Oberlin College Students Offended By Lack Of Authenticity In School's Ethnic Food

| by Michael Allen
Oberlin College ProtestersOberlin College Protesters

Some students at Oberlin College in Ohio are outraged that some of the Asian dishes served at the school are not authentic enough, which they say amounts to cultural appropriation.

“It was ridiculous,” Diep Nguyen, a freshman from Vietnam, told The Oberlin Review in November. “How could they just throw out something completely different and label it as another country’s traditional food?”

Nguyen was upset that a Banh Mi Vietnamese sandwich, which should have been made of grilled pork, pate, pickled vegetables and fresh herbs, was composed of ciabatta bread, pulled pork and coleslaw.

Prudence Hiu-Ying, a Chinese sophomore from China, said that the school's offering of General Tso’s chicken was not deep-fried chicken with ginger-garlic soy sauce, but rather steamed chicken with another type of sauce.

The school's campus dining services says that the food service company that provides the dishes, Bon Appetite, is trying to offer nutritional diversity.

However, that explanation doesn't work for some students.

Tomoyo Joshi, a Japanese junior, said that the undercooked rice and absence of fresh fish in the school's sushi is a sign of disrespect.

“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 stated. “So if people not from that heritage take food, modify it and serve it as ‘authentic,’ it is appropriative.”

Michele Gross, director of Business Operations and Dining Services at the school, suggested that it might be easier to change the descriptions of the dishes.

“Maybe what we should do is describe the dish for what it is as opposed to characterizing it with a specific name,” Gross told the student newspaper.

The Universal Society of Hinduism is also jumping on the bandwagon, The Chronicle-Telegram reports.

The organization said in a press release that the school's tandoori dish is being made with beef which is a problem because “consuming beef was considered sacrilegious among Hindus," and that a “cow was held sacred by Hindus and was considered the seat of many deities.”

Rajan Zed, president of the group, called for a meeting that would include students and college officials, including the president of the school.

Students and officials have already met once over this issue, However, Yasmine Ramachandra, of the South Asian Student Association, said the issue wasn't solved.

Gross, on the other hand, said the meeting went well and that changes were being made.

(Note: The picture above is not a protest against food, but a protest at Oberlin College against hate speech and crime)

Sources: The Oberlin Review, The Chronicle-Telegram / Photo Credit: Pteranadons/Wikimedia