I didn’t eat in Smith Hall the evening Chartwells served its “black history” menu, but when I heard what was served, it was almost too much to believe—I certainly have not been totally satisfied with Chartwells as a foodservice provider, but I didn’t think it would sink to overt racial stereotyping.
At the same time, I wasn’t at all surprised when I found out it was true.
Chartwells, in my opinion, is seldom satisfactory when it comes to providing Ohio Wesleyan students with quality service. The racist menu in Smith Hall is just one example of many unnecessary steps Chartwells takes that detract from the student experience in dining halls.
Menus like last week’s are undoubtedly appropriative—they purport to “honor” or “appreciate” a culture without any apparent regard for authenticity or input from actual members of that culture.
I’ve seen this in Smith Hall many times, and the example of the attempt at Indian food sticks out in my mind. Pita bread and naan, I’ve been told, are two different things.
I realize Chartwells management is not consciously trying to offend or hurt anyone; but regardless of the intent, these menus still perpetuate inaccurate cultural stereotypes. They could avoid issues like last week’s by consulting black students before making the menu, rather than asking for their input afterward.
Doing so would be an actual appreciation—or at least a step toward it—rather than an attempted one, and would likely make the food more authentic and appetizing.
It seemed this used to be common practice, though—Chartwells Supervisor Beverly Coleman was involved in “Soul Food Nights” in Welch Hall before the foodservice there was discontinued. I can’t help but wonder why her input was not asked for in this most recent instance, and why the name was changed. Much controversy could have been avoided had those things happened.
This is not the only way in which Chartwells is problematic, however.
Nearly every lunch or dinner I eat in the Food Court coats my plate with a rather thick layer of oil or butter. I avoid Smith Hall because the food there often leaves me feeling bloated and ill.
Chartwells often purports to use local and fresh ingredients, so I previously couldn’t help but wonder why I had such a negative physical reaction to the food.
Evidence is contrary to these propositions, though. Eggs are rarely fresh from the shell; rather, they are a pre-beaten liquid mixture that’s easy to quickly scramble.
I’ve seen grill workers in the Food Court spray a layer of oily cooking spray on each individual black bean burger they were cooking. The chicken is often rubbery and undercooked.
These are not my definitions of “fresh.”
Additionally, my vegetarian friends are often left with little to no eating options besides salad. Nearly everything contains meat or is cooked in some sort of meat-based stock. Gluten-sensitive students, faculty and staff have issues, too—besides bagels, pizza, cookies and bread, there’s little that doesn’t contain an allergen for them. Vegan options are even more limited.
To me, Chartwells has much room for improvement.
Perhaps some of the responsibility lies on us as students—Gene Castelli is always open to comments and complaints, and welcomes members of the OWU community to suggest how Chartwells can improve his service.
Don’t hesitate to do so. I don’t think I’m the only one who is tired of feeling lethargic after a meal on campus.
Mr. Castelli, consider this my open letter to you as someone you and your company serve. I hope you’ll take these things to heart, and that you’ll listen to my peers with the same sincerity.