Somerville JCR has faced controversy this week over a motion seeking to introduce halal and kosher food to hall, including accusations that the JCR is not sufficiently concerned about the welfare of its Jewish students.
The original motion proposed that “Somerville have decided to take octopus off the menu for the annual Fresher’s Dinner so this appears to be is a good time to review the menu in general, we think that they could do more in terms of hall provision to ensure that different groups of people can eat in hall more.”
The proposed changes faced opposition from some JCR members, who raised concerns that halal and kosher meat were produced in “inhumane” ways.
An amendment was then proposed “to remove the halal and kosher aspects of this motion due to the animal welfare concerns about how animals are killed in order for them to be halal and kosher”, which passed with 22 votes in favour, 8 against, and 7 abstentions.
Supporters of the initial motion argued that between 80% and 90% of animals used to produce Halal and Kosher meat are stunned beforehand (the correct figure is 84% according to the RSPCA), but concerns were raised that religious law prevents Kosher meat from being pre-stunned.
In the end, the motion passed with 26 JCR members voting “in favour of re-adding the halal and kosher aspects of the original motion on the condition that it is pre-stunned”.
However, this was met with a backlash on the JCR’s Facebook page, with one student even questioning whether “the JCR cares more about animals than its Jewish members”, whilst others noted that the acceptability of stunning is widely debated in Islam and particularly Judaism.
Another student claimed that the JCR’s Head of Environment and Ethics was “doing his best to ensure that we source ethical produce: “He is doing so in good faith and because he believes passionately in animal welfare.”
In a discussion about the new rules on Facebook, one JCR member said, “The forms of kosher and halal without pre-stunning were considered deeply unethical during the meeting so were removed from the motion. Religious thoughts were put aside for the sakes of animal welfare, quite rightly.
“This was later re-amended to permit halal and kosher only if animals had been pre-stunned, even though many are uncomfortable with this as this sort of meat fails to qualify as kosher/halal to many people (especially orthodox Jews).
“The Jewish and Muslim communities were poorly represented in the meeting as there was simply no one to represent them. In the mean time, I hope we continue to prioritize animal welfare over other abhorrent practices, without anyone feeling the need to get offended.
“We continue to offer vegetarian meals 7 days a week for anyone unhappy with the fact that their meat did not suffer the cold sting of a blade to the throat.”
The President of JScoc, Nicole Jacobus, told Cherwell: “The very fact that this amendment was passed in a JCR meeting without a Jewish student being able to challenge it highlights the lack of diversity and awareness of other cultures amongst students in Oxford.
“The vote to ban kosher food only makes the diversity issue worse, as it shows that Jewish students are not only poorly provided for, but that they cannot actively practise as Jews at Somerville.
“This reflects badly on the whole of the Oxford student community. Oxford JSoc is always there to ensure Jewish students have the freedom to practise their religion as they choose to.
“We appreciate that the Somerville JCR President has now liaised with both Jewish students at the college and the staff to clearly work towards making kosher food available to students.
“Nevertheless, this situation has demonstrated the severe lack of cultural awareness that Oxford is facing.”
Somerville JCR President Emmanuel Amissah-Eshu has said, “We are pleased that we have been able to secure the support of the JCR in asking College to provide more inclusive food options in the form of gluten free, lactose free and pre-stunned halal meat on our menus.
“It has resulted in a productive meeting with College where they said they would look into providing the above as well as a proposal for kosher food to be available upon request for those that want it. This will be followed up on to make sure it happens.
“The debate following the motion to ask College to provide more gluten-free, lactose- free, halal and kosher food was a difficult and controversial conversation at times but the JCR is a place for such discourse but the motion amendment and the resulting vote was solely based on the debate of stunned vs pre-stunned meat provision in Hall and not the religious implications.”