The cafeteria at Oberlin College in Ohio serves a traditional Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, a Chinese General Tso’s chicken, Japanese sushi, and Southern style fried chicken. At least that’s what the menu says. But students at the private liberal arts college – a school noteworthy for being the first American higher education institution to regularly enroll admit female and black students in addition to white males – say that the “multicultural” servings are a joke, and have accused the school of racist meal prep.
Reports the New York Times on Dec. 21: “The students at the college in Oberlin, Ohio, are accusing the campus dining department and Bon Appétit Management Company, the main dining vendor, of a litany of offenses that range from cultural appropriation to cultural insensitivity.”
Students complaining about cafeteria food is not new, but when the food is racially inauthentic, as well as poorly prepared, then we have a stew pot set to boil over with cultural microaggressions.
According to the Times, “students with the school’s black student union protested outside of the dining hall at the Afrikan Heritage House, after demands for more traditional meals, including more fried chicken, went unmet, according to the campus paper, The Oberlin Review.”
Students say the so-called Vietnamese sandwich was simply pulled pork with cole slaw, the General Tso had steamed chicken instead of the fried Hunan sweet and spicy recipe (Eater.com called that one a “gastronomic error”), and the sushi was so poorly prepared, it looked like a “tot with a butter knife whacked” at the sashimi.
“I would like to see Bon Appétit fired and replaced by something other than an international corporation,” student Kendra Farrakhan wrote to the paper. “I would like to see the chefs have the respect and autonomy to cook the food they love.”
“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,” Tomoyo Joshi, a student from Japan, added. “So if people not from that heritage take food, modify it and serve it as ‘authentic,’ it is appropriative.”
Michele Gross, Oberlin’s director of dining services, acknowledged the complaints and said this week that “in our efforts to provide a vibrant menu, we recently fell short in the execution of several dishes in a manner that was culturally insensitive,” adding: “We have met with students to discuss their concerns and hope to continue this dialogue.”
Perhaps they will gather over a montage of ethnic Thai noodles, Mansaf and Montenegrin beef liver.