There’s a reason why some clichés always ring true. The old saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” actually holds true for both genders. Home-cooked meals and familiar dishes will put just about anyone at ease when they’re away from home. For those who choose to dine out, making informed choices can get pretty tedious after a while.
There are also major concerns for Jewish students living away from home for the first time. Many want to keep kosher, but may have few resources or choices available to help them make reasonable decisions – and that’s especially the case during Passover.
Life can already be difficult enough for young adults who move away from their families and communities for the first time. Typically, there is a period of adjustment – whether it is awkward or relatively smooth – and taking control of their own meals often has stressful implications for those who did not think about their options and devise a necessary strategy before they left home.
Lewis Novak was one of those students who knew there would be dietary challenges to consider that went beyond the “freshman 15” (the 15 pounds many students gain from eating cafeteria and fast food) when he first arrived at Carleton University. Now finishing his third year, Novak made it his mission two years ago to get the residence cafeteria to make kosher meals available to students.
As a member of the President’s Advisory Board, Novak said he and others brought up the issue because, during Passover, students living on campus who have the mandatory residence meal plans could not eat anything in the cafeteria because it was not kosher for Passover.
“That’s a lot of money down the drain,” he said.
Novak’s efforts and sustained partnerships over the last few years built upon the framework the university already had in place for dietary restrictions, such as offering Halal meat. While the university offered kosher sandwiches, kosher meat was unavailable at the time.
“It was a long process,” Novak said, but, following meetings with Ed Kane, vice-president of Student Services, and David Van Dyk, district manager of Aramark, the company responsible for food services at Carleton, this was the second year kosher meat has been available to students at Carleton’s residence cafeteria.
While Novak says the new kosher options for students currently only affect about 10 students living on campus who have the mandatory residence meal plans, the expanded meal plan can also act as an incentive for more Jewish students to choose Carleton for their postsecondary education.
While getting kosher food more widely available in the dining hall has been a significant step forward, Novak says there is still one major challenge that prevents all Jews from being able feel comfortable eating kosher on campus.
“The only thing is, there’s no mashgiach, so people who are really religious can’t eat that. But, we’re working toward getting a mashgiach on campus and having that accessible to everyone,” he said.
This was a challenge for the very observant during Passover, as the student groups Hillel Ottawa and Rohr Chabad Student Network brought in kosher food from Loblaws and prepared it strictly using separate microwaves and gloves.
“For Passover, it looks like it was a real success,” Novak said, adding that both faculty members and students were able to take advantage of the meals in order to keep kosher during Passover.
“The ball was always rolling in regards to kosher foods; this was kind of another step.”
Among the many characteristics of the millennial generation, their entrepreneurial mindset and ability to affect change when faced with complex challenges stand out as one of the gifts they bring to both their peers and society.
Novak is just one of many student leaders who are learning from their own experiences and then taking steps to ensure other Jewish students are able to enjoy campus life to the fullest.
Many of us can surely agree that a full plate can be an essential starting point to building a full life.