We have seen students rise in protest over what they believe is “cultural appropriation” in schools offering yoga or students wearing dreadlocks or serving Mexican food. Now students at Oberlin are fighting to stop the school from offering students sushi. Now, with the support of celebrities and alumni like actress Lena Dunham, the students have denounced the practice and want the school to stop students from eating sushi as “insensitive” to Asian students. The sushi controversy arises at the same time that Oberlin has seen the protests from students demanding sweeping changes to the faculty and curriculum as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is a sad statement of our times that common complaints about bad college food must now be stated in the language of racial or cultural victimization. It is not undercooked rice (a complaint by Oberlin students) but the appropriation of their culture or a “micro aggression” as it was labeled in 2015 at Oberlin by students.
The students insists that the sushi is not being properly prepared and, as one student Tomoyo Joshi objected, “if people not from that heritage take food, modify it and serve it as ‘authentic,’ it is appropriative.”
Does that mean that Asian people can serve bad sushi? College food is notoriously known to be lacking a certain quality and are rarely cited as places for fine cuisine. I have no problem with students objecting that the pizza, tacos, or sushi is really bad. What I resist is the notion that bad food is an act of racial or ethnic insensitivity or “cultural appropriation.” I am half Italian but I do not claim cultural appropriation or microaggression every time I encounter bad pizza or pasta (which is most of the time). As for my Irish side, it is hard to truly denounce bland Irish food as non-authentic. No microaggression. No colonial effort of cultural appropriation.
In the end, there is such a thing as just bad food.