Oberlin College, alma mater of Lena Dunham, is in the news today as students protest the school’s culturally insensitive dining hall options.
For example, the General Tso’s chicken offered by the Oberlin dining hall was made with steamed chicken instead of fried — which is not authentically Chinese, and simply “weird,” one student told the Oberlin Review.
Other students pointed out that the banh mi Vietnamese sandwiches are served with coleslaw instead of pickled vegetables, and are made ciabatta bread, rather than the traditional French baguette.
“It was ridiculous,” commented Diep Nguyen, a freshman originally from Vietnam.
Meanwhile junior and Japanese native Tomoyo Joshi claimed the sushi rice at Oberlin was undercooked in a way that was “disrespectful” of her culture. “When you’re cooking a country’s dish for other people, including ones who have never tried the original dish before, you’re also representing the meaning of the dish as well as its culture,” Joshi told The Oberlin Review. “So if people not from that heritage take food, modify it and serve it as ‘authentic,’ it is appropriative.”
Of course, we can’t help but wonder if the chefs at Oberlin are just ill-informed (or even, dare we say it, less-than-stellar cooks), and the mishandling of cultural food items is not meant in an insensitive or appropriative way.
Writer Robby Soave makes an interesting point in The Daily Beast, “Blending the best elements of different social traditions and creating something new (and possibly more fascinating) is praiseworthy and progressive. Maybe Oberlin’s Banh Mi sandwich should be judged not by how closely it apes the original, but whether it tastes as good?”
Nonetheless, Oberlin’s black student union have staged a protest outside the on-campus dorm Afrikan Heritage House. According to the Oberlin Review, the school cafeteria was not serving enough vegan and vegetarian options and had failed to make fried chicken a permanent feature on the Sunday night menu. The protesting students started a petition that also recommends the reduction of cream used in dishes, because “black American food doesn’t have much cream in it.”
Adding to the vocal discontent at Oberlin, the Nevada-based Universal Society of Hinduism joined the fray last week after students discovered that the traditional Indian dish, tandoori, contained beef. Yikes.
“Consuming beef was considered sacrilegious among Hindus,” blasted society president Rajan Zed.
Campus dietitian Michele Gross has since reported that the first of many meetings between college officials and dyspeptic students went well, and changes are being implemented to address all concerns. We hope that the strife is resolved immediately so the the dining hall can return to being a place where students can eat well and feel like the cultures represented in their dining options are being properly respected.
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