Fort McMurray hospital starts serving halal meals for patients

The hospital in Fort McMurray has become the first in Alberta's north zone to offer halal meal options.

'You don’t have to be Muslim to appreciate harmony, to appreciate inclusiveness.'

There will be a rotation of 21 meals, including chana masala with basmati rice. (Kiran Malik-Khan)

The hospital in Fort McMurray has become the first in Alberta's north zone to offer halal meal options.

The Northern Lights Regional Health Centre phased in the food in November, and has since served about 100 halal meals to patients.

"This was a gap that needed to be filled," said Kiran Malik-Khan, Northern Lights Health Foundation board member.

There are about 10,000 Muslims in Fort McMurray, said Malik-Khan, who has been helping with the project for the last year. 

She said one reason this is important is that Muslims visiting the hospital may not self-identify, may be shy, or may not know there is a halal meal option. 

Now, the question will be asked up front.

"We wanted people to know right up front that they had those options."

When people learned that halal options would be available at the hospital, Malik-Khan said, her phone started "blowing up."

"People are just so grateful and they are appreciative."

Some of the requirements of halal food are that it can't contain pork or alcohol, and the animals must be slaughtered with a swift, deep incision in the throat.

Halal certified meals are now being served at the Fort McMurray hospital. (Kiran Malik-Khan)

She said when she gave birth to her son 15 years ago, her family and friends brought her meals.

"You can't have the Jell-O," she said. "It has gelatin in it. That's taboo."

She said not everyone has someone to bring them food in the hospital.

Abdurrahman Murad, the religious leader at Markaz Ul Islam Mosque, said members have been talking about the issue since he moved to Fort McMurray six years ago.

They're all very good actually. Surprisingly delicious.- Murray Crawford

"We finally have this and it's quite an achievement."

Murad said restaurants in the community have reached out to ask him about the requirements for halal food.

"It seems to me that they're likewise going to offer something to the Muslim community, which is great. It's nice to have a sense of inclusion."

He said serving halal food is simple, and typically includes finding a food provider that has halal certified products.

Murray Crawford, a senior operating officer with Alberta Health Services, said halal options don't cost more money.

"We want to make sure that when people come in here the last thing they're worried about are things like food."

Crawford has a chance to try the food. He tasted the barbecued beef and the chana masala with basmati rice. 

"They're all very good actually. Surprisingly delicious."

Patients at CHEO can order from a menu from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. and the food arrives within 20 min. Menu items include butter chicken, stir-frys, and tacos. (Kiran Malik-Khan)