Editor says: not the author’s name.
I’ve been served pizza that was nothing more than half of an English muffin with a red substance and something that could be cheese. I’ve ordered cappuccino at an Italian restaurant, and was served dust from a packet that was partially dissolved in water. I’ve been the victim of innumerable little food crimes, nay, food micro-aggressions, and I had no idea that I had the power to make a federal case out of my food-related disappointments.
Leave it to a group of students at Oberlin to figure it out. They’ve labeled the fare offered by the hardworking people of dining services to be “culturally inappropriate” and “insensitive.” And college officials have stepped in with “meetings” resulting in “changes…to address all concerns.”
Never mind that the goal of any self-respecting dining hall is to feed as many students as possible in a cost-effective manner without getting any of them sick. Judging from the quick response of the administration, the goal of dining services is to honor the whims of the student body.
(And if you think that college costs are high now, imagine what the price tag will be if dining services staff have to climb the Himalayas to source just the right milk from the most politically correct yak.)
Among the charges of the students is that the bánh mì Vietnamese sandwich is “served with coleslaw instead of pickled vegetables, and on ciabatta bread, rather than the traditional French baguette.”
The sandwich itself is a fusion of Vietnamese and French ingredients, and there is no “right way” to make one. And using coleslaw is a stroke of genius, and truly brings an American perspective into play. Never mind that the sandwich was developed during Vietnam’s colonial past. I am surprised that a sandwich with such a shady history would pass muster with the students in the first place.
Oberlin, OH is a little town, with a population that is just nosing over 8,000. And in many Midwestern towns—even college towns—“traditional French baguette” is nearly impossible to come by. Ciabatta rolls seem like a reasonable substitute.
The glory of food is that it can be reinvented time and time again. Does anyone think that Lender’s bagels found in the frozen foods aisle bear any resemblance to their hand-rolled and boiled namesake? Does anyone think that Chef Boyardee products are a fair representation of the food of Italy? And what about that business of Marco Polo bringing noodles from China to the West? I guess spaghetti can be crossed off the list of acceptable foodstuffs.
In Yokohama, Spaghetti Naporitan—inspired by GIs after WWII—is nothing more than a plate of noodles with a nice smear of ketchup, and hot dogs if you’re lucky.
Ketchup? That wonderful child of Asia that has found a home in kitchens across the globe. Is this the type cultural inappropriateness that the students of Oberlin would like to stamp out?
There is a burgeoning food police, what with the legally mandated trans-fat oil ban in some localities, but their role could be expanded to monitor sushi bars (no inauthentic salmon-and-cream-cheese rolls for you) and test the yogurt content of white sauce used by falafel purveyors. Watered-down mayo masquerading as white sauce is a real menace.
What is most troubling about the little food fight at a little college in Ohio is the rigidity of the students and their belief that there is a “right” way to do things. For a lot of life, there is no right way. Sure, there are some illegal ways, and it is wise to stay away from those. There are many ways to go from point A to point B, say from college to a job. There is not just one way to live one’s life, just as there isn’t one way to prepare a Vietnamese sandwich.
The joy and glory of food is that there is no right way is that the cook can change things to suit the ingredients at hand. It’s a pity that the students at Oberlin don’t have any regard for the imagination. If they don’t like the sushi or the bánh mì, they can always have the old reliable egg salad.
Ah, with celery, dill, or pickles? I’ve even heard it being made with potato.