General Tso’s chicken, taco salads, and Thai-style noodles are just some of the meals that students can pick up from the exhibition line: and that’s a problem.
In our dining hall, there is a specific section dedicated to non-”American” food, known as the “Exhibition Line”.
The station provides a jumbled selection of “the other.” Whether it is tortellini or jerk chicken, there does not ever seem to be any rhyme or reason to the food selection. This aspect ties into the cultural tourism and shows that tokenism is happening in our cafeteria.
What does it mean to take other cultures’ foods and place them on exhibition? The negative connotation, to me, is rather blatant.
We are picking and choosing random cuisines from other countries and cultures without an understanding of the harm we are doing.
Most of American food and culture has been borrowed to the point where you become hard-pressed to find an American custom that has not at some point, intentionally or not, been appropriated from another culture. This does not, however, mean an active consciousness against such a practice should not be attempted.
The ‘Exhibition Line’ is not necessary. We do not need a station from which we can quickly snatch a cuisine we cannot pronounce rooted in a culture we know almost nothing of.
It may seem simple, but this act is perpetuating an acceptance of not understanding other cultures.
We look at the dish, if it’s appetizing, and that is all the consideration it will receive. The “Exhibition Line” is patting itself on the back for a job well done as it haphazardly exposes Kalamazoo College students to other cultures. What it really accomplishes is the tokenizing of another culture.
This is not an argument advocating for Americans to never try non-American food. The issue here is the idea of taking another culture and turning it into a novelty without respecting it or fully understanding it.
Exhibition is problematic, and dining services needs to question their reason for it in the first place, and whether its existence should continue.