Kosher dining graces campus

Joseph White Feb 4, 2013

Carnegie Mellon’s newest dining establishment, the Pomegranate, is an attempt to accommodate students with religious dietary restrictions.

However, the push for diet-specific food predates this semester. For years, the different communities at Carnegie Mellon have pushed for eateries on the Carnegie Mellon meal plan that meet specific dietary requirements, leading many to see the Pomegranate as the first step.

Despite the university’s past records of a high Jewish student population — 1999’s Hillel Guide to a Jewish Life advertises the joint undergraduate and graduate Jewish population at 16 percent — some of today’s students, including sophomore mathematics major and orthodox Jew Nathan Oshlag, see a dearth of these numbers. “CMU doesn’t have a large Jewish population for a university,” Oshlag said.

The Pomegranate opens an avenue for students, specifically first-years, to get food they otherwise could not obtain at Carnegie Mellon outside of refrigerated, premade meals.

“Its an amazing step forward with so much more room to grow,” sophomore biological sciences major Danielle Schlesinger said. “Just having more programming for the kids on campus looking for ... a culturally Jewish community.”

Those who face the strictest dietary restrictions are orthodox Jewish students; they follow the Va’ad-defined Kosher laws, which require every step of the food-preparation process to be checked by a member of the Va’ad, a certain council of rabbis. Because of the intensity of the supervision process, such Kosher foods tend to be on the pricier side.

The Pomegranate itself is not certified by the Va’ad, but the food is made in the Kosher kitchen at Congregation Beth Shalom and the food preparation process is supervised by Rabbi Michael Werbow.
For many Jewish students who follow a conservative level of Kosher rules, this is considered sufficient. According to senior Bachelor of Science and Arts student Brian Alderman, one of the Jewish students who pushed for such an eatery, the next step is to have a place on campus to serve the “20 or 30 who can’t eat at the Pomegranate.”

Even those who cannot eat at the Pomegranate see it as “a step in the right direction,” Oshlag said. He initially opposed the Pomegranate since it did not serve the students who needed a Kosher eatery the most, but he considers it an encouragement, as he and other orthodox Jewish students “are not done pushing for a Va’ad Kosher food vendor [that] would cater to the entire array of Muslims and Jews on campus.”
Yet even in the same schools of Kosher there are differing opinions.

“I don’t expect [Va’ad Kosher] is feasible, since there isn’t a strong observant Jewish community on campus,” said Daniel Davis, a junior chemistry major.

He believes that keeping costs sufficiently low would make food quality suffer, and a Kosher eatery needs to attract non-Kosher customers to stay in business.

A simpler method to solve the food dilemma — not only for Jews, but also for Muslims, Hindus, and vegetarians — would be to eliminate the required meal plan for first-years.

Currently, according to Davis, Jewish students who can eat at the Pomegranate can eat at other campus locales, like Evgefstos.

Increasing options for them is a good thing, in his opinion, but unfortunately the total number served has not increased by much.

Even for Jewish students who do not keep Kosher, just having a place with Middle Eastern food provides a taste of home.

“Its our comfort food,” Tsachor said, “we can’t get mom’s cooking, but it makes you feel at home.”