Dear Oberlin students: Oregano is not a civil right

When I was younger, the civil rights movement was about racial injustice, the freedom to choose and the freedom to marry. It was most definitely not about the correct amount of oregano to use on “Italian Night.”

In an article that reads more like The Onion than a 140 year old school paper, students at Oberlin College in Ohio are reportedly incensed at the cultural appropriation taking place in their dining halls.

You see, Oberlin’s campus food service apparently does a bad job with ethnic dishes. And this simple fact of student life, familiar to generations of college students, is, in Millennial America, tantamount to Apartheid.

First they came for the sushi…
(Sushi image from Shutterstock.)

Nguyen added that Bon Appétit, the food service management company contracted by Oberlin College, has a history of blurring the line between culinary diversity and cultural appropriation by modifying the recipes without respect for certain Asian countries’ cuisines. This uninformed representation of cultural dishes has been noted by a multitude of students, many of who have expressed concern over the gross manipulation of traditional recipes.

Prudence Hiu-Ying, a College sophomore from China, cited an instance when Stevenson was serving General Tso’s chicken, but the product did not resemble the popular Chinese dish. Instead of deep-fried chicken with ginger-garlic soy sauce, the chicken was steamed with a substitute sauce, which Hiu-Ying described as “so weird that I didn’t even try.”

Oh, it gets better.

Perhaps the pinnacle of what many students believe to be a culturally appropriative sustenance system is Dascomb Dining Hall’s sushi bar. The sushi is anything but authentic for Tomoyo Joshi, a College junior from Japan, who said that the undercooked rice and lack of fresh fish is disrespectful. She added that in Japan, sushi is regarded so highly that people sometimes take years of apprenticeship before learning how to appropriately serve it.

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

The Oberlin freedom fighters are also demanding more “oppression training.” And fried chicken.

(Little known fact: Years before Nelson Mandela helped free South Africa, he liberated Charlie’s Pizza Joint from a particularly bland pizza bianca.)

America, we’ve got a problem. We have raised a generation of spoiled brats whose entire existence seems based on a never-ending quest for the next micro-aggression. In Canada, they’re banning yoga because of an apparent connection between the Lotus position and “genocide.” And at Yale, a teacher was forced to resign recently for defending Halloween. (Do read Conor Friedersdorf’s deconstruction of the Yale fiasco).

The phrase used for theses nouveau crimes against humanity are “micro-aggressions.” And never was there a more appropriate term. The aggressions tend to be so slight that they can’t be perceived with the naked eye. What happened to turn so many left-wing millennials into a bunch of watbs?

I have been a part of progressive politics for years. I have watched the African-American community fight racism. The women’s community fight sexism. The LGBT community fight homophobia and transphobia. And I’ve tried to do my part to help each. But when I see this next generation of activists fixating on Hoisin sauce and the Colbert Report — when so much real work remains to be done — it makes me less than hopeful about the future of progressive politics in America.

InsideOutsider
InsideOutsider is a longtime Democrat who has worked for a variety of progressive organizations and causes. He lives in Washington, DC.

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  • Melo11

    Hmm.. Couldn’tfind the connection between picture and the whole article..

  • Olterigo

    Why are you surprised when the Left discourse on many campuses (an in the larger political and societal life) has descended into microagression concerns and identity politics instead of the traditional Left concerns?

  • Hatfield

    I just hope that Miss PRUDENCE Hiu-Ying isn’t appropriating my culture.

  • ComradeRutherford

    Exactly. If the MBAs can take over colleges, jack the administration’s salaries to $100K+, treat faculty as a nuisance and students as cash machines, then why not hire an ‘authentic’ Japanese Sushi master? At least then the kids would be getting their money’s worth.

  • ComradeRutherford

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

    Simple fix: Add “American Style” to every item on the menu.

  • dcinsider

    Idiots.

  • Bcre8ve

    And Merry ….Holidays!

    https://flic.kr/p/dwUWjs

  • johnbales

    Andie is a beautiful dog! Thanks for sharing.

  • johnbales

    Makes me feel so old. Sushi wasn’t even on the horizon at the dining halls when I was in college. (And this kid thought that she’d find authentic Japanese prepared sushi in Ohio? In a school dining hall?)

  • emjayay

    Clearly the school cafeteria should hire a sushi master for $100K a year. And the General Tso chicken, an AMERICAN dish, was probably broiled instead of deep fried in order to conform with healthier food guidelines.

