Recently, a news story broke from multiple outlets about students at Oberlin College in Ohio taking a stand against cultural appropriation… By way of shitting on the dining hall food. Cultural appropriation is defined as, “the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture,” but shouldn’t include bad sushi.

The students at this highly-regarded liberal arts college decided to put their $50,000 tuitions to work and revolt against the bad sushi and suspect bánh mì sandwiches of their dining halls as offensive to Asian cultures.

cultural appropriation

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As a recent graduate, grandchild of immigrants and eater of foods, I would just like to say this is sad.

As reported by Clover Lihn Tran at the college’s newspaper, The Oberlin Review,  the school’s food service vendor, “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.”

Okay, correct me if I’m wrong here, but I don’t think anyone goes to their school’s dining hall to discover authentic sushi. In fact, I’m pretty sure everyone at my alma mater (huge shoutout to University of Maryland) would have avoided the sushi like poison had it been served. It wasn’t. We didn’t get sushi.

cultural appropriation

Photo by Vicky Nguyen

You know why you get sushi and bánh mì sandwiches, Oberlin College? Because your tuition is expensive. And your dining services’ purveyor is Bon Appétit. And if you’re genuinely distraught over Vietnamese sandwiches made with pulled pork instead of the traditional grilled pork then you need to reassess your priorities.

Now granted, you can’t bring a knife to a gunfight and you can’t put coleslaw and pulled pork on a ciabatta roll and call it a bánh mì.

But if, as an international student from Vietnam, you are that upset about the quality of your sandwich, you are wasting your money. Ostensibly, American universities attract international students for their excellent education. Not their sandwiches.

According to junior Tomoyo Joshi from Japan, the undercooked rice and “lack of fresh fish” in a LANDLOCKED, MIDWESTERN STATE is “disrespectful.” Well sheesh, Tomoyo. I guess we just can’t all be Jiro.

cultural appropriation

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Let me make one thing very clear: I don’t think these kids that are complaining are bad kids, or even rude kids. I think they are book smart but are lacking in common sense. And they don’t understand that the pinnacle of excellent dining will not be found on a college campus in suburban Ohio.

Ultimately, all they’re doing is making the dining service workers (who are likely paid minimum wage) feel shitty about a job that they are ostensibly trying to do well.

Now to be fair, an Indian tandoori made with beef to celebrate Diwali isn’t great (observant Hindus do not eat beef) and that was an issue that could have been fixed with a modicum of research.

But bad sushi is not cultural appropriation. And a poorly made bánh mì is not disrespectful to Vietnamese culture. It’s just college food. It’s a lot better than it used to be, but it’s still not great.

This fervent plea for better Asian food published in the Oberlin newspaper is simply entitlement as its finest. Students are effectively saying, “Not only do we deserve a fine education, we deserve culturally sensitive food service workers who are trained in the arts of pan-Asian cuisine so that they might accurately serve us our native meals.”

cultural appropriation

Photo by Eunice Choi

Welcome to the real world, kids. If I got offended every time I saw a corned beef sandwich on white with mayo, I would have melted into an angry little pool of schmaltz long ago. You simply can’t get this up in arms about people getting your culture a little wrong. Life is too short.

Ultimately, these students ought to be grateful that a college in suburban Ohio even offers things as diverse as tandoori, bánh mì and sushi. To completely ignore the fact that someone in dining services took the time to try and offer dishes that would appeal to the Asian population of the school is a new level of thoughtless. To write an article haranguing the dining staff doing their best to make you happy for not doing it perfectly is just unconscionable.

We all do the best with what we have, and that includes dining services. They have to feed thousands of students passable food for an incredibly low cost. I’d like to see you try and figure out that logistical nightmare.

So yeah, the bluefin tuna might not be fresh from the ocean, and the curry might be a little bit light on flavor and the classic Vietnamese sandwich might be served on the wrong kind of bread. But that’s a whole lot better than those foods not being served at all.

So in conclusion, dear Oberlin students, if you think the sushi is bad, eat a PB&J.