Further Exploring the Deficit of Authentic Asian Food

In an article published in The Lawrentian on Feb. 5, students expressed that they felt Bon Appétit has not always been sensitive to making food that is culturally accurate and appropriate. In response to this article Bon Appétit contacted the Assistant Dean of Students for Multicultural Affairs Pa Lee Moua to address the concerns. This week, we talked to Bon Appétit for a better look at their side of the story.

According to Lawrence’s Bon Appétit General Manager Julie Severance, very often, students do not know the process of how the food is planned and cooked. All recipes are researched and sourced online as well as from their “extensive collection of cookbooks,” before being passed on to the chefs of the “Andrew’s Global Station.” As such, the responsibility of ensuring the recipes are accurate and feasible to make for the whole campus rests entirely on Executive Chef Alan Shook and on Severance, who also serves on the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) Student Welfare Committee.

Severance also went on to emphasize the expertise of Shook who has been to culinary school and has access to recipes both online and in cookbooks. Under the logistical constraints, if a recipe needs too many substitutes to be made, Bon Appétit will often choose not to make the food at all. This does not answer the puzzle of why food claimed to be of a certain origin is unrecognizable to people coming from the dish’s home country.

In addition, due to the vast diversity of all the global food that Bon Appétit is trying to recreate, it is difficult to pinpoint a few clear problematic areas. Some dishes might have been reasonably accurate and appetizing in their recreation, some were not. As such, the process of rectifying the issue should be on a case-by-case basis, where students give feedback on a problematic dish right when it was served. Severance therefore proposes that the students can be more proactive in giving feedback to Bon Appétit on comment cards as “we do read and respond to every single one of them.” Starting from next term, Bon Appétit will also have monthly feedback forum during mealtime, when Bon Appétit managers and chefs will have meals with students for better communication between the dining service and the student body.

Besides these long-term measures, Bon Appétit also has responded directly to complaints about inaccurate Asian food by reaching out to the Pan-Asian Organization (PAO) and Pa Lee Moua. Bon Appétit hopes to have a meeting with PAO to hear the students’ concerns and suggestions, believing that better communication and an ongoing dialogue with students would eventually solve the problem.

These proposals made by Bon Appétit are indeed with good intentions, however, it is too early to tell how effective these proposed changes will be. To have a full conversation, the voices of both students and members of Bon Appétit will need to be put forth. This additional burden on students of color and minority students to speak for their cultures and cuisines, and to save them from misrepresentation is apparently necessitated by the situation. Some might argue that this should not be the case. As such, beyond a better feedback system to promote conversation, there is still much more room for improvement.

The meeting between Bon Appétit and PAO will surely be something to look forward to, not only because it will be the place for students’ grievances to be heard, but also because of the subsequent steps toward change that we will have to take.