Oberlin College Cafeteria Slammed For Serving Culturally Insensitive Food

Jennifer Deutschmann

The Oberlin College cafeteria is being criticized for serving culturally insensitive food. Although the problem was originally discussed in the November issue of Oberlin Review, the story is now starting to gain national attention.

As stated in the November 6 article, which was written by Clover Linh Tran, the Ohio college's food service department is being accused of cultural appropriation. Essentially, students are criticizing the cooks for "Americanizing" traditional ethnic dishes to the point where they are unrecognizable.

The Oberlin College cafeteria is run by the Bon Appétit food service management company. In recent months, the company began offering a variety of ethnic dishes "in an attempt to diversity students." Unfortunately, the food is receiving stark criticism from some students.

One student was specifically disappointed with a pork sandwich, which was labeled as Vietnamese. Although it traditionally consists of grilled pork served on a toasted baguette and topped with fresh herbs, pate, and pickled vegetables, the Bon Appétit version "used ciabatta bread, pulled pork and coleslaw."

Other students complained about the General Tso's chicken, which was steamed instead of deep-fried, sushi made with undercooked rice, and sauces that were simply "too weird" to "even try."

Inside the food fight at Oberlin College https://t.co/XkA3fJKcrD pic.twitter.com/c3uPumK8pT

— The Atlantic (@TheAtlantic) December 22, 2015

Oberlin College's cafeteria food is being criticized as a form of cultural appropriation. However, as reported by Washington Post, Bon Appétit may have modified the recipes in an attempt to prevent waste. Campus Kitchens Project director Laura Toscano explains.

"College campus cafeterias want to provide a wealth of options, but, [they] are inherently unpredictable... You never know how many students are going to show up on any given day or how much they're going to like the food."

Oberlin student Arala Tian Yoon Teh, who was interviewed for Tran's article, said she does not think the menu items are evidence of cultural appropriation. Instead, she suggests the Americanized dishes "are a reflection of cultural collision." She said the meals were obviously inspired by ethnic dishes. However, the cooks simply used ingredients that were readily available.

Clover Linh Tran's article focused on Asian students and their perception of Bon Appétit's version of Asian cuisine. However, similar complaints were also lodged by the college's black student union and the Universal Society of Hinduism.

— Eater (@Eater) December 20, 2015

In a December article in the Oberlin Review, the black student union announced a petition and protest of food served in the Afrikan Heritage House. As discussed in the article, the students offered recommendations for more authentic black American cuisine, including the reduced use of cream.

The student union also requested more vegan and vegetarian options, as well as the addition of fried chicken as a regular weekend meal.

In the same article, sophomore student Gloria Lewis said she believes Oberlin College faculty and staff need "more oppression training" in general.

According to the New York Post, Universal Society of Hinduism President Rajan Zed was alerted to the controversy when the Oberlin College cafeteria served a tandoori beef dish on the Hindu holiday Diwali. This is a specific concern for Hindus, as eating beef is considered a sacrilege.

At least one member of the black student union has suggested Oberlin College should replace Bon Appétit with a company more experienced with ethnic foods. However, a majority of the students who complained about the food are willing to work with Bon Appétit, cafeteria staff, and school officials to come up with a reasonable solution.

As a result of the ongoing criticism of the Oberlin College cafeteria food, campus dietitian Michele Gross confirmed college officials are meeting with students in an attempt to compromise. In her opinion, "the first meeting between college officials and... students went well, and changes are being implemented to address all concerns."

[Image via Shutterstock/zoryanchik]