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Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

Student-led proposal aims to bring culturally diverse food trucks to Middlebury

A poster for the food truck initiative
A poster for the food truck initiative

For Talia Chang’s ’26 final project for her gender studies class “White People” with Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies Laurie Essig, she and her partners Zoe Rosen ’26, Lizzy Guzman ’26 and Yaxeny Erazo ’26 are proposing that the College bring food trucks with culturally diverse food options to campus to give students more opportunities to experience a wide variety of authentically prepared ethnic food. Chang and her partners are still in the planning process, but they hope to kickstart the project next fall.

Following a Soul Food Sunday dinner hosted by the Black Student Union to celebrate foods from the Black diaspora this past February, Chang interviewed students on their thoughts on Middlebury’s dining halls. She found that several students of color expressed displeasure with the ethnic food the dining hall prepares, while white students were mostly satisfied.

The problem, according to Chang’s interviews with students, lies in the quality of the ethnic food that the dining halls serve. “They adjust the flavors to appeal to a white palette. By doing that, it’s no longer really ethnic food. They’re essentially ruining it, and it’s a form of disrespect,” Chang said. She clarified that she does not believe the dining hall workers are directly responsible for the shortcomings, as they may not be familiar with authentic ethnic foods.

Chang and her partners created a survey accessible by the go link go/foodtrucks. As of April 27, 99.5% of the 182 respondents were in support of bringing food trucks vending “homemade international cuisines” to Middlebury.

The project’s main goal is to allow students of color to feel more at home through food, especially since ethnic food options in the town of Middlebury can be limited and expensive. “We live in a space where there’s tons of students of color coming to the middle of Vermont, but the town hasn’t adjusted to accommodate our needs. There’s not even an Asian grocery store in Middlebury, so that’s where the idea came from,” Chang said.

Dan Detora, executive director of food service operations, said that most of the food trucks the college has funded in recent years have been to promote outdoor, socially distanced eating during the Covid-19 pandemic. The majority of these trucks serve American food, such as pizza and barbecue food. With a few exceptions like Mr. Ding-A-Ling Ice Cream, most food trucks that come to campus now are for special events and are paid for by the organization hosting the event, according to Detora.

To ensure the project was on their radar, Chang contacted incoming Student Government Association (SGA) President Abed Abbas ’24 and Vice President Tara Masri ’25 a few days after their election in April. Planning is difficult at the moment due to upcoming SGA board elections and the revaluation of SGA budgets, Chang said, but she anticipates working with the Middlebury College Activities Board (MCAB) in the fall to acquire funding.

Abbas is supportive of Chang’s ideas and believes that more diverse cuisine can be brought to campus by adjusting what kinds of food regular catered events offer. “When getting food for organizations, maybe just focus not solely on pizza — let’s try to get more culturally diverse food to see how people react to that,” he said.

Chang’s group is proposing that the food trucks come from Burlington, where she said there is a large presence of authentic culturally diverse food for cheaper prices than food in the town of Middlebury. Some small businesses they would like to see brought to campus include Harmony’s Kitchen, which serves Afro-Fusion soul food, Café Mamajuana for its Dominican cuisine and La Catrina for Mexican cuisine.

Chang hopes that MCAB or the College will pay for the food trucks to come to Middlebury, and then students will pay for their own food. Eighty-seven percent of 174 respondents from Chang and her group’s survey reported that they would be willing to spend money on food trucks.

Chang said her vision is that they can start by bringing two food trucks every month and then increase the project’s capacity over time. “I don’t think it’s enough for them to just come at special events,” she said. “I think in order to create a withstanding sense of diverse community on campus, we need to have a common presence of more cultural food options.”

Detora supports bringing more diverse food options to campus, but expressed skepticism that the food trucks will want to make the trip to Middlebury. “Burlington has more people, and they run special events every week up there — they are fairly expensive and won’t come to campus unless they know there’s a guaranteed sale,” he said.

However, Detora shared that dining services hopes to utilize the college-owned food truck to bring Chick-N-Bap, a Korean food franchise found on several college campuses, to Middlebury in the fall. The food truck is currently undergoing repair after breaking due to a mouse infestation in the indoor location where it was stored this winter, but Detora anticipates that it will be fixed shortly and ready for operation. Detora said that the Chick-N-Bap food truck would ideally be open 5–7 nights a week if they can acquire enough staff.

“We’d love to get some diversity, and we think this could work well for the layout of our truck,” Detora said.

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Madeleine Kaptein

Madeleine Kaptein '25.5 (she/her) is a local editor and previously served as a copy editor. 

A Comparative Literature major and German minor, Madeleine enjoys reading, biking and hanging out with her cats. She is also an editor for Clover Magazine.