Sunday, December 20, 2015

Oberlin and Cutural Appropriation

The Spew news of the week is that Oberlin students are protesting cultural appropriation.  Actually, they are protesting about the food that they are being offered in the cafeterias.  While this is partly about the quality, it is mostly about whether Oberlin is appropriating and abusing elements of the cultures of places beyond the US.

Folks have asked me to comment on this because I am an Obie.  So, I shall.  There are serious issues involved with cultural appropriation.  It can be truly offensive when key elements of a culture are taken and used by non-members in ways that undermine the culture, in ways that diminish those who are raised in that culture and so on.  In sum, there could be a real issue with cultural appropriation.

Alas, this ain't one of them.  The joy of food is that it has always been shared beyond one's immediate culture.  I am not an expert in the anthropology of food or whatever.  However, I am keenly aware that food is not fixed--it moves and changes as it moves.  It always has.  Yes, some imperialists did this most forcefully, but these days, it is the market that does this.  That people want to make money by selling stuff that is new and interesting and people want to buy stuff that is new and interesting.  The Chinese food sold in North America is not the same as that eaten in China.  The General Tso's chicken mentioned in the article is not China's chicken recipe but that made popular by Chinese-Americans--the appropriation already happened.  Similarly, the pizza in the US is different than that in Italy and much better!

That Oberlin wants to provide students with more variety is a good thing.  When I wanted more variety when I was at Oberlin 30 years ago, I got cereal for lunch or dinner.  Woot? 

The students may want to fight fusion--but they are going to lose.  Indeed, they lost about 3000 years ago. There are plenty of important fights for those seeking a better world, for protecting identities and cultures.  This is simple not one of them. 

[this is a rushed post, more so than usual, as family holiday stuff intervenes.  We are off to a Mexican restaurant that is clearly not genuine.... because there is no such thing]

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