Every student looks forward to the email from Mr. Ketan Swami — the one that describes the next day’s menu. Often we find dishes labeled “spicy chicken” or “fried spicy chicken wings,” but the premature excitement subsides when confronted with food that isn’t really spicy.
A few days back while having spicy chicken for lunch, the conversation of lack of spice came up at the lunch table. I found it absurd that despite claiming the dish was spicy, there seemed to be an evident lack of spice. I am a person that has extremely low spice tolerance compared to my relatives and, astonishingly, I still didn’t find the food spicy. It took a long deliberation on my end to develop an opinion that school food lacked spiciness.
My friends at the lunch table shared the same opinion. According to them, the spiciness of the food wasn’t enough to be noticed, and, inherently, the food on the menu gained a bad rep with them.
People define their sense of spice in different ways and each individual has a different spice tolerance. A person might be exposed to low to mild spice and might be petrified whereas a person might consume some wasabi and be totally fine. Tolerance is usually based upon an individual’s genetics, exposure to spicy food, and personality. More specifically, spicy food tolerance comes from the physical change in how some of the body’s pain receptors react to capsaicin, the molecule responsible for the “hot” in spicy peppers and foods flavored with them.
One must understand that eating spicy food is a habit inculcated by parents when children are young. Studies even find that children are naturally adventurous and decide whether they like spicy foods or not on their own, but parents sheltering children from its exposure could decrease their likelihood of trying it in the future. Furthermore, some studies have even suggested that spicy foods could help decrease blood pressure, increase metabolism, reduce overeating, help in easier breathing, and even increase life expectancy.
To be fair, the school does offer Tabasco sauce — a major additive in food to make it spicier. Some individuals enjoy adding it to their meals. However, the salt and vinegar component of the sauce completely changes the flavor of the food and is a major reason others tend to avoid using it.
Woodstock has a diverse community with people coming from the western world and the Middle East. People from these regions tend to have considerably low spicy food tolerance compared to Indians and South-East Asians. It is important to take them into consideration while deciding the menu and making the dishes since we, as a community, “seek well being” of all.
However, many individuals feel that the menu feels incomplete without adequate spice. Yehun Son, Class of 2019, says, “When they try to make the food spicy, it is overpowered by the flavor of green pepper and other spices are no longer noticeable.”
Jaideep Grover, Class of 2019, shares the same perspective and argues that “Indian foods are the worst offenders. Indian foods are traditionally spicy, but the Indian menu during lunch or dinner at Woodstock lacks the traditional flavor and the sharp prick of chili.”
According to Shreya Kulshrestha and Nandini Seth, this semester’s menu heads, the kitchen has to cater to a diverse population “of whom a large amount have a low spice tolerance.” They agree that the Indian cuisine lacks its traditional sharp spice kick but say, “It isn’t supposed to.” They share the opinion that they have to “account for all of the population of Woodstock” — not just the ones “that like spicy food.”
Some individuals that detest the lack of spice have proposed a separate counter that serves a spicier version of the everyday menu dishes. However, the menu heads argue that having a separate counter “would not be feasible” since it would be like “having a separate counter for sweeter items.” The separate counter would bring about additional burden on the chefs and the servers.
The menu heads have suggested that those individuals that enjoy spicy food can ask the bhaiyajis during lunch or dinner for either green chilis or chili flakes. Furthermore, the availability of Tabasco sauce is a bonus for spice lovers.
As a senior, I know that I have a few days left in this school — 63 to be precise at the time of publication. But I do feel strongly about this and encourage the school to change the menu or segregate it into a method that works for everyone since the majority of the population at Woodstock comes from a background that traditionally likes the inclusion of chilies and other capsaicin spices. However, a utilitarian approach is not required; as a large school, we can and should resolve the dilemma of adding spice or not adding spice to our menu as I feel everyone’s view could be accommodated by the caterers and the menu heads.