College Students Are Calling School's Cafeteria Food "Cultural Appropriation"

Photographed By Ashley Batz.
College students in Ohio have a new complaint about the cafeteria food — it’s cultural appropriation.

Students at Oberlin College are calling out certain dishes, mostly Asian, for being "appropriative" because of poor preparation and culturally inaccurate recipe changes. Eater reports that international students are unhappy about seeing the foods of their homelands disrespected. One student was upset about changes to the traditional Vietnamese bánh mi sandwich. Another called poorly prepared sushi “disrespectful” to Japanese culture, where sushi can be considered an art.

Though it’s typical of students to complain about the lack of quality in cafeteria food, this particular criticism illustrates that there’s more at stake than the palates of disaffected college kids. Food can be an important touchstone of cultural identity, particularly for those who are far from home. It can also provide an introduction to a culture that might otherwise be inaccessible. Tomoyo Joshi, a Japanese student, told student newspaper The Oberlin Review, “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.”

Altering a culture's recipes to suit mainstream palates is nothing new, but it can be troubling to those who see their cuisine as part of their identity. Sometimes, the changes can be downright offensive — earlier this month, Hindu groups expressed concern that a traditionally vegetarian Indian dish was made with beef. The consumption of beef is forbidden by Hinduism, in which cows are sacred.

A representative of the dining services told The Oberlin Review that it was not the intent to serve food disrespectfully, and that the school dining services would work with students to discuss the issues.