Food does as much for the human spirit as it does the body. For many, it is a part of our deepest memories, a celebration of our identity and oftentimes a part of our cultural customs too.
Halal at school
Halal, which means allowable or permissible in Arabic, defines a method of food preparation that is customary based on Muslim dietary guidelines.
“Halal chicken is hormone free, antibiotic free, cruelty free, the animals are treated well, you actually know where they’re coming from, you know how they’re treated. So, what’s better than that?” Says Deka Ismail, a senior at Crawford High School in City Heights and President of the Food and Social Justice Club. She explained that halal meat is not just for the Muslim community; everyone benefits from the healthy and humanely treated food.
Depending on where in the U.S. one lives, finding halal food can be challenging. As you might imagine, for students that must eat Halal meals, school lunch can be a difficult experience for their families.
It certainly made school more challenging at Crawford High School, a school that did not offer daily Halal options to its students until this year despite a significant percentage of students who practice a Halal diet.
Food Justice Momentum Team & families at SDUSD for vote on halal food resolution at Crawford High.
Community members harness their power
Responding to the needs of students and neighbors, the Crawford High community got active in 2011, with the help of the California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities Hub in City Heights, Mid-City CAN. Families, students and community members harnessed their power through the Food Justice Momentum Team to educate school officials on the importance of preparing halal certified meals for students. Families began their effort by organizing and showing up at school board and PTA meetings because they noticed their kids were unfocused and sluggish at school, making success in academics and extra-curricular activities harder for students.
Gary Petill, San Diego Unified’s Food Services Director, thought their concerns were important. He told KPBS, “If students are eating, they can learn. If they don’t eat, they can’t learn.”
Mid-City CAN community organizer, Food Justice Momentum Team and Gary Petill at Crawford announcement of 2-days halal food.
Changes at Crawford High
In 2015, the school started a 2-day per week pilot program that received an overwhelming response. Crawford High saw 300 more students take part in the school lunch program, the extra participation helped offset the cost of higher quality food and more importantly, parents and educators saw an increased morale in their students.
This year, after six years of informing and educating for changes in the school lunch program, Crawford High School announced students would have Halal options every day of the week.
“None of the kids were eating what [the district] was providing before,” said Maryan Ali, a mother and member of Mid-City CAN’s Food Justice Momentum Team in City Heights. She began organizing after learning of her neighbor’s struggle to get changes in the school lunch program. “I’d have to carry food with me to pick them up from school. When they got into the car they wouldn’t talk because they’d be so hungry.”
Gery Petill and Food Justice Momentum Team at SDUSD board celebrate adoption of halal food resolution for Crawford High.
More than just food
Ali says the Food Justice Momentum Team’s work has allowed her own children to focus on learning in the classroom, she says staff members even enjoy their lunch options better now, “They’re eating the food now, this is a big achievement.”
While healthy and culturally relevant choices for her students are a major achievement by families and students at Crawford High, Ali says her kids want more changes, “they feel like they’ve achieved something for every kid. Now they want better milk in their school.”
“It’s amazing to see students and community members get engaged in making their lives better and the lives of others better, said Henok Getaneh, Mid-City CAN Community Organizer. “Our young people will be advocating for their communities for years to come.”