As a current college student, let me tell you that when I go to my campus’ dining hall, I’m not looking for an culturally-authentic meal. When I’m in that blasted eating establishment, it’s because I could no longer stave off hunger with my umpteenth cup of coffee and I’ll probably perish if I didn’t force the daily monstrosity down my throat.
The students at Oberlin College have an entirely different idea when it comes to their dining hall’s menu. Following an attempt from Campus Dining Services to “diversify” the menu, students have called many of the Asian dishes “culturally appropriative.”
The complaints began after Diep Nguyen, a freshman from Vietnam, told the Oberlin Review how disappointed she was to find that campus dining’s idea of a Banh Mi Vietnamese sandwich was actually just a sandwich. She couldn’t believe that the dining services, Bon Apétit could serve “something completely different and label it as another country’s traditional food.”
The Review called the meal a “blurring of the line between culinary diversity and cultural appropriation.”
A sophomore from China, Prudence Hiu-Ying was particularly horrified by Bon Apétit’s attempt at General Tso’s chicken. She claimed the dish appeared to be steamed instead of fried and didn’t use a ginger-garlic soy sauce.
Because when you’re eating General Tso’s chicken, you’re very concerned with the authenticity of the dish.
Students took the most issue with their dining hall’s sushi bar. Tomoyo Joshi, a junior from Japan, said that the poor quality of the fish and the badly cooked rice was “disrespectful.” Other students appreciated Bon Apétit’s attempt to vary the food’s flavors, but thought that dining services should do cultural research before preparing such meals.
Michelle Gross, Director of Oberlin Dining Services, told the Review that Bon Apétit meant no disrespect when they served the students sushi. She added that the dining service was considering abandoning names for the dishes and instead merely describing their ingredients.
I understand where these outraged students are coming from – I really do. Food is critically important to many people’s cultures and it should be respected, but students cannot expect to get properly prepared culturally-specific meals in their dining hall. It’s a dining hall, not a five star restaurant.
If you were so concerned with getting a properly prepared Banh Mi sandwich, sushi or (this will never cease to be strange to me) General Tso’s chicken, you should have attended a college in a location where you could easily access these foods off-campus. A dining hall will never not have awful food to eat, so it’s best to get used to it.