Food Fights

College Students Say Their Bad Cafeteria Food Is Culturally Insensitive

Just how authentic is General Tso's, anyway?
Just how authentic is General Tso’s, anyway? Photo: kmnyman/CC/flickr

A group of students at Ohio’s Oberlin College say that foods like sushi and bánh mì as served at the school cafeteria aren’t just bad — they’re culturally insensitive. Why’s that? As student Tomoyo Joshi explains in an Oberlin Review story that’s suddenly getting a lot of attention, “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 … So if people not from that heritage take food, modify it and serve it as ‘authentic,’ it is appropriative.”

To that end, the group contends their cafeteria’s so-named “bánh mì” is “ridiculous” because it uses ciabatta instead of a baguette, pulled pork instead of grilled pork, and generic “coleslaw” instead of a more authentic mix of pickled carrots and daikon. Sushi made from undercooked rice and not-so-fresh fish, meanwhile, is seen as “the pinnacle” of disrespect. They also, it’s worth noting, take issue with the cafeteria’s rendition of General Tso’s chicken — a recipe that doesn’t exactly scream “authentic recipe” even in its purest expression (a.k.a. the excellent version you get every time you order delivery from your local Chinese place).

Plenty of people on Twitter remain unconvinced that Oberlin’s cafeteria represents a “culturally appropriative sustenance system,” however:

Bon Appétit, Oberlin’s dining-services company, argues these foods are part of a good-faith effort to provide at least “one thing in every meal that you would want to eat.” A bold student told the Review she personally thinks it’s more likely that the substitute-sauce General Tso’s and probably $5-ish sushi roll are instead simply being made “with the available ingredients,” instead of the specific pantry items these recipes require. But the larger message is clear: Keep your fusion off our campus, or else.

[WaPo, Oberlin Review]

Oberlin Students: Our Cafeteria Food Is Racist