A reflection on ethnic organizations’ events

FAST CookingA student makes his own "lumpia" in the kitchen outside Hayden Lounge. (Credit: LiAna Curry)
FAST Cooking

A student makes his own “lumpia” in the kitchen outside Hayden Lounge. (Credit: LiAna Curry)

“FAST Cooking Night” was all about one thing: food. To clarify, the dish showcased was what the Filipino Association of Stevens Tech referred to as “lumpia”. When I did research this topic via Google, I found that the dish consumed seemed closest to a dish called “Lumpiáng Shanghai” which is a crepe roll “filled with ground pork or ground beef, minced onion, carrots, and spices with the mixture held together by a beaten egg of 10 – 15 cm in length”.  Hayden Lounge visitors were greeted with tables covered with a handwritten/drawn recipe for the lumpia. Next to the recipes were plates containing the ingredients necessary to prepare the dish, these being the following: ground beef and carrot mixture, crepe, and a cup half filled with beaten eggs. These stations were set up in such a way that upon arrival, a student or group of students could set to work with minimal outside instruction. The few limits on the number of lumpia guests could make were the availability of ingredients as well as the ability (or lack thereof) to cook the lumpia by themselves. According to Co-Cultural and Social Chair Geraldine Mabago, this was a safety measure ordered by the S.G.A. (Student Government Association). Many took advantage of the relatively few attendees in proportion to ingredients to make seconds as well as thirds portions of three lumpia to a plate!

At “Cooking Night”, an air of companionship prevailed among both guests and FAST members. Guests helped each other if one student was stuck on a step in the recipe or couldn’t figure out how to fold the crepe over the meat. As FAST members in the kitchen cooked, they traded tons of jokes, even managing to laugh when someone burned one of a guest’s lumpia. During one iteration of orders, one would-be-cook snatched the lumpia out of the pan and put it on a foam plate without paper towel, resulting in a huge hole melting through the Styrofoam. When asked the purpose of the event, Co-Cultural and Social Chair Geraldine Mabago replied that it was many-fold; to “have fun within the FAST family, get good food cooking, and to bring people together”. According to some of the attendees, they certainly succeeded. For example, when undergraduate Howard Cohen was asked for his thoughts on the event, he expressed that he “always liked a good free food event”. When asked the same question, graduate student Longfei (Steven) Wang also expressed a great deal of content concerning “Cooking Night”. He also remarked on the similarity of lumpia to spring rolls. He explained that while “the shape is the same the taste is totally different”. According to him, spring rolls in China are actually sweet in comparison to the lumpia served which were salty to me. According to Mabago, this may be due to the soy sauce used.

While attending “Cooking Night”, I began pondering a trend I noticed: the vast majority of ethnic organizations’ events are centered on food. Examples which come to mind include “Chinese New Year”, “International Dumpling Night” and “FAST Cooking Night”.  The reader should remember that a top priority for RSOs in general, but cultural/ethnic clubs in particular is increasing membership. An event with food is much more likely to attract bodies who will sign their names and Stevens e-mail addresses on paper in exchange for receiving free food. As former CSA Social Chair, I am well aware of this.

The issue lies in the fact that by using this approach, ethnic RSOs are trading quality for quantity. Usually those who attend such events for the food are not usually there to share in experiencing another culture. I postulate that this is a leading reason for the relatively high overhaul rate of ethnic RSOs as well as a minimum of people who are not of that ethnicity willing to join said clubs for purposes of spreading knowledge of the culture. As someone who has travelled to other countries and is intrigued by other cultures, I’d like to attend cultural events where I learn about the culture from an insider’s perspective. Sometimes, it seems as though a watered-down version of culture is presented via a fixation with food at cost of other, finer aspects like literature, politics, and how to comport yourself as a visitor to said culture. Hopefully, the E.S.C. (Ethnic Student Council), S.G.A., and cultural clubs can find a solution to this sentiment, in which I am not alone.