If you have not been to Feast at Rieber, the Hill’s recently renovated pan-Asian dining hall, you are missing out. Entering Feast, students are greeted with salutations from Asian countries ““ seven to be exact. The restaurant features cuisines from China, Japan, Korea, India, Thailand, Vietnam and Hawaii.
The colors are bright, the smells make you salivate, and the sounds of student satisfaction can be heard. This is precisely what Feast at Rieber was designed to do ““ excite the senses and offer students a cultural food experience.
But more should be done. Feast should not just offer cultural food, but cultural education.
At 39 percent, UCLA’s largest undergraduate demographic is Asian, and the entire student body would benefit from increased education about Asian cultures.
As of now, the only thing that succeeds at being educational is the presentation of the food. Flat-screen televisions at each food station describe what food is being served, what country it is from and often how it is prepared. Feast should adopt this model for the other cultural products present in the restaurant.
For example, news shows from some of the seven countries are played on the many flat-screens in the dining areas. While watching the news is in itself educational, the programming should be presented with an explanation. What company in India produces this show? What is the significance of the stories they are reporting on? Presenting a cultural product without context is a waste of the potential for cultural education.
The same thing happens with Feast’s music and photography. Peter Angelis, assistant vice chancellor of UCLA Housing and Hospitality Services, said the music is meant to contribute to ambience.
While the ambience is nice, the opportunity for education is lost once again. The environment would not be compromised by dedicating one flat-screen to the music selections letting students know why the songs were selected and what they mean for the country they come from.
Angelis said the same thing for the photography in Feast. It was meant to look nice. But the pictures look more like stock photography than culturally significant ones.
According to Angelis, each photo was chosen because it held some sort of cultural importance, but what is that importance? A plaque next to each picture could tell diners what country each photo is from and the context.
A great deal of effort was undoubtedly put into the selection of the programming, pictures and music, but this effort is lost on students. These are presented without explanation and only contribute to ambience, not cultural awareness.
Beyond what already exists in Feast, it would be beneficial for Feast to host educational programs. One of Feast’s sous chefs Joachim Weritz gave lectures about the seven different countries ““ regarding both food and culture ““ to all of Feast’s staff. Perhaps he could give a similar lecture once a quarter that students could attend.
The Hill already offers a multitude of stellar programs that educate students about a particular culture. In fall quarter, the Office of Residential Life hosted Diwali, an Indian festival of lights. Students viewed Indian dance and tasted Indian foods. Feast could offer a program similar to this that builds on the information already offered during dining hours.
There is nothing wrong with offering students an upscale dining experience, but when the outcome is this phenomenal, it sets the stage for even more. Feast already transcends the traditional dining hall ““ it can go a step further.