Oberlin students are serious about social justice. So much that they’ve taken the fight to their cafeteria. Are they demanding better wages for Campus Dining Service workers? No! They have been battling what they perceive as cultural appropriation in the form of substandard sushi, not sticky enough rice, and “inauthentic” non-fried General Tso’s chicken. Some students demanded more fried chicken in general. Before the year ended they had been calling for their food service company to be dismissed over what they view as appropriation of Japanese culture in their cafeteria sushi bar. Recently, Writer/Actress Lena Dunham weighed in on the side of Oberlin students. Her statement did not spark the following series of events, but it’s only a matter of time before:
1. A hunger strike leads to excessive pancake consumption – Students at Oberlin are surely thrilled to learn HBO Girls star Lena Dunham agrees that cheap sushi is appropriation of Japanese culture. Feeling it is an insult to Japanese students to serve bad sushi, they threaten a hunger strike. The hunger strike solely boycotts foods viewed as culturally insensitive, but proves the last straw for school administration who can’t have students developing diabetes by consuming only foods viewed as culturally American. The only food left is obviously pancakes and pure maple syrup, although there is some debate over whether the sweet substance was appropriated from indigenous cultures.
2. Iron Chefs rise to the challenge in Dascomb Dining Hall – Fed up with pancakes, the students storm the cafeteria, but anger gives way to excitement when they see former Nubo chef Masaharu Morimoto and a half-dozen other Iron Chefs have taken over the sushi station. A pantheon of ethnicities join together to enjoy their victory over bento boxes filled with tuna, salmon, mackerel, and sea urchin sushi atop perfectly prepared sticky rice, and two shrimp tempura, all arranged perfectly with a Shiso leaf, a dollop of wasabi and a mound of sliced ginger. A few eyebrows rise when Chairman Kaga floats in to announce tomorrow’s challenge will be Red Snapper Ikizikuri, but students are too busy enjoying the authenticity to notice.
3. CDS workers are fired – Of course the hiring of 7 trained prime-time sushi chefs, means that fictional food service manager, Marielena Esperanza is let go, as well as 14 other kitchen staff to balance the salaries of the Iron Chefs and their more expensive, sushi-grade ingredients. As staff is let go there is some confusion. Ms. Esperanza is found for comment at home with her 2 children,
“I really enjoyed working at Oberlin until they asked me to stop serving appropriate food. Students were asking if the cafeteria’s sushi was appropriate. I said, ‘Of course! It’s completely edible and appropriate.’ Then a student yelled, ‘She admits it! It’s appropriation!’ Then they fired me. I don’t understand why they’d want me to serve inappropriate food?”
4. CDS workers wage a protest and consider a televised Iron Chef challenge – In response to the sudden firing, former kitchen staff have no other choice but to mobilize a counter protest. The mostly Latin American workers march into the cafeteria demanding their low wage jobs back and the right to serve appropriate food that is edible. Students find themselves grasping to make sense of which side to take. The Iron Chefs are not easily moved from their posts as the university health benefits they negotiated exceed those offered at restaurants. The Iron Chefs respond by challenging the CDS workers to prepare a five course meal based on one extravagant ingredient in 60 minutes. CDS workers pause to consider, but the challenge is ultimately rebuffed by one insulted food service worker who flings an empanada. The empanada somehow boomerangs right back into the owner’s hands, causing the Australian student union to cry, “Appropriation of Weaponry, Mate!”
5. One Oberlin student is injured by flying wasabi and Iron Chefs are fired -The last straw is when a student caught in the empanada cross-fire is hit in the eye by a retaliatory pile of wasabi. Suddenly the students turn against the Iron Chefs. They march into the Dean’s office demanding the sushi chefs be arrested as they are armed with well-honed knives at a peaceful protest and thereby must be the instigators. Listening to the angry students, the administration agrees with their assessment; besides they are already annoyed that exceptionally sticky rice is being trampled all over campus. The sticky rice and the knives are all they need to hear. Consequently, Iron Chefs Morimoto, Sakai, Ishinabe, Michiba, Kenichi, Nakamura, and Kobe as well as Chairman Kaga are arrested, and the cafeteria returns to serving appropriate edible food.