Share you culture, but not your food?

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Traditionally at San Diego City College, the annual Language Day fair invites students to taste the culture of each country at booths sharing food with interested passers-by.

However, during Language Day last year, the cafeteria abruptly shut down each booth in Gorton Quad, ordering them to throw away all food brought, wasting more than $400, according to Jaime Estrada, chair of the Language Department.

“It was very unfortunate. I had to throw food away that I paid for myself because I didn’t have an ice container for the apple strudel and bratwurst,” said Astrid Ronke, German language instructor.

Ronke wasted about $40 dollars of her own money that day and was told that she would only be allowed to bring packaged food with a shelf-life.

At the 2009 Language Day event, which took place on April 22, the German booth were sampling Storck Chocolate Reisens and Ritter Sport German candies.

“A lot of students came back saying ‘where’s the bratwurst?'” explained Ronke.

Not being able to serve food at the annual Language Day affects the fair; it affects the ability for students to really know what the food from each culture tastes like instead of looking at pictures of cultural food posted at each booth, according to Ronke.

There are very specific rules that the California Code of Regulations outlines on serving food, according to Gayla Pierce, district food service manager.

“A lot of the vendors cannot comply,” said Pierce, referring to the health code guidelines set for vendors who usually participated in the Language Day fair. Pierce states this could be a huge liability for San Diego Community College District if food is served from each individual booth.

“We’re all the same person, we can all get a bacteria,” said Ronke. “It’s foregrounds because they need something.”

Ronke, as well as certain unnamed students and faculty, members speculate that the cafeteria doesn’t want events such as this to hurt profits for the day.

“There’s some truth to that but a lot of that is inaccurate information,” said Pierce. “Unless a special function like this took place everyday, it generally doesn’t hurt profits.”

Before the ban on food, whenever an event such as Language Day takes place, the cafeteria plans for less profits by cutting staff and ordering less food for the day, according to Pierce.

Currently, the cafeteria suffers from a $300,000 budget deficit, confirmed by Pierce.

Probably the most disappointing aspect to the cafeteria shutting down each vendor during December 2008’s Language Day fair was how abruptly it happened.

“We didn’t get any notice or anything. That’s not right,” said Ronke.

Ronke questions why she has always been allowed to bring food that she ordered from caterers with food licenses in years past at both Grossmont Community College and City College.

“There’s a whole different set of criteria once a vendor leaves its normal restaurant or kitchen,” Pierce explains; but it doesn’t explain why bringing food has been permissible in so many years past, even after the incident that occurred 8-10 years ago where more than 100 people got food poisoning from an outside vendor.

As the district was liable in that situation, Pierce notes how critical it is for a vendor to have the appropriate certification and documentation.

“[The food] could put the entire community college district at risk,” said Pierce, with regard to liability, adding that it may take some time for the vendors to adjust to the regulations set.

Estrada “doesn’t know much” about the profit issue but is working on sorting out the ability to obtain permits for outside vendors at future Language Day fairs. For now, chips and soda will be some of the few items for students to enjoy, said Estrada.

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