher meat. If we were out of the house, we’d keep vegetarian if there wasn’t a place with kosher meat,” Krainman said.

When it was time for Krainman to choose a college, coming to Miami University was a no-brainer.

“When I was looking for a university, I was always looking for if they had a Chabad on campus or if they had a Jewish community,” Krainman said. “At Miami, I loved the campus. I loved the people.”

However, transitioning from his predominantly-Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles to the predominantly-Protestant community of Oxford posed a unique set of dietary challenges for Krainman.

There are no kosher delis or kosher restaurants in Oxford. While there are some certified kosher snacks in the marketplaces, there are no certified kosher dining stations. 

Although York Street offers kosher and halal menus for purchase online, it appears none of the York Street to-go meals available at Miami have the Orthodox Union kosher certification.

“I can really only get pizza and salad. I’ve basically been vegetarian. I only get kosher food when I can go to Hillel or Chabad, and it’s been hard on me physically,” Krainman said.

For junior psychology major Maya Nathan, a Jewish student from the Greater Chicago area, keeping kosher at Miami her first year was similarly difficult.

“I grew up in a conservative household and a Kosher household. I wanted to keep kosher in college,” Nathan said. 

Like many kosher students, Nathan opted to a vegetarian diet to try to keep kosher: a difficult diet to maintain for someone who had never been full-time vegetarian before.

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 “I struggled a lot freshman year with my weight, being low energy… I ended up eating vegetarian and it took my body a while to adjust,” Nathan said.

At a university where nearly 6% of students are Jewish, the only places students can get fresh-made, certified kosher food are Hillel or Chabad, Jewish outreach programs. Rabbi Yossi Greenberg, the leader of Miami’s Chabad chapter, hosts weekly shabbat dinners for dozens of Jewish students and, during holidays, hosts holiday dinners for hundreds of Jewish students.

“Immediately when I came into Chabad, there was such a huge connection: we were all Jewish, we had common interests — let’s be friends. It made me feel close with the Jewish community on campus,” Krainman said . “Both Hillel and Chabad have wonderful people, and if it wasn’t for them, I feel like I wouldn’t have felt like my Jewish identity was intact.”

As early as 1976, The Miami Student has reported on the lack of food options available for Jewish students. In the 1970s, Jewish students were allowed to opt out of board fees due to the school’s lack of kosher options.

In 1989, formalized efforts were put in place to supply kosher food options on campus during Passover, a season where many Jews — regardless of how kosher they keep typically — adhere to strict kosher guidelines in addition to special Passover guidelines.

“I keep it strict, so I don’t eat wheat, legumes, rice, corn or quinoa, which includes corn by-products,” Nathan said. 

While Passover meals have been supplied annually, some Jewish students say the lack of options and lack of freshness make the supplied options difficult to eat for eight days straight.

“They come in almost like TV meal frozen packets, but some of the options are just inedible at some points. You just end up eating snacks for eight days,” Nathan said.

Last Passover, sophomore Eli Levsky struggled to find meal options. 

“During Passover, I don’t visit the dining halls at all. Cross-contamination is inevitable. Last year, I depended on the synagogue outside of Hamilton, which kept me going,” Levsky said.

While Jewish students at Miami have been facing these difficulties for decades, limited wide-scale action has been taken to better accommodate the dietary needs of these students. Greenberg said the lack of kosher foods has impacted admissions decisions for prospective students.

“Parents call me before they want to send their kids to Miami and I have to tell them the truth. This happened last week,” Greenberg said. “There are potential students that aren’t showing up.”

In a 2014 report by The Student spotlighting Halal and Kosher students, Miami’s dining services explained how issues with accommodating dietary restrictions were being handled on an individual basis. Hillel’s executive director at the time said the issue could be addressed more directly if Jewish students continued to request Kosher food.And so they did.

Krainman shared with Greenberg his struggles with finding Kosher options on campus, and Greenberg encouraged him to talk with other Jewish students about it.

“For years, people had said there wasn’t enough interest in Kosher,” Greenberg said. 

Creating a space for kosher food on campus is important for Krainman because he wants to help Jewish students find a greater sense of belonging.

“Especially if there’s any Orthodox Jews, [a kosher station] would be very welcoming to them … to feel they have a place here no matter what,” Krainman said. “It would be very good in bringing Jews together and creating a sense of community and belonging.”

As a member of AEPi, a Jewish fraternity on campus, Krainman reached out to his Jewish fraternity brothers about their interest in expanding kosher options on campus.

“The biggest obstacle was that a lot of Jewish students weren’t really talking about it. We all wanted it, but it wasn’t a large thing,” Krainman said.

Photo by Jake Ruffer | The Miami Student

Senior executive chef Johnathan Hunt wrote that he wants kosher products in every market on campus next fall 

Krainman gathered a list of 30-40 people interested in having more kosher dining options and presented his findings to Aramark. 

On March 8, a cohort of Jewish students, along with Greenberg, were invited to meet with the Student Dining Hall Advisory Council and Pulkit Vigg, vice president of Aramark collegiate hospitality, to discuss their experiences and accommodation needs.

“Aramark is not here to change the culture of Miami, we’re here to become the culture of Miami. I would like to know what the need is,” Vigg said to begin the meeting.

The three biggest topics students focused on were the possibility of a kosher dining station, expanding marketplace offerings and planning ahead for Passover.

“I would love for people to be able to eat at the dining halls with their friends,” Nathan said. “An easy solution we thought of was that the vegan/vegetarian options are already Kosher because they don’t contain meat. To make them fully Kosher, we would need separate pots and pans [for the station].”

A kosher station would also accommodate Muslim students, as all kosher food is halal. For Greenberg, a place for students of all religions to eat together would help Miami students forge intercultural connections and create unity.

Many colleges and universities have already implemented a vegetarian kosher dining station to help accommodate their Jewish students. Vigg himself helped oversee the addition of a vegan/vegetarian Kosher section at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina.

There are many logistical obstacles to implementing a kosher dining station. 

Senior Executive Chef Jonathan Hunt, who is at the forefront of the effort to expand kosher options on campus, said certified kosher kitchens require isolating food products and assigning full-time employees to the location, a process that would require redesigning a kitchen.

However, the option isn’t off the table. 

“To execute something like this is going to require quite a bit of planning and support from all angles of campus leadership,” Hunt wrote in an email to The Student. “I have asked Rabbi Yossi to have any students who are interested in such an option to email their desire. This way we can gauge the interest.”

Another way to make dining halls more accessible for kosher and halal students, according to Levsky, would be to write ingredients on the glass above the buffet stations so students can know which foods contain pork or shellfish.

“Last year, there were days I went to the dining hall and every option was pork or seafood. One thing I really appreciated last year was that the food item was written on the glass,” Levsky said.

Additionally, as a busy student who enjoys using the marketplaces on campus, Levsky hopes to see more kosher to-go meals to help accommodate his schedule.

To help make Passover meals more accessible, students shared food and location recommendations with the committee. Recommendations included supplying options in Emporium, expanding the variety of meals offered and supplying certain kosher staples: matzah, cold cuts, gluten-free macarons, sausage, cream cheese and cottage cheese.

“Right now, my goal is to have products available in the select markets for Passover. These would be shelf-stable, refrigerated, and frozen products,” Hunt wrote. “For the fall of 2023, we would like to see kosher products in all markets.”

As students and campus leaders continue to negotiate paths for expanding kosher options, Aramark stressed its commitment to helping students struggling with meeting their dietary needs to reach out to one of Miami’s dietitians. Hunt recommended that students with specific dietary restrictions reach out to the university’s registered dietitians at