Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

The Mouthful: Cultural Appropriation and Food

    The issue of culinary cultural appropriation has been knocking around in my brain as of late. It’s a matter of lingering self-consciousness for me as a white urban food blogger. We tend to get self-congratulatory over having “discovered” restaurants or cuisines (meaning they’re not popular yet amongst fellow rich white people). Paying next to nothing for a meal becomes a point of pride – “cheap, sketchy food is always better,” we chirp knowingly, never questioning what this means for the chefs’ livelihoods. At its worst, cultural appropriation of food can even make access harder for those from the culture of origin. I’m far from the most qualified person to speak on the topic (read: it would behoove me and those like me to pass the mic once in a while), so here’s an assortment of links that cover it pretty well. They’re great food for thought. Pun intended.

    Craving the Other by Soleil Ho
    I’m Vietnamese? They love pho! I told people to pronounce it a different way each time they asked, knowing that they would immediately march over to their racially homogenous group of friends to correct them with the “authentic” way to pronounce their favorite dish. I’m sure that they were happy to learn a little bit about my family’s culture, but I found their motivations for doing so suspect. What can one say in response? “Oh, you’re white? I love tuna salad!”

    A Comic About Food and Cultural Appropriation by Shing Yin Khor
    Eat, but don’t ask for a gold star for your gastronomical bravery. Eat, but don’t pretend that the food lends you cultural insight into our “exotic” ways. Eat, but recognize that we’ve been eating too, and what is our sustenance isn’t your adventure story. Just eat.

    Cultural Appropriation: Let’s Talk Food by Tumblr user diggingforroots
    One way that food can be appropriated is by making it difficult for those of the culture from which it stems to gain access to it. For example, quinoa has become very popular outside its native home of Bolivia, but with that popularity comes a price to the Bolivian people that what was a staple of their diet is now too expensive for them to eat. It’s fair to assume that it will be replaced by less beneficial alternatives,

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    most likely imported and pre-packaged. I’m not saying that everyone should throw out their quinoa or feel useless guilt for eating it. I am saying that it is a good example of where access to a traditional food has been appropriated by people in such a way as to make it inaccessible to the culture from which it comes.

    On Food and Cultural Appropriation by Geoff Hing
    This leaves us in an uncomfortable space. Americans whose experience with food has been mediated by a few generations of corporate food production are hungry for having food, and really a culture at large, that feels based on lived experience and not one that’s so heavily prescribed for them. At the same time, this doesn’t make the food, traditions and culture of migrants to the United States a buffet for us to pick from, out of context, to try to fill the gap left by a lost generation of American eaters. I think it’s important to recognize the sadness of loss of culture experienced by many non-migrant Americans that exists beneath or alongside a more dubious desire to be in-the-know about the most recently “discovered” or most exotic foods.
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      Becca C-H
      Mar 13, 2014 at 4:46 pm

      Thanks so much for posting this. It was very timely for me. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, but was not really sure where to begin. Cultural appropriation is a topic that I’ve struggled with a lot recently, and as someone who not only views myself as a lover of food, but someone deeply interested in food systems, I feel a strong lacking in my understanding of this particular topic. Thanks again.