For many Emory students, Thanksgiving is a time to return home, relax before finals and enjoy home-cooked meals with friends and family. But that’s not always a possibility for those who stay on campus, an issue Student Government Association (SGA) President Dwight Ma (17Ox, 19C) sought to alleviate this year by hosting a Thanksgiving dinner on Nov. 18 for about 25 Emory students.
Ma advertised his event on Facebook, inviting students and collecting dietary restrictions.
Prepping for the dinner took about three hours, but Ma, an avid cook, said he didn’t mind the work. During his campaign for SGA president, Ma hosted a question and answer session during which he made sushi for attendees.
“Cooking is my big hobby,” Ma said. “I like the feeling of people enjoying my food and talking. I’m not a big fan of eating great food [as much as] I enjoy the experience of people eating my food … and appreciating my cooking technique.”
Ma said he envisioned a Thanksgiving dinner open to all Emory students since his days as president of the Oxford Culinary Club. Ma is no stranger to hosting meals for people, as he often invites people to his apartment for traditional Chinese home-cooked meals.
Ma believes that food can bring together people from different cultures.
At the Thanksgiving dinner, Ma cooked and served a Chinese-American fusion meal of “mainly Chinese-style foods, as well as some Thanksgiving items,” he said, including braised pork belly, chicken and beef dishes, and a vegetable-based dish of potatoes with green onions. For dessert, Ma baked a pumpkin pie.
“I cooked [the] first turkey in my life, ever,” Ma said. “I cooked a whole turkey. It was [a] very hard and interesting experience.”
Last year, when Ma hosted a similar dinner, less than five guests showed up, so this year’s showing was a surprise.
“[Last year,] I prepared food for 15 people [but] only three people came. It was awkward,” Ma said. “This year, there’s more people [who came] than I expected so, actually, we were around a little lower on food.”
Ma paid out of pocket for all ingredients. As far as he knows, he’s the first SGA president in the past three years to host a Thanksgiving dinner for students, dubbing it “Thanksgiving Dinner at D-White House.” He plans to host at least one more dinner, similar to his Thanksgiving one, before the end of his term. “A farewell party,” he called it.
SGA BBA Liaison Geoffrey Tseng (19B) attended the dinner after he saw Ma’s Facebook invitation and became “interested in meeting new people and just hanging out with friends and enjoying [Ma’s] cooking.” Tseng, who called himself a “a pretty harsh critic when it comes to Chinese food,” praised Ma’s culinary skills.
Like Tseng, BBA Council President Jay Krishnaswamy (16Ox, 19B) also attended the dinner after the Facebook post piqued his interest.
“Sometimes, just being within [the] Business School, a lot of the people that you meet are all … exclusively within the same major,” Krishnaswamy said. “So I just thought it was … an interesting time to go meet with some other people from different backgrounds, different majors [and] different class years.”
The dinner exposed guests to different cultural foods, Krishnaswamy said.
“It was also good exposure to Dwight’s culture,” Krishnaswamy said. “Some of the [dishes were] traditional cuisine that they serve in China when they have family get-togethers.”
For Ma, it seemed that Thanksgiving was a rare opportunity to leave SGA politics at the door.
“Chinese friends, international friends … different friends come,” Ma said. “I always [cook]. I think it is the best way for me to make friends … in a casual setting.”