Gabriella Shofet, a fourth-year UC Santa Barbara biopsychology major, said she struggled for years to maintain a healthy kosher diet while at school. Motivated by her struggle, she went to the UC President’s Global Food Initiative Student Fellowship Program, proposing a program designed to help Jewish and Muslim students who follow the halal and kosher dietary restrictions of their respective religions.
Over time, Shofet’s project, created to address these dietary restrictions, grew into an established Halal and Kosher Program last spring, when second-year political science major Liam Shahaf took over as program coordinator. Both Shofet and Shahaf are working together to address food insecurity, specifically for those who only eat halal and kosher food, by providing them with food that fits their dietary needs.
“The Halal and Kosher Program creates weekly grocery bags for low income students who follow Halal and Kosher dietary restrictions,” Shahaf said in an email. “Every week the bags have a breakfast option, a set of instant lunches, potential snacks, and a dinner option.”
According to Shahaf, the program is currently funded through the UCSB Food Security & Basic Needs Taskforce; it also partners with the Isla Vista Food Cooperative (I.V. Co-op), which provides the food at discount prices and assists with transportation. Shahaf and the I.V. Co-op communicate through weekly emails and occasional meetings to plan what food items will be in the bags for that week.
“I don’t know how we would be running this program without the Isla Vista Food Cooperative’s charitable nature and the discounted pricing they offer us,” Shahaf stated. “Their amazing team, as well as the food bank employees, help me load all the food into a van headed to the food bank, where we assemble and place the bags.”
Shahaf explained that the Associated Students Food Bank also plays an integral role in the program running smoothly, as its employees assist in picking up bulk orders, assemble bags and help sign in Halal and Kosher Program participants.
Shahaf said she constantly communicates with leading members of campus organizations such as the I.V. Co-op and the UCSB Sustainability to ensure everything is running smoothly.
“I also check in and receive feedback from other leaders on campus like the Middle Eastern Resource Center, and the Muslim Student Association for new ideas and to see how we can improve or better serve our joint Muslim and Jewish Community,” Shahaf added.
But to Shahaf, the importance of the program extends beyond its day-to-day operations.
“Keeping Kosher is how I keep my ancestors and my cultural past close to my heart, and it is one of the only aspects of Judaism in my daily life,” she explained.
“I imagine it is similar for many Muslim students who keep Halal, as they are reminded of Islamic persecution around the world. I want to make it possible for every Jewish and Muslim student to keep their religious dietary restrictions, and to feel seen and supported by this campus.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the March 5, 2020 print edition of the Daily Nexus.