Thick, dense, salty soup with an awful amount of white mushrooms floating around—no, these are not the words used to describe a miso soup. But they do describe the “miso soup” I had in Cleveland last semester.
During the first few weeks on campus, the various international cuisine names on our dining hall menu gave me a feeling of excitement, especially the Japanese ones (aside from some disappointing names). Being away from my country, I felt like that dish could give me a small sense of home, and I felt that my culture was recognized by the college community.
However, Whitman College’s dining hall often fails to recognize international cultures with the actual food they make. Despite the authentic names, many times the taste and the appearance are far off from the original dishes. Some were even intriguing, making me wonder what led this ingredient to end up on my plate.
I am not asking Cleveland to make perfectly authentic dishes, but I am concerned about the gap between the name and the actual food they make. If they decide to use names that are very specific to a certain culture, they need to show more effort in making the food itself more accurate too.
Many are aware that the international food they eat in Cleveland is not authentic, but it still worries me that, especially for those who will eat a certain cuisine for the first time here at Whitman, a dish will be registered as part of the larger culture in their understanding of the world.
Imagining that that miso soup will be registered as part of Japanese culture in someone’s mind, for example, worries me a lot. It is as if I am seeing a very distorted photo of me displayed as myself in a yearbook, for example. The name is me, but what people see is not exactly myself.
This applies not only to specific dishes, but also the dining hall sections, especially Global. This semester we have one cuisine type dominating the section, with several other ones appearing occasionally. It is disappointing, especially as an international student, to have a dining hall that seems to have little understanding of a global community.
If they continue with the dishes we have now, the names and labels should correspond with them. American Miso Soup, or Whitman Miso Soup, for example, would be less worrisome for me, at least.
Through the food names and section labels, the college attempts to celebrate cultural diversity through our dining hall, like how it does with the larger campus community. But like the college itself, the gap between the names and the dishes reflects that it is still miserably failing to bring diversity into reality.