Food and culture have always been in a complicated relationship. Our connections to particular meals or styles of cooking can reflect something as specific as our own family traditions or can be a greater part of our national identity. That said, you probably shouldn't dump meat and mangos into a pot and arbitrarily decide that it's "Jamaican stew."
That questionable entree is at the center of a complaint from Cambridge University students, who have accused the prestigious school's kitchen staff of "misrepresenting" foreign cultures with their menu offerings. Pembroke College, one of Cambridge's 31 colleges, is being criticized for giving inaccurate names to its menu items, such as Jamaican stew and "Tunisian rice."
"Dear Pembroke catering staff, stop mixing mango and beef and calling it 'Jamaican stew'," one student wrote on Pembroke's Facebook page. "I'm actually half Jamaican, pls show me where in the Caribbean they mix fruit and meat."
Another complained about the "cauliflower, date and tofu tagine with Tunisian rice and coriander yogurt," adding "sorry, but what is this, we don't eat these things in Tunisia." (Remembering the attempts at international cuisine at the private liberal arts college I attended, I'm not sure traditional Chinese stir fry involves breaded chicken tenders.)
The complaints were met with both amusement and disgust from some other Pembroke students who suggested that their classmates find more serious things to take issue with. But a Cambridge administrator was more charitable. "As a college which prides itself on the high standard of its cuisine and wants all our students of diverse background to feel a valued part of our community, we encourage our catering staff to take the views of any of our students seriously," Dr. Andrew Cates told the Telegraph.
Before you shake your fist toward the other side of the Atlantic, remember that American students have made similar claims of wrong-headed cafeteria appropriation. In December 2015, several Asian students at Oberlin College in Ohio claimed to be deeply, deeply offended by the Asian cuisine served on campus.
"The traditional Banh Mi Vietnamese sandwich that Stevenson Dining Hall promised turned out to be a cheap imitation of the East Asian dish," The Oberlin Review wrote at the time. "Instead of a crispy baguette with grilled pork, pate, pickled vegetables and fresh herbs, the sandwich used ciabatta bread, pulled pork and coleslaw."
FOR SHAME, OBERLIN. As a result of the claims, Campus Dining Services met with the students to discuss the effects of cultural appropriation. "They seemed very willing to learn and fix what was offending people," one sophomore said.
The only real offense, Slate ruled, was that a dish served on a Hindi holiday contained beef. The other issues were just empty complaints, borne of terrible—but otherwise socially acceptable—cafeteria food. Most cafeteria workers aren't trained (or compensated) to serve authentic, five-star dishes, nor to cater to every single nationality that is represented within the student body.
Or maybe they could just scratch the "Jamaican" off that stew description, and bin the "Tunisian" rice descriptor too. There. It's fixed.