Following an attempt from Campus Dining Services to "diversify" their menu, students at Ohio's premier liberal arts school, Oberlin College, have called many of the Asian dishes "culturally appropriative."
The complaints began after a freshman from Vietnam named Diep Nguyen told the Oberlin Review last month how disappointed she was to find that what campus dining claimed to be a traditional Banh Mi Vietnamese sandwich was, in fact, just a sandwich.
"It was ridiculous," Nguyen said of the pulled pork and cole slaw on ciabatta sandwich that dining services company Bon Apétit. "How could they just throw out something completely different and label it as another country's traditional food?"
Nguyen was not the only one to notice what the Review called a "blurring of the line between culinary diversity and cultural appropriation," particularly when it comes to Asian cuisine.
A sophomore from China named Prudence Hiu-Ying was equally taken aback by Bon Appétit's attempt at General Tso's chicken, which appeared to have been steamed instead of fried. The dish also appeared to have a sauce that Hiu-Ying said was not ginger-garlic soy, though she said she did not try it herself.
But the students' real outrage appeared to be over their dining hall's sushi bar, which the campus newspaper called the "pinnacle" of what many students believe is "a culturally appropriative sustenance system."
Tomoyo Joshi, a junior from Japan, told the Review that she found the poor quality of the fish and the badly cooked rice "disrespectful."
A few of the less incensed students said they appreciated Bon Appétit was making an effort to vary the food's flavors, but perhaps dining services should do some cultural research on the meals they are making before serving them.
Others recommended Bon Appétit meet with cultural student organizations of the same nationality as the dishes they are serving to ensure they are not offending anyone.
Director of Oberlin Dining Services Michelle Gross told the Review that Bon Appétit did not mean to be disrespectful while serving the students sushi. She added that they were considering abandoning names for the dishes, and instead simply describing their ingredients.
When news of the students' outrage over the potentially offensive food reached the outside world this weekend, many did not quite know what to do with the information. Some thought the story to be fake.
Others affectionately – or not so affectionately – shook their heads at the famously progressive school's complaints.
But some were more sympathetic to the students' woes.
Food is important to many people's cultures and that should be respected.This has to be a joke.I think we might be in need of a wah-mbulance.Tbh, couldn't care less.
vote votesFood is important to many people's cultures and that should be respected.
vote votesThis has to be a joke.
vote votesI think we might be in need of a wah-mbulance.
vote votesTbh, couldn't care less.
Ema O'Connor is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Ema O'Connor at email@example.com.
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