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Mid-City CAN Blog

Community Conversation focuses on school food

Edgar HopidaAt the Nov. 16 Food Justice Community Conversation at the East African Community and Culture Center about 120 residents gathered to talk about the importance of food – especially school food.

The Mid-City CAN Food Justice Momentum Team organized the event as a way to raise awareness about food issues, including access to fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables.

One of the major themes that emerged from the event was the importance of halal food. Halal is an Islamic term for food that is permissible, or "lawful." It excludes consuming things like pork, blood, alcohol or animals that butchers have not slaughtered according to specific methods.

For many high school students at the event, the lack of specifically halal food at school means skipping meals.

"I don't eat [school lunches when] I'm not sure about the ingredients," said Hodan Sheikh, a 17-year-old  senior at Crawford High school and a City Heights resident.

And skipping lunch can lead to problems.

"It's important that we have good food at school, because we're there for eight hours," said Hailma Hersi, a student at Crawford High School  and a City Heights resident. "If you could get regular lunch, what's wrong with giving halal lunch?"

A speaker at the Food Justice event was Edgar Hopida, an American-born Filipino who is an Islamic activist. Hopida said staying halal in a school cafeteria is trickier than just avoiding bacon.

"One of the common desserts that people eat in schools is gelatin or Jello," he said. "Most Jello that you see produced in the United States, unless you go to like Trader Joe's or some alternative food market, the gelatin or Jello-dessert is derived from pork gelatin.

"So, naturally Muslim kids can't eat that."

Hopida said plenty of other seemingly innocuous foods can be non-halal.

"Certain cakes or chocolates have vanilla extract, which has alcohol in it, and so Muslims cannot eat that, as well," he said.

Hopida said that students who decide not to risk eating anything are all too common.

"What the students end up doing is either throwing it away or going hungry or they try to force eat it, which is not really permissible in the religion," he said. "So, most Muslim students that are practicing will skip out on lunch, and therefore, it is going to affect their concentration levels, it'll affect their health, etc."

Although Hopida said no public schools in the San Diego area serve halal food, he said other areas in the U.S. have started offering halal options.

"Michigan is starting to introduce Halal options because they have a big Muslim population, and New York is in the process as well," he said. "It's just a matter of the community wanting it, and organizers helping to facilitate that."

At the Nov. 16 Food Justice Community Conversation at the East African Community and Culture Center about 100 residents gathered to talk about the importance of food

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