Café 3 on the UC Berkeley campus, designed by Mesher Shing Architects. Photo: Courtesy UC Berkeley Communications
Café 3 on the UC Berkeley campus, designed by Mesher Shing Architects. Photo: Courtesy UC Berkeley Communications

By Joel Bahr / UC Berkeley

Cal Dining has just opened the first dining station in the UC system that is certified kosher. It is designed to appeal not only to the Jewish community on campus, but also to Muslims who eat halal foods, as well as students who are vegetarian and vegan.

The new food station is part of an overall revamping of Café 3 to emphasize plant-forward meals that are sourced locally and sustainably. This is in line with Cal Dining’s overall goal of producing menus that are both nutritious and sustainable.

“We’re focused on creating more plant-forward menus on campus,” said Shawn LaPean, Cal Dining’s executive director. The kosher option, which will feature certified meats, is largely an extension the university’s aim to feed to a broader range of palates and food cultures.

“Not only will the menu at Café 3 be much healthier and more sustainable, but it’s also in line with some of the larger trends we’re seeing nationwide,” said LaPean.

Located at 2400 Durant Ave., Café 3 features eight different dining stations, including the kosher-certified station, a Mediterranean bar that is also kosher, an omelet bar that exclusively uses organic and cage-free eggs, a salad bar that uses locally grown produce, a pizza station, a local cheese bar, a grill with plant-forward sandwiches and entrée items, and a vegan and vegetarian station inspired by international flavors.

A more inclusive eatery

“A lot of people don’t know what ‘kosher’ means or what the criteria is that dictates it,” said Josh Woznica, president of the Jewish Student Union. “[Café 3] could be a place where people could learn more about different values and cultures. It has the potential to be an intersection of ideas – a station that’s open to everyone.”

Broadly speaking, halal and kosher are dietary guidelines that have been set by the Quran and Torah, respectively. For both, a central principle concerns how – and what type of – animals are slaughtered and prepared for food.

The meats served at Café 3 will be kosher-certified, which has broader impact on halal options. Under Islamic law, meat can be considered halal as long as it is slaughtered by Muslims or other “People of the Book,” which includes all Abrahamic religions including Judaism and Christianity, according to Sarah Bellal, external vice president for the Muslim Student Association. At Café 3, kosher-certified foods will also meet halal standards.

“Making the new food station kosher is really great in that it opens up more food options for both the Muslim and Jewish student communities at Cal, which are significant portions of the student body,” says Bellal.

While kosher sandwiches have been offered by Cal Dining in the past, this is the first time kosher-certified hot dishes will be offered, using kosher beef, chicken and lamb. Also, following kosher traditions, meats will not be mixed with dairy.

Food with pork or shellfish, which are prohibited in both cultures, will not be on the menu at Café 3. The café will feature seafood that has been deemed either “best choice” or “good alternative” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch – a program that assists in choosing seafood that has a minimal impact on marine ecosystems.

Tastes for all palates

Keeping a halal or kosher diet has long proven a challenge for college students – both at UC Berkeley and elsewhere. Before coming to Cal Dining, LaPean helped address this at Vanderbilt University by installing a kosher dining hall. Other campuses are starting to do the same, including UC San Diego, which has plans to open a kosher food station designed to also serve   those who want halal meals when the school year starts next month.

“The implementation of the new food station also relieves a lot of food security concerns for students who eat kosher or halal,” says Bellal. “Moving to Berkeley and starting college already requires adjustment in terms of academics and social life. No longer being able to eat the food you used to eat at home is yet another way students may need to adjust.”

One student who had to adjust in the past is Rabbi Gil Leeds, who, as a Berkeley student in the early 2000s, found it so difficult to find kosher meals in dining halls that he moved off campus. Leeds, who served as a facilitator and informal consultant to Cal Dining as they were planning the kosher station and also runs the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center, is effusive with his praise for the addition.

“The kosher station at Café 3 is a dream come true!” said Leeds. “Shawn [LaPean] and Cal Dining have always been so eager to go above and beyond, and our community is immensely appreciative of their hard work and sensitivity to our dietary needs.”

Cal Dining and leaders from the Jewish and Muslim communities are optimistic about the dining space not only being a cultural mixing bowl, but also a welcoming sign of inclusion for future students.

“This will help Muslim students feel as though the administration recognizes and cares about their needs,” said Bellal. “Historically, Muslims and Jews have peacefully coexisted under the original Islamic caliphates as well as across other regions of the world. Our communities coming together to share meals at Berkeley is symbolic of a centuries-long shared tradition between Jews and Muslims — a tradition that includes many other religious commonalities.”

“There’s an opportunity for our students to learn outside of the classroom here,” echoed LaPean. “This is a move away from a more traditional dining service to a food program that can facilitate a lot of learning and sharing of different traditions.”

The changes to Café 3 were made in two months to accommodate incoming students, prompting LaPean to say: “I am incredibly grateful to our director of operations Thierry Bourroux, our senior executive chef Jose Manuel Martinez, and the entire Cal Dining administrative team who worked hard to open. We heard this was something that was important to the students, and they went the extra mile to ensure it was ready for move-in weekend.”

Café 3 is open seven days a week serving brunch and dinner to both the UC Berkeley community and the general public. Visit the Café 3 website for more information.

Berkeleyside’s Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas is two days of provocative thinking, inspiring speakers, workshops, and a big party — all in downtown Berkeley on Oct. 14-15. Read all about it, be part of it.

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