Recently I had the privilege of being a guest on a popular radio station in the Twin Cities. Our topic centered around cultural appropriation, and specifically for me, how this issue crosses boundaries into the food world.
Cultural appropriation may be defined as when the actions of individuals that are greater in power (whether socially or economically), cherry-pick specific aspects of a culture that they deem beneficial to them, resulting in that culture losing their societal voice, or becoming invisible. But how does that affect the culinary society?
Researching the topic of culinary cultural appropriation, I came across a description which states, ‘it is the modifying of recipes without respect of someone else’s culture, and introducing a cuisine as if it were your own.’ An example of this may be seen when the cuisine, or ingredients that are used by immigrants of another culture are often frowned upon, classified as unappetizing or too ‘ethnic’. Yet a popular chef that decides that they would like to introduce American culture to said cuisine, may mellow down or make a dish more palatable, referring to it as a cultural-fusion. Shops and restaurant that once scoffed at these non-American standard ingredients, are placing them on their menu (i.e. oxtail sliders, poke bowls, spam sushi) becoming the adulation of food influencers as fresh, new and trendy. Seemingly forgetting about the culture from the cuisine came from, and minimizing it’s importance to just the food that the taste of restaurant investors find appealing.
True, new and exciting cuisines should be celebrated. Chefs are creative, and strive to be please their culinary public. Perhaps the intention is to honor the culture, and highlight the cuisine. But if the actions in preparing the food does not demonstrate a passion for the food, along with it’s culture, and people… then your efforts are pointless.
Food is our common need as humans. Everyone wants to sit and enjoy a great meal. If your interests lead you only to be obsessed with the next best food without being open to teaching others about a different culture, how will we progress and appreciate the vast number of ethnicities we have in this country. Offering food or restaurant suggestions should be an opportunity to learn about another culture, and then sharing your passion of both the food and the people behind the culture. Educate yourself about the way a specific culture’s food is prepared. If you like a certain type of cuisine, why not make a new friend and ask them to explain about the different ingredients that may go into a dish. You’ll find that your passion for that cuisine, and the culture will really shine!