Jewish charity urges USDA to add more kosher and halal options

Food pantries need a wider array of kosher and halal options to feed those who adhere to dietary restrictions.

A roundtable session organized by Met Council focused on the need for more kosher and halal products. Credit: Courtesy of Met Council.
A roundtable session organized by Met Council focused on the need for more kosher and halal products. Credit: Courtesy of Met Council.

Met Council, America’s largest Jewish charity dedicated to combatting poverty, hosted a meeting with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships to advocate for the expansion of kosher- and halal-food options for recipients of USDA’s national food pantry programs.

The roundtable session featured U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), USDA director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Samantha Joseph, Met Council CEO David G. Greenfield, Met Council managing director of food programs and policy Jessica Chait, elected representatives, and over 60 communal leaders and pantry providers from across the tri-state area.

“There are nearly 7.5 million members of the American Jewish community and a growing 3.5 million Muslim Americans, many of whom adhere to dietary restrictions. None should ever be forced to choose between the tenets of their faith and hunger,” said Meng. “In Congress, I am proud to have championed efforts to increase access to kosher and halal food, and we thank the Biden administration for incorporating this additional access through federal programs in the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, under the guidance of the USDA’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.”

“We understand that major change can only happen at the policy level, which is why outside of our daily work supporting the needs of Jewish and Muslim New Yorkers suffering from food insecurity, we are advocating the increased availability of culturally sensitive food being provided through government programs,” said Greenfield. “We’re not only the largest provider of free kosher and halal food, we are also a collective voice and partner for other faith groups and food distribution agencies to ensure that our shared constituents are not forced to choose between their faith and going hungry.”

For the last 50 years, Met Council has provided emergency and ongoing access to kosher food for food-insecure households in the New York metropolitan area. Met Council has an increasingly growing advocacy arm that fights for the needs of those struggling on the city, state and federal policy levels.

Met Council’s understanding of the specific challenges faced by individuals observing religious dietary restrictions while dealing with food insecurity, fueled its expansion by launching programs to support the halal community in 2020, in response to the closure of some halal food pantries during the pandemic due to a shortage of supplies. The group’s advocacy and fundraising efforts have powered its continued support of 305,000 individuals annually with culturally and dietary-appropriate food products while becoming a trusted partner to legislators seeking to serve religious populations.

Met Council distributes more than 20 million pounds of kosher and halal food each year.

At Met Council’s urging, USDA committed to working to ensure equal access to all USDA feeding programs for USDA clients with religious dietary needs. This included increasing commercially available kosher and halal foods, expanding the number of kosher- or halal-certified foods in USDA’s food procurements, training schools on how to meet students’ religious dietary needs for the national school lunch and school breakfast programs and expanding outreach and technical assistance for kosher- and halal-meat processors.

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Founded in 1972, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty (Met Council) has been fighting poverty and promoting the social welfare of New York’s struggling populations including the impoverished, immigrants and the elderly. Met Council is recognized as an expert in providing food to kosher and halal families across the tri-state area. It has become a trusted advisor to many around issues of culturally competent food, with distributions and social services reaching more than 300,000 individuals annually. Its social-services division supports tens of thousands of New Yorkers through direct assistance and helping to register them for applicable government programs. These include programs supporting victims of domestic violence, the elderly, Holocaust survivors and the Jewish community's largest network of affordable housing. For more information, see: www.metcouncil.org.
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