A line from Memory Mall weaved its way to the Student Union, as students lined up to fill their bellies with food samples from 14 different countries at 11 a.m. on Tuesday.
Taste of UCF is an annual event where students can try foods from many countries represented by the UCF student body. After taking a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19, event organizers said this was the first time the event was held outdoors.
"When we were planning for this event to be inside, there were a lot of changes we had to undergo," said Natasha Han, student director of the Multicultural Student Center. "Trying to figure out how do we want to separate everything according to COVID regulations. And then, when we moved outside, we were like, 'OK, this is actually better.'"
Because the event was now outdoors, Han said, organizers did not have to worry as much about having a huge line of people so close to one another.
“We are outside," Han said. "There is a slight breeze; it's going good.”
Han, who uses they/them pronouns, said masks were encouraged instead of required. They said they did not want to turn anyone away for not wearing a mask because the event is meant to be inclusive and bring cultures together.
The ultimate decision to move the event outdoors was due to UCF’s COVID-19 guidelines. Mariette Tomlinson, a sophomore majoring in social work, works with the Multicultural Student Center and said UCF’s guidelines prohibit food consumption for indoor venues.
She said the event's large turnout called for the change, as event coordinators reported about 3,000 students in attendance.
"We had to have it out in the open where students could feel comfortable," Tomlinson said.
Ty Matejowsky, a UCF anthropology professor and researcher of cultural anthropology, said the need for food consumption has helped shape human history and that food can express cultural identity in an intimate way.
"Food can reflect the history of particular groups and their colonial experience," Matejowsky said.
In his article about the canned meat product SPAM and its history with the Philippines, which he said was a U.S. colonial territory for many decades, Matejowsky states SPAM was introduced to the country in the 1930s by members of the U.S. military. Today, SPAM is a very popular food product in Filipino culture.
"It symbolizes the shared struggles Filipinos and Americans suffered during World War II," Matejowsky said.
Matejowsky said the reason it is so important to understand different cultures is because we have to share a planet with limited resources. He said starting to understand a culture through its food is easy, and anyone can do it.
“Food is something anyone can experience,” Matejowsky said. “It’s a way of creating bonds between groups in an enjoyable way.”
Senior finance major Jacky Wong said he went to the event for the free food and to see different cultures from around the world, especially because COVID has made it harder to travel.
The student said this event allowed him to see cultures from a different perspective.
“Food is a good way to travel without traveling,” Wong said.
Also in attendance was Jason Davis, a senior computer engineering major. He said he was glad the event was back on campus after the pandemic led to campus closures in 2020.
“With COVID, it kind of ruined some of the things on campus, so I’m glad this event happened,” Davis said. “We all want to meet new people. Also, we want to learn about different cultures.”
Davis said he attended the event with several friends and was most excited about trying the jerk chicken from Jamaica and the "tostones," or fried green plantains, from the Dominican Republic.
Jada Kilpatrick, a freshman hospitality major, was also there to eat food. She said she was glad she was able to try something she had never had from a place she had never been to.
“Not everyone can go abroad, especially since the pandemic, so at least being able to try different foods gives us some of that learning experience," Kilpatrick said.
This was precisely the event's purpose, Han said, to show people a new culture they might not have tried on their own, and most importantly, to bring students together.