Food and belonging

This story of simple kindness reminded me of an event I organized years ago.

It was a multi-day training conference for my company’s ethics and compliance officers based in Asia Pacific. I made sure that we had snack breaks in the morning and the afternoon, good lunches, and team dinners at night for networking and relationship-building. I even thought of asking if anyone had food allergies.

But I failed to realize that my conference was during the month of Ramadan, and that one of my attendees was a practicing Muslim. I didn’t notice him skipping the lunch and snacks on the first day. After my closing remarks that afternoon, with a kindness I still remember, he sought me out for a private word and explained, with a gentle smile, why he would not be joining us for dinner, which was scheduled a few hours before sunset. I was mortified. I apologized repeatedly but he assured me it was OK.

I never forgot that lesson. In subsequent years, I made sure not to schedule this event during the holy month. I also made sure we had halal options at all meals. Such a simple solution, yet so easy to overlook when you assumes that everyone else does what you do. Food is such an important aspect of culture and daily life, it should not be overlooked.

I applaud the colleges that are now being more inclusive and showing simple kindness to the Muslim students during Ramadan. I also encourage all employers who offer cafeteria services to learn more about, and meet, the dining needs and practices of their employees.

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