  • GreenEagle

    The worst of all of this is the utter ignorance of these students. The dish that we know as “General Tso’s Chicken” is only remotely related to anything you will find in Hunan,or at least to what you would have found there before Hunanese restaurants began catering to tourists by offering their own versions of this dish. And Nigiri Sushi is not an ancient form of Japanese cooking; its origins go back only to the nineteenth century. And this game could be played on and on.What we know as traditionsl French cuisine only dates from the French Revolution, after which the cooks lost their jobs with the nobility and were forced to serve the general public. The most traditional of all Italian dishes, Spaghetti with some sort of tomato sauce certainly didn’t exist before the 1500’s, as there were no tomatoes in Europe before Columbus. Beyond being petulant, these people are also ignorant of the culinary history they are supposedly trying to preserve.

    Anyway, if you have eaten very much in the restaurants of Monterey Park, you will know that these kids would cry like babies if they were forced to eat real Chinese food.

  • JaneE

    We called it mystery meat. It didn’t matter what the menu said, it was brown, bland with lumps of something that might have been meat. I never heard of a school cafeteria that didn’t include complaints, including the one that my mother cooked for. She spent hours trying to figure out ways to make the food go far enough to serve 300 students without going over budget. And she changed the official recipes as much as she could to make the food taste better. My dad and I were guinea pigs for stuff she was dubious about the taste of. Sometimes we had it two or three times before she decided it was fit to eat. Barely, at that.

  • Gawd… In my day, in the early 1980s, my university’s cafeteria food was known to be bad.

    That’s what we called it: “Bad.” Other adjectives included, “Cold, tasteless, nutritionally suspect, and basically inedible much of the time.” Then there was the day I bit into a biscuit and found a weevil… ugh. (The only good part is I didn’t actually eat the weevil, just saw its baked remains.)

    The freshman dorm’s food was especially bad, probably because it was prepared in another building on campus, and then rolled over in large racks — which you can guess what happened in winter. “Oh lovely. Spaghetti tonight… with stuck-together pasta, watery sauce, and ice cold, too.”

    We complained to CMU administration. We didn’t use words like “disrespectful” or “micro-aggression.” We simply said the food was unacceptably bad, and pointed out the specific ways it was bad. And believe it or not, they listened and the food, while still not great, at least improved to the point of edibility. And hopefully weevil free.

  • FuzzyRabbit

    Complaining about college food is an American tradition with a long and glorious history. Those foreign students should be glad they can experience the long cherished American custom of poor cafeteria food.

    I remember fondly the days of powdered eggs, mystery meat, and whatever Friday’s “fish” actually was. These students will also have memories of bad tasting college food that will last a lifetime.

  • 2karmanot

    Well done Fixer, but is a subject for debate whether the English are indeed competent to judge the quality of any food except bangers and mash.

  • 2karmanot

    Thank you! When high snark becomes truth I celebrate. Well done! When the Oberlin brats walk to school barefoot for eight miles and eat peanut butter sandos for lunch and study by candle light, maybe I will extend a sympathy or two. Keep writing you made my day. My dog Andie says arf to your dog….

  • MoonDragon

    Perhaps they would fare better with taco dogs and wiener wings. Spousal unit is convinced that crappy dorm food is the single greatest incentive for American young people to learn to cook.

    It wasn’t all that long ago that any of the varied Asian, African, or Eastern European cuisines were represented at all on campuses across the US. It was the presence of bad Chinese restaurants in my college town that piqued my interest in the various regional dishes of that vast nation. It led me to seek out better options and learn to cook some of the variations myself.

    That the meager effort, poorly executed, is, in itself characterized as a micro-aggression is going to assure that any effort to move in the direction of improvement will be less likely to manifest in the future.

  • The_Fixer

    Welcome to America, International Students!

    Get in line behind every other ethnic group that has chuckled at American attempts at approximating foreign dishes. Mexicans will tell you that Taco Bell is not Mexican food, and the English will tell you that Long John Silver’s is not English food. People from all over the world have found their native foods simply aren’t available here, not even an attempt at an approximation is offered. When we do, we’re often lousy at it, or we modify it so that it will be accepted by American palates.

    Did these people think that coming to America for school meant that they’d have everything familiar shipped along with them? Kinda defeats the purpose of going to school in a foreign country, no?

    These folks really need to relax. Not every poorly-done attempt to please a foreign visitor is to be considered an insult.

    Chill, people. You’ll survive, correct sushi or not.

  • LasloPratt

    I grew up in Ohio. It is not noted for its proficiency with international cuisine.

  • hiker_sf

    I weep for those who have to find the courage to survive within this shitstorm of human depravity.

    Indeed, we should look to Asian countries as examples of non-appropriation of products invented in western cultures.

  • nicho

    When I was in college, the dining hall blurred the distinction between “mystery meat” and “WTF is this?” Wait, what? The dining hall didn’t import Asian or Italian chefs to cater to your well-developed palate. Hold on. Help is on the way.

  • Doug105
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