Illustration by Andrea Nebhut
My personal relationship with food has been what I can only describe as a rocky one. However, growing up in a South Asian immigrant household, the only thing I know is that we’re really good at making it. I was very young when I would start helping my mom toast spices to grind up and make her custom garam masala, watch milk boil so she could make her own dahi, or yogurt, help chop up onions, garlic, ginger and chilies to make the essential paste used in curries and make flavor-packed marinades for meats. Weekends were committed to these “ingredient preps,” and I was taught how to make recipes that have only been passed down orally for generations. Growing up in a different country, we felt pressured to grasp on to these recipes, and spicy, flavourful Indian food made up most of the meals I ate before college.
This is why coming to Trinity felt like a mini culture shock. I had grown up in America, but American food was a mystery to me. The fact that our only options consisted of carbs, overcooked vegetables and reheated meat, either unseasoned or covered with a cold sauce, was overwhelming to me. To anyone with food restrictions or even just picky eaters, on-campus dining seemed like a nightmare.
Compared to my first semester at Trinity almost three years ago, Mabee has come a long way in what they have offered to the student body. My sophomore year a new chef was hired, the seafood options were increased and a weekly rotating “cultural” station was opened. This year, a new vegetarian station was added and Batch101 was introduced, showcasing an improved version of the revolving “cultural” food station and classes about food and nutrition were offered. Just recently, halal chicken is being served, entirely because of the efforts of the Muslim Student Association (MSA).
Even with these changes, there are still problems that refuse to be fixed, or only get solved temporarily. Mabee has moved the omelet station to a new place, but there is still cross-contamination. The halal chicken label is almost never up. The vegetarian station has about three options and is usually closed on weekends, and in the end, there is no system in being consistent either with ingredients or recipes.
Tired of being restricted in food, I started @mabeefoodreview on Instagram, taking to social media to voice my frustrations with the food. What originally started as me voicing my opinions into a void became a platform where hundreds of students throughout the years have related to organizational problems, inefficiency, changes and just food they disliked. I’m glad it became a personal space where almost everyone can agree in their hatred of Mabee food.
However, this account does little to actually discuss the nuances of Mabee and Aramark in general monopolizing the food on campus or what it means for me as well as many other students who grew up eating the food Aramark tries so hard to replicate. My first time eating the extremely tomato-y channa masala at Mabee got me annoyed all day. I’ve heard many kimchi quips from friends. The “Asian sauces” at the stir fry stations are just poured over some food that has been steamed for 30 seconds. Mysterious ground meat is quickly shoved into a crunchy taco shell.
None of these processes actually represent the authenticity and centuries of history behind the preparation of food. For many cultures, food is an art form and a history lesson. Mabee and Aramark taking these foods and insensitively reproducing it feels like buying Forever 21 clothes in India: a cheap replication of the work and art and history behind these items, cheaply produced and packaged, made to sell back to its own people. Selling these dishes is an insult to the students eating them as well as to the previous generations of people that spent time and love to make them.