Devout food dilemmas

For many students and residents of Anchorage, it’s relatively easy to walk into a restaurant and order food without any thought. But in some communities with heavy influence from cultures and religions, people have restrictions to the foods they can eat.  According to Haim Wenger, a member of Congregation Beth Sholom for the past seven years, it’s easy not to be religious in Alaska; however, there are many students who live on campus at UAA who are actively devoted to their faith.

This year, 25 Saudi Arabian students are attending UAA. They all have something in common outside of their common homeland; they are all Muslim. Followers of Islam are forbidden from eating pork and must pray five times a day. They must also fast during Ramadan, which occurred this year in the month of August, when the Anchorage sun was still setting late. Abdullah Alanazi, a 25-year-old business administration major, noticed the difference between his home and Anchorage very quickly.

“From the food, everything is 100 percent different,” said Alanazi. He shared that he was thankful school hadn’t started during Ramadan so that he could travel back to Saudi Arabia. With the sun setting so late in Anchorage, he wouldn’t be able to observe it here.

Alanazi is not the only student who has run into religious barriers at UAA.

“Last year I ate at the cafeteria almost every day,” said Kyle Hoover, a 19-year-old aviation major and resident of East Hall. He is Catholic, and during the 40 days leading up to Easter, he observes Lent. During Lent, Catholics are forbidden from eating meat that isn’t from the ocean on Fridays.  Hoover recalls his first Friday of Lent last year, walking into the cafeteria at the Commons. He was surprised to find no fish available, leaving him to choose between salad and cheese pizza for dinner.

Alicia Thomas is a 21-year-old physical education major and a new resident to Anchorage this year. She is originally from Oregon, and comes from a religious Catholic family. Thomas will be spending her first Lent away from her family and is preparing for the food related difficulties.

“I would be upset if they don’t have fish on Fridays,” she said. “I can understand since there are other students, but I would like to have fish at least some Fridays.”

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Muslims and Catholics are not the only religions with food restrictions. In Judaism, followers are required to follow kosher dietary laws. This includes not mixing any meat with dairy products.

However, UAA does provide some food alternatives for those students who have specific dietary needs.

“Students can have grilled cheese from the grill; there’s always cheese pizza no matter what day it is, and there’s always a salad bar,” said Lindsey Knopf, a 21-year-old who worked as a chef at the school cafeteria last year. If a student does have restrictions, whether it is for allergic or religious reasons, if they call ahead they can request their food to be made a certain way. Meat can be cooked separate and vegetables and starch without cheese can be given.

During the weekdays, Subway and Mein Bowl in the Student Union offer students diversity in food options. Mein Bowl is willing to make special sushi for its customers upon request. Between tuna sandwiches at Subway, and sushi from Mein Bowl, Catholic students have options until 4p.m. on Fridays.

There are many things Muslim students can choose from at Subway or Mein Bowl, which also serves oriental dishes. These restaurants also give a student who follows kosher dietary laws different options to choose from. Even with the differences in beliefs between these Abrahamic religions, they all have food restrictions at some point during the year. Since people do choose to be religious, they must all find a way to adapt to in a city where religion isn’t as easily accommodated.