Contrary to all appearances, the Oberlin Review is not an Onion-style satire of social justice commentary. One might be excused for thinking so, however, after reading some of its headlines. The student-run newspaper of Oberlin College recently reported, “CDS Appropriates Asian Dishes, Students Say.”
Yes, now even making or eating foods another culture has inspired counts as “cultural appropriation.” If we can’t enjoy nights out eating sushi or Korean barbecued meats (and, in many cases, putting money into the pocket of an immigrant entrepreneur), then what’s the point of living? This social-justice warrior (SJW) craziness almost made me reach for a glass of sake until I realized that sake is a foreign import.
The article further reveals that students are complaining their cafeteria produces “inauthentic” and disgusting versions of ethnic cuisine. The real problem apparently isn’t that they appropriated culture but that they did a poor job of appropriating culture. It’s a cafeteria, after all. Who goes there expecting good food? During my time at Indiana University, students went to the small cafe full of Chinese students on the edge of campus with the menu on the wall in Chinese characters if they wanted good and real Chinese food.
As a working cook wrote in The Atlantic, “It is very hard work to make food for 600 people, much less an entire university. Most of the decisions are made pragmatically. Do we have the time to make Baclava for 600 people? Do we have anyone who knows how to make Spanakopita? No and no.”
Actually, the Food Is Entirely Authentic
The whole controversy reveals the absurdity of SJW language towards culture. Some of the dishes they are offended by, for example, aren’t even real ethnic cuisine. The General Tso’s chicken at Oberlin uses steamed chicken instead of fried chicken, for example. The real dish in China actually doesn’t use any kind of chicken, because it doesn’t exist.
General Tso’s chicken is a Taiwanese-American creation, according to NPR, credited to Peng Chang-kuei, a Hunanese chief who migrated to Taiwan with the Kuomintang at the end of the Chinese Civil War and later opened a restaurant in New York City. The sweet and sugary dish is foreign to Hunanese taste buds, which are accustomed to spicy and fragrant cuisine.
As Peng said, “[W]hen I began cooking for non-Hunanese people in the United States, I altered the recipe.” Michael Tong, owner of Shun Lee Palace in New York, also claims his restaurant invented General Tso’s chicken. Either way, the version of the dish known throughout America is a distinctly Chinese-American creation, not an “authentic” Chinese dish.
I Can SJW One-Up You
Ironically, the very Oberlin students clinging to their aggrieved self-righteousness might be committing micro-aggressions against ethnic cuisine by demanding everything be “authentic,” because authenticity doesn’t exist. Rachel Kuo, writer for Everyday Feminism, even criticized those who seek “authenticity,” writing, “Our perceptions of what is ‘authentic’ stem from pre-conceived ‘exotic narratives’ of culture and community.”
Another cafeteria dish the Oberlinites critiqued was the school’s take on Vietnamese banh mi, because they didn’t use French baguettes! More from Kuo:
For example, what is now Vietnam had been occupied by China for a thousand years and then colonized by France. This period of colonization is also what led to things like banh mi (sandwiches) and banh ex (crepes). The use of spam in different parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands, like spam musabi or spam in hot pot, are a direct result of US colonization.
If you love a dish and think it’s delicious, great! If you’re searching for a place that serves a particular dish, also great!
However, seeking ‘authenticity’ fetishizes the sustenance of another culture. The idea of the ‘authentic’ food experience is separated from reality. It also freezes a culture in a particular place in time.
To quote a true academic saying approximately the same thing, here’s Madan Sarup in “Identity, Culture, and the Postmodern World”: “Culture is not something fixed and frozen as the traditionalists would have us believe, but a process of constant struggle as cultures interact with each other and are affected by economic, political and social factors.”
Food Is a Cultural Melting Pot
It might be a misnomer, then, to refer to SJWs as “progressive.” They don’t really want culture to progress at all. They have an idea of a world where culture never crosses borders or changes with each person who adopts it. While the cafeteria might not make the most appetizing variations, there are many fusion restaurants and immigrant-owned restaurants that do. In fact, almost everything we eat today includes ingredients or cooking styles derived from a place of foreign origin.
Consider the following examples.
General Tso’s Chicken: Like much American Chinese food, it was created or modified by immigrants to suit American tastes.
Banh Mi: Influenced by French colonialism.
Sushi: The kind of sushi on sale in most restaurants in America is much different from the kind of sushi that was long ago introduced to Japan from Southeast Asia. American sushi is typically bolder, sweeter, and contains more ingredients than the Japanese variety. Japan even “stole” sushi from elsewhere. According to Tori Avey, writing for PBS, “The concept of sushi [of using rice to preserve fish] was likely introduced to Japan in the ninth century.”
Popular American rolls like the California roll and Philadelphia roll, which both use avocado, are said to have been invented by Japanese immigrants to North America in the 1960s and ’70s. Oh, and avocado originated from the Aztecs.
Hamburgers: The Hamburg steak, comes from—where else?—Hamburg, Germany, Avey wrote in Parade: “Beef from German Hamburg cows was minced and combined with garlic, onions, salt and pepper, [which itself came to Europe from India on ancient trade routes, this author adds] then formed into patties (without bread or a bun) to make Hamburg steaks.” During the Industrial Revolution, American street vendors began serving it on buns for workers to eat quickly.
The beef came from Europe and India. (Christopher Columbus was the first person to bring cattle to America.) The lettuce originated in Europe, onions in Asia, cucumbers (pickled to make pickles) in India, and tomatoes and potatoes in South America. There are newish fusion styles of burgers, too, including ones with avocado, kimchi, and peanut butter. One fast-food restaurant in Taiwan serves burgers with buns made of rice.
All food is “appropriated” from somewhere. If you want to be politically correct by segregating yourself just to that of your own culture, your only option is to starve to death.
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