Monday, October 12, 2020

Cultural Appropriation

I have been saying for a couple of years at least that the phrase "cultural appropriation" is only a method whereby (usually white) people can show off that they know ever so much more about a culture than you do.  Oh no, real Thai food doesn't use that sort of rice.  This is a degradation of their culture. We should protest food services to the dean.

They keep proving me right.

It always reminds me of this:


james said...

Was it you who pointed out that Tully was what the English called Cicero, and that the growing use of the more precise name actually correlated with less familiarity with his work?
Another victory for authenticity...

james said...

Which is not to say I don't understand the complaints sometimes. When visiting my daughter in Senegal (study abroad), she took me to a place that served pizza. Made with cheddar. With somewhat different spices. That was food, and I suppose you could get used to it.

On the other hand, I probably mentioned a Korean restaurant I visited one evening, where the side dishes included the usual pickles and fish cakes, but also thinly sliced hot-dogs in a Korean sauce. I guess the chef figured that the taste and texture fit nicely with the cuisine--and they did. "Cultural appropriation" wasn't a big thing then, so I didn't feel obligated to file a complaint to stop them misusing hot-dogs.

RichardJohnson said...

I have been saying for a couple of years at least that the phrase "cultural appropriation" is only a method whereby (usually white) people can show off that they know ever so much more about a culture than you do.

Pretty much so. But like James, I have not always reacted well to some cuisine cooked outside its place of origin. I have had bad experiences with Mexican/Tex Mex restaurants in New England. Such as neglecting to add salt to beans.

Having had extensive experience with home-cooked tortillas in Guatemala, which are thick and actually taste like corn, I stay away from the thin, tasteless corn tortillas in Texas. Much what you also get in Mexico. Not snobbery per se, but they don't taste as good.

A childhood friend wrote a cookbook on basically American food with variations. His Mexican variation for a meat stew used jalapenos and prunes. Not standard, but rather tasty. Some Christmas tamales/hallacas recipes in various Latin American countries also combine hot peppers and prunes, so he was actually improvising within the tradition.

In my home cooking I appropriate and cross boundaries. For "pizza," I often use cheddar- depends on the cheese I have on hand. Whole wheat bread dough instead of a pizza dough. My version of Mexican Mole will use dried peppers, chocolate, fruit, etc. but purists may disagree, such as my adding peanut butter.

I recall many years ago from grad school a conversation at a party with someone from Latin America. I expressed my liking for the Bolivian musical group Savia Andina. He dismissed Savia Andina as "música para turistas."(music for tourists.) Not long afterwards, I saw him on stage in a group of varied nationalities playing the same kind of music that Savia Andina did. Instead of "música para turistas" (music for tourists), this was "música por turistas." (music by tourists.) A snob towards Savia Andina, