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ISO holds annual Food Bazaar

Gregory Garcia
Students share their dishes with the Grinnell community.

International Student Organization (ISO) held their annual and largest public event, Food Bazaar, in the Harris Center this past Sunday. Historically, attending Food Bazaar required purchasing tickets so that ISO could afford to buy ingredients. However, this year, Student Government Association (SGA) doubled their funding of the event, thereby making it free. ISO also receives funding from the student activities fund and Organization for International Student Affairs (OISA).

“When ISO was charging for tickets it did remove a lot of people who would be interested in that event,” said Kirtimay Pendse ’19, ISO president. “I think looking back… it used to be that a lot of international students would show up but I think this year we got a good mix.”

Quinn Ercolani ’20 hopes that SGA can continue to cover ticket costs for future Food Bazaars.

“Pretty much every event on campus, even though it may be ticketed, is generally free to the student body so we felt a little uncomfortable funding an event where students may not have the money to go, even though we are spending their money on the event through the student activity fund, so we decided it would be just better to pay for all the tickets,” said Ercolani.

Mithila Iyer ’19, ISO treasurer and Ahon Gooptu ’21, ISO secretary, also said that free tickets increased domestic and general student turnout. As a result, the tickets sold out within the first hour, marking for some Food Bazaar regulars, including host families, the first time they had not received tickets.

Pendse, Gooptu and Iyer, all from different parts of India, stated that the longevity of the event and the bonds achieved when interacting around food makes Food Bazaar a staple event for the whole Grinnell community.

“It’s significant because it’s in the fall, so a lot of first year students feel like that’s an opportunity for them to share, cook, bring back stuff from home … bonding over food is the best kind of bonding,” said Iyer.

“There are some students who are the only person from their country here and it’s also a chance for them to cook with their friends they made from other countries, or from America, and people learn how to cook dishes from other countries,” Gooptu added.

Any domestic or international student can participate in Food Bazaar as long as spaces are available in Harris. There is no cap set for submissions; ISO allows multiple dishes from the same country to be represented.

ISO has been able to purchase most of the specific and unique ingredients requested by the cooks, further making the event possible for anyone to participate. This year ISO made six shopping trips, spending up to eight hours alone in Des Moines with the Office of International Student Affairs (OISA). Mollie Ullestead, international student advisor, also purchased ingredients online. After gathering all the ingredients, they distributed them to each cook based on what their submitted recipe stated, plus or minus 50 grams.

Senay Gokcebel ’22, along with her sister Meltem Gokcebel ’21, are the only Grinnell College students from Cyprus. Senay participated in Food Bazaar to raise awareness about her culture. She made halloumi bread, an appetizer that includes onions, mint and halloumi, a cheese specific to Cyprus. Unfortunately, ISO could not find halloumi like they did last year with her sister’s dish, so Gokcebel used her own stock instead of feta, the given substituted ingredient.

Gokcebel hopes to intend more ISO events and become a member of the organization. So far, she feels welcomed on campus and not alone despite being the only student from her country.

“I really didn’t feel alone in the sense that everyone is so welcoming. But I’ve also felt special being one of the two Cypriots here I didn’t really feel any negative sides. I feel like ISO represents the international students pretty well here so I felt welcomed and represented,” Gokcebel said.

Nhi Ngo ’20 and Linh Bui ’20 made sweet and sour chicken rice (Cơm gà xé phay), a dish that combines onions, fish sauce, cilantro, mint, tumeric and Vietnamese coriander to create a multifaceted, flavorful meal. In an email to The S&B, Ngo wrote that the duo loves to cook and that she herself would do more if she wasn’t so busy with homework. They hoped that the dish would show how more delicious food comes from Vietnam than just phở .

“During Lunar New Year in Vietnam, we have to use a lot of boiled chickens for rituals and worships. Because my family is tired of eating just plain boiled chickens, we usually make [sweet and sour chicken rice]. So making this dish reminds me of my family, of the time we gathered during lunar New Year,” wrote Ngo.

