Carleton University students stressed out by exams may have been comforted by memories of bubbie’s kitchen April 18 when the university introduced fresh kosher brisket into its main residence cafeteria.
The campus eatery added 18 kilograms of the Jewish comfort food to the day’s meal options, hoping to serve it throughout the lunch and dinner hours to students who live on and off campus.
Instead, it was gone before half the lunch period was even over, said Lewis Novack, a self-described modern Orthodox second-year biology student who has been at the forefront of the push to introduce a kosher meat option to the university’s all-you-can-eat dining service.
“It was funny to watch how everyone just lined up for it, and it sold out in an hour,” he said, adding that not everybody who ate the brisket was observing kashrut. Some treated it as just another food option.
The brisket was made using a new pot and new cooking and serving utensils, said Novack, who advised Carleton’s dining services on how to adhere to kashrut laws in preparing it. The task was simplified by the fact the chef had worked for a kosher caterer in Toronto and was familiar with the rules.
The next goal is finding a way to make the food available to everybody while ensuring there’s enough for the people who really need it, and possibly eventually bringing in a mashgiach to supervise the preparation, he added.
Until now, options for kosher students have been limited to sandwiches made off campus, but those meals were meat-free. Otherwise, students could choose vegetarian food options or cook their own food that they purchased from the closest supermarket with kosher food, a Loblaws that Novack said is a 30-minute bus ride from campus.
He said he’s been working on the kosher meat option since moving to Ottawa from his home in Halifax.
“I’m kosher in Halifax, and I thought… because it’s a bigger [Jewish] population [in Ottawa] and it’s a university that they would somewhat accommodate and have kosher food already, but they didn’t,” he said.
So he took it upon himself to work with Carleton’s dining services to introduce it.
He spoke with the university’s vice-president of student services, who told him food services had tried it in the past, such as by offering kosher hot dogs in the university centre, but it didn’t prove popular enough to keep, Novack said.
However, the administrator told Novack there was no reason why a kosher option couldn’t be tried again.
Novack said it’s important to introduce kosher food options into the residence cafeteria, which, unlike other food services on campus, operates on an all-you-can-eat basis and is the main place for students with meal plans to eat. (The plans are mandatory for students in most residence buildings.)
Novack said he knows about 40 or 50 students on campus who would take advantage of a regular kosher option in the cafeteria.
Currently, the cafeteria serves halal food for Muslims, but students must request it and it’s not available to the general public, Novack said.
But if it can serve halal food and vegetarian options, there’s no reason it couldn’t have kosher options, he reasoned.
When he returns in September for his third year, Novack said he plans to meet with cafeteria chefs to further the conversation on how they can continue to offer kosher options, as well as setting up rabbinic supervision.
Judging by the brisket, “this seems to be working,” Novack said. “If they’re going to do it, may as well make it worthwhile for all the students, not just the Jewish students.”