Walking down to Thomas Plaza on Friday, Sept. 16, the first thing one noticed was not the flags or the vendors, but the line. A line of students and faculty, young and old, curved around the Northlawn steps. All were waiting eagerly for the fourth annual International Food Festival. Many carried their own plates and silverware, not wanting to waste any time getting the food before it was gone. Students from the International Students Organization (ISO) passed out five tickets attendees could exchange for food at the various tables, as well as a ticket with which to vote for their favorite dish.
Twenty teams competed, each with a dish unique to a specific country. The smell of the food wafted around Thomas Plaza. Many people filled up their plates with five tickets worth of food and fled to the stairs, savoring their food while enjoying the scene. Others made careful choices eyeing up vendors before using their five tickets.
ISO Vice President Arnold Muthoki was pleased with how the event shaped up. “We thought really hard this year about making this bigger and better [than past International Food Festivals],” he said. The ISO succeeded in this effort, selling out of tickets. “People just swarmed in,” Muthoki said. The ISO saw this as a great opportunity for people to experience different cultures.
No one showed any hesitation in trying foods they had never heard of before. Senior Kate Weaver and graduate student Liana Hershey both acknowledged that this was a great way to explore new cultures. “It’s really nice that it brings everyone in the community together,” Hershey said.
Weaver enjoyed seeing EMU and Harrisonburg’s cultures all getting a chance to be represented. “I didn’t know there were this many cultures [in Harrisonburg],” said Weaver.
Those competing enjoyed the event as much as those trying the food. Junior Mario Hernandez, of Honduras, was happy to be able to share his culture, especially considering the day. “Today is our independence day,” Hernandez said. “I was feeling a bit homesick and it reminds me of home.” He was referring to his coconut leche, which ended up taking first place. Hernandez sees a strong bond between food and culture. “It’s one of those things that can immediately trigger your memory. It’s one of the first things you miss.”
Even though money was on the line, there was a never a sense of competition in the air. The vendors chatted with the people mingling around. Many were seen with plates full of other competitor’s foods, not wanting to miss out. As two teams stepped up for a dance off to break the third-place tie, it became evident that they did not dance to compete. They danced together, just happy to be sharing the moment.
As latecomers milled around hoping for a bite of any dishes that might be left, vendors scraped their trays clean, offering every last bit. Don Foth, a retired EMU professor, and his wife Margaret Foth, were happy to be a part of the event. “I think this is one of the things that makes EMU special,” Margaret said. Many left full, but still hungry, already excited for next year’s event.
Hershey offered a word of advice for next year: “Tip for newcomers — come early.”