Students need more accessible cultural food options

Food is an essential part of one’s culture. How people of different ethnicities and from various countries eat is an important part of cultural identity, especially at times when you’re away at college and missing home. Seeing your culture represented on campus through various food options can be one way for students to settle into new and unfamiliar settings.

At surface level, the University’s open dining plan is designed to account for the different eating styles of each of its students. GW’s more than 100 dining partners offer students autonomy to follow their own eating habits and preferences. But there is definitely room for improvement. The dining plan could improve if GW partnered with more dining vendors that offer food from several different, prominent cultures on campus, not just the widely consumed foods from cultures like Chinese, Italian or Mexican.

Cartoon by Grace Lee

Cartoon by Grace Lee

GW dining has recently started efforts to provide more options for students who have religious or ethical dietary restrictions – like people who eat kosher, vegetarian, vegan or Halal – by providing information on what dining partners have accessible options and detailing what they offer. Those efforts are a basic staple for the plan. Since those students can’t eat other food, working on providing those options is a bare necessity for inclusivity and accessibility. But GW should go beyond that and work to partner with more restaurants that specifically cater to all the different cultures we see on campus. Some of these include – but are not limited to – various Hispanic, Latin American, African, Arab and Caribbean cultures. This would be another step in making the University a more inclusive place.

Chau B. Le, a writer and immigrant from Vietnam, wrote about the importance of cultural food in an article for Freely Magazine, claiming that many associate food from childhood with “warm feelings and good memories” that bring us closer to our families. As someone who is half Middle Eastern, it can be difficult to find a Lebanese restaurant at school that reminds me of the food my grandmother makes. One that I found last year is George’s King of Falafel. While it wasn’t exactly the same as my grandmother’s cooking, the food there helped me connect to home in a way that is much more visceral and meaningful than interacting with any other part of my culture. Another restaurant that would be suitable to add to the dining plan is Curry and Pie, a more casual style Indian restaurant that markets itself towards college students with it’s low-key environment and late-night takeout options.

In an analysis of the dining partners GW does offer, there are 10 places on the list that center around pizza. One or two of those places could be replaced with a D.C. restaurant on or near campus that provides less-represented cuisines, like Jamaican food or El Salvadorian food. Although they’d be small additions, the places could become options that students from those cultures, or others who enjoy the food, could really appreciate.

The largest on-campus international communities at GW are Chinese, Korean and Indian students, according to the Office of Institutional Research. Yet there are only two Indian restaurants on the list of dining partners. As for other Asian restaurants, many students argue that they are not as authentic as one would hope. For example, Asia 54 – an important GW dining option because it offers delivery on the GET app – describes itself as a “contemporary” blend of many different Asian cultures like Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese. So even with the restaurants we have for well-represented cultures, some cannot necessarily be labeled as a primary and authentic option for students for any single one of those countries. This is even more of a reason for GW dining to look into more partners.

In order to achieve a more inclusive standard, GW dining should work to contact more restaurants that serve the foods of underrepresented campus cultures. Even multicultural student groups on campus have expressed concerns with the University not being able to cater authentic cultural foods at their events. Without seeing their cultures represented at these events, students should have the ability to seek out and try those options through their dining plan. A starting goal for tackling this should be getting 10 more cultural restaurants in the Foggy Bottom area and surrounding areas like Georgetown or Dupont Circle to accept GWorld by next fall.

It should be the first order of business to provide food options that students with dietary restrictions can eat, but the second step should be working to provide options that students of all cultures and backgrounds can enjoy. This promotes a celebration of the many diverse foods each culture has to offer.

I’m not alone in wanting better cultural representation on campus, and adding more dining partners that serve different cultural foods are just some of the many ways to achieve this. Culinary traditions are important to all cultures, and with a dining plan as unique as GW’s, working to make dining more inclusive is certainly an attainable goal that the University must aim to accomplish.

Rachel Armany, a sophomore majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet columnist.

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