Oberlin students complain about culturally appropriative food

Students at Oberlin College are requesting a meeting with their school’s food service provider after repeated allegations that its ethnic dishes are culturally “appropriative.”

Diep Nguyen, a freshman at the elite institution, for instance, was disappointed to discover that her school’s interpretation of a Vietnamese dish known as a Banh Mi sandwich failed to live up to her expectations.

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“It was ridiculous,” she told The Oberlin Review. “How could they just throw out something completely different and label it as another country’s traditional food?”

Nguyen went on to explain that the school’s food service provider, Bon Appetit, has been repeatedly criticized by international students for its allegedly poor interpretations of their respective cultures’ dishes.

Student Prudence Hiu-Ying claimed that the company’s take on General Tso’ Chicken was “so weird that [she] didn’t even try” it, while Japanese student Tomoyo Joshi called the undercooked rice and lack of fresh fish at the school’s sushi bar disrespectful.

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

Meanwhile, student Mai Miyagaki suggested arranging a meeting between Bon Appetit and international students to offer thoughts on their dishes, a recommendation that Director of Business Operations and Dining Services Michile Gross has indicated she will approve.

“It’s important to us that students feel comfortable when they are here,” she told The Review, speculating that “maybe what we should do is describe the dish for what it is as opposed to characterizing it with a specific name.”

This is not the first time that Oberlin students have criticized their school’s food options, though it is coming from a different segment of the student body.

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In 2015, members of the Black Student Union called for Oberlin to decrease the amount of cream used in meals because “black American food doesn’t have much cream in it,” while simultaneously demanding that fried chicken be made a permanent feature on the school’s menu.

Bon Appetit’s director of communications, Bonnie Powell, told Campus Reform that her company “appreciated the feedback [it] received from Oberlin student,” and noted that her “chefs have been working hard to offer menus that will appeal to the Oberlin community.”

CLARIFICATION: This article originally appeared in 2015. Campus Reform is inquiring as to whether the issue has been resolved.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski