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

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