Hey Oberlin students: Your cafeteria food isn’t racist AP

Oberlin College students are well-known for protesting some questionable causes, but they’ve really jumped the shark with their latest target: cafeteria food.

American students have been complaining about campus food for centuries. In fact, the first recorded student protest on the continent in 1766 was over the poor quality of Harvard’s butter. However, Oberlin students aren’t worried about the taste of their college’s fare, but rather that it’s racist.

That’s right, the Oberlin Review reports that numerous students are concerned that their school’s cafeteria food is culturally insensitive:

Diep Nguyen, a College first-year from Vietnam, jumped with excitement at the sight of Vietnamese food on Stevenson Dining Hall’s menu at Orientation this year. Craving Vietnamese comfort food, Nguyen rushed to the food station with high hopes. What she got, however, was a total disappointment.

The traditional Banh Mi Vietnamese sandwich that Stevenson Dining Hall promised turned out to be a cheap imitation of the East Asian dish. Instead of a crispy baguette with grilled pork, pate, pickled vegetables and fresh herbs, the sandwich used ciabatta bread, pulled pork and coleslaw.

“It was ridiculous,” Nguyen said. “How could they just throw out something completely different and label it as another country’s traditional food?”

As Robby Soave points out in the Daily Beast, the original Banh Mi is a better example of cultural blending than a traditional dish, since its crispy baguette was introduced by the French.

More hilariously, a Chinese student complains later in the article about how the cafeteria’s General Tso’s chicken “did not resemble the popular Chinese dish.” General Tso’s is not traditionally Chinese, but rather was invented in America by Chinese immigrants to cater to their customers’ tastes for sweet and sour food. In fact, most native Chinese have no clue who the dish’s namesake was at all, as seen in the critically acclaimed documentary The Search for General Tso.

In a weird way, the griping students have a point: the dishes are cultural appropriation. But that’s because almost all popular “ethnic” foods in the United States represent a clash of cultures.

Take the burrito. Although well known as a popular Mexican dish, its origins actually trace back to the United States. Should Americans reject taquerias because their highlight dish is “appropriating” traditional Latin-American culture?

Of course not, because cultural appropriation is a beautiful thing. By fusing cultures, people become more tolerant of others while creating new tasty concoctions. It’s the reason the United States lives in relative harmony despite having a radically socio-economically diverse populace.

A world without cultural appropriation would be a nasty and tribalistic one. Instead of obsessing over some highfalutin concept of “traditionalism” that doesn’t exist, the progressives of Oberlin should embrace cultural fusionism as a cohesive force for world peace.

Casey Given About the author:
Casey Given is executive Director of Young Voices. Follow him on Twitter @caseyjgiven
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