Since coming to the College, Ngo and Bui have felt embraced and supported by OISA and ISO, and Food Bazaar only strengthened their conviction.

“Food Bazaar is actually an event that shows how welcomed we are as international students on campus and in Grinnell in general,” Ngo wrote.

This year marked the second time that Puravi Nath ’21 and Vidush Goswami ’21 participated together in Food Bazaar. Following their theme of cooking street food, the pair made aloo tikki chaat, a potato patty loaded with spices and topped with a variety of sauces such as mint and chill.

Nath and Goswami participate in Food Bazaar because it provides a fun way to overcome homesickness while engaging with the supportive international student community. Nath is from Calcutta, India and Goswami is from New Delhi, India.

“I think it’s very important to represent where you’re from when you’re in a place that has so many nationalities and cultures. I’m really proud and fond of my culture so I love representing it wherever and whenever I can. ISO is the best medium I’ve found here to do that,” said Nath.

Goswami added, “ISO fosters a sense of community among each other international students themselves because a lot of the times [international students] can feel left out or marginalized in a lot of ways … [ISO] is a place they know they’ll be accepted.”

To the cabinet members, ISO also celebrates diversity and makes connections with not only the domestic student community, but also the wider Grinnell community. In a way, ISO helps improve gown relations because members have many connections with people outside the College through events like Food Bazaar.

“[ISO] is not just international students and friends. It’s kind of like the whole community … we want to share our culture with you, but on our own terms” Iyer said.

For Karen Edwards, associate dean of international student affairs, the impact of Food Bazaar and ISO felt particularly meaningful as the current national climate has proven difficult for international people. Students from various background uniting to prepare dishes from different parts of the world shows how the process transcends the simple act of eating.

However, Edwards also acknowledges how simply sharing food is a surface level commitment to creating an environment that truly accepts all people. OISA’s mission is to support international students at the institutional level, whether in the form of ensuring student compliance with immigration laws or taking stock of campus climate towards international students.

“Anytime you talk about food … that feels easy and maybe can be minimized as being important but the truth is food is important in the terms of comfort,” said Edwards. “It doesn’t begin to mean that if you know somebody’s food you understand their culture but it’s a really valuable start. I think this year I struggled with this idea … because there’s so much going on the national regulatory side for our students right now and the climate … I want people to care about that as much as they care about eating somebody’s food. But if we make the mistake of forgetting that food is important and brings agency to people, we’re … missing the point too.”

Despite its success and popularity among students, Food Bazaar represents just one step towards ensuring a more inclusive campus. The ISO cabinet will now spend the upcoming months focusing on the student grievances that pertain to their experiences on and off campus, as well as collaborating with other multicultural groups. Though ISO has generally been able to provide a safe space for international students, instances have still occurred in which international students have felt marginalized. Domestic students shouting “USA” at ISO Rave and criticizing the event, and professors committing microagressions in the classroom, show that the College is not immune to the national xenophobic climate.

“Our existence as an organization is so necessary specifically in response to these things … for anyone hurt by nasty sentiments,” Iyer said.

For people who did not attend Food Bazaar, or those who would like to try dishes they loved at the event or did not get a chance to eat, Vincent Noh ’19, vice president of ISO, compiled a cookbook of all entrees. The cookbook currently circulates online and is today available in physical copies.

Food Bazaar is made possible by all chefs who participated, and by ISO cabinet members who oversaw the planning processes since the summer. Nath and Gaswami would like to thank Aarzoo Bhimani ‘21, Saketan Anand ‘21 and Sriyash Kadiyala ‘21 for their assisting in the cooking.

ISO meets every Sunday at 1 p.m. in the ISO suite. The other cabinet members are publicity coordinators Nana Okamoto ’21 Sophie Doddimeade ’21 and social coordinators Prerana Adhikari ’20 and Arunima Fatehpuria ’21. They along with Noh were not available for comment at the time of publication.

Students share their dishes with the Grinnell community.
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