OpinionYou can’t have culture and Mabee

Experiencing culture shock at Mabee Dining Hall
Natasha SahuApril 25, 2019105242 min
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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.

Natasha Sahu

10 comments

  • Sarah Jo'on Yeoung

    April 27, 2019 at 2:18 pm

    This article is so entitled and pretentious. You don’t like Mabee? Maybe you shouldn’t have come to an overpriced daycare to get your useless education. Don’t expect everyone to cater to your whims because you can italicize fancy food names. Seriously do you need to italicize kimchi? Should I go ahead and italicize spaghetti because it’s an exotic foreign word?

    You seem to hold this institution to some lofty ideals- you do know that this is the same place where weekly Chick-Fil-A dialogues take place because it hurts people’s feelings, right? Don’t you have finals to study for? Must be easy, shelling out thousands of dollars to have the opportunity to complain about a buffet of food.

    Think about all the workers and staff you are insulting with this article. I doubt you care about them despite being some woke bleeding heart soldier with misguided, pathological altruism. I’ll be sure to Venmo you a couple dollars once you graduate and proceed to bemoan the rising costs of college. Perhaps you will take accountability for your life and not blame all your problems on everyone else.

    Reply

    • Alyssa Craze

      April 27, 2019 at 3:09 pm

      Entitled? Having food options that fit everyone’s needs is entitled? Having options that are real representations of different cultures is entitled? Wanting nutritious, varied food is entitled? Get out of here, for real.

      Reply

    • Rebecca Smith

      April 27, 2019 at 3:28 pm

      She wasn’t shaming the workers and is well aware they have no control over the food. Instead she was critiquing Trinity’s refusal to provide proper ethnic food.

      Reply

    • Cristina Treviño

      April 27, 2019 at 3:34 pm

      Triggered much? The author just wants Muslim students, Jewish students, Hindi students, vegetarian students, and everyone else with dietary restrictions to have accessible food options in Mabee. Toughen up, snowflake.

      Reply

  • Kayla Padilla

    April 27, 2019 at 3:32 pm

    Insightful read, Natasha. Your passion makes me excited to read your columns in the future. 🙂

    Reply

    • Blake Archibald

      April 27, 2019 at 4:32 pm

      Figures you would like this article, miss “I’m so uncomfortable around white people but I’m not a racist!”

      Reply

  • Bad Article

    April 27, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    This is a bad article.

    Reply

  • Don't hate on Mabez

    April 27, 2019 at 9:09 pm

    This article really does suck. You’re not even advocating for anything, you’re just complaining and you want someone else to fix it for you. What is Aramark and Mabee supposed to do? You don’t seem to offer any suggestions at all.

    Did you really expect Mabee’s “processes to actually represent the authenticity and centuries of history behind the preparation of food” ? This is a college campus and they are catering to the masses. I understand the value and tradition behind cultural food preparation, but a college campus cannot be expected to adhere and cater to every cultural practice behind every piece of food they decide to put out!

    If you hate it so bad, don’t buy a meal plan and make it yourself, the way you like it. Otherwise, just suck it up like the rest of us and be grateful for what you have. A lot of people have a lot less.

    In your next article, I would love to hear your concrete recommendations for change. Maybe when you really think about it, you’ll realise there really is no solution except for enjoying the Yucca fries during Cuban week.

    Reply

  • Erick Blackwelder

    April 28, 2019 at 7:16 am

    The dining hall has come a long way in terms of choices since I was at Trinity, and the dining hall was called the Refectory. We had two cafeteria lines, serving the same food choices. We had our fair share of mystery meat with gravy, and freeze dried Frizbees (chicken fried mis-steak). It was a big deal when we got a salad bar.
    Now, my precious darlings, you have a wide array of food choices from a variety of food vendors. You can watch CNN or MTV on the big screens as you munch your burger. It’s all about progress, not perfection.
    Oh, I understand that what used to be the women’s dining hall on west campus is gone. It was for women only until my freshman year at Trinity. Just as Miller and Witt became women’s dorms the year before my freshman year. We had no upper and lower class dorms, just dorms for men and women, with freshmen through seniors living among each other. We could squat a room from year to year. I squatted the same room, four years , on first floor Winn because it was across the hall from the door to what used to be the rear parking lot. Plus, first floor Winn had a naughty boy reputation because of the outrageous pranks we pulled.

    Reply

  • Susan Hunnicutt Ennis

    September 17, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    My mom’s cooking will always be the best cooking for me. She was raised in Tampa, and knew how to fix shrimp six ways. At Thanksgiving, we had oysters in the stuffing, because that is how my father (a native Texan, though I am not blaming the oysters on that) liked it. There were always two pans of stuffing, because not everyone liked theirs with oysters.
    I am trying to figure out what to make of this essay. There is no Trinity University food “demographic.” That’s what makes it a great place to go to school. Wouldn’t it be better to create an International Dinners event or something like that, and allow students to cook/share the food they love with other students. I think this would be a better way to honor and celebrate the wonderful cuisines of everyone’s home.
    This article does seem dismissive of the people who prepare the food. I imagine most of them not gourmet cooks, and are not being paid enough to be judged by those standards. Probably, though, they do care about their work, and do the best they are able with what they have to work with. It is not an easy crowd they are cooking for…
    If you have something good you should share it.
    Susan Hunnicutt Ennis
    ‘79

    Reply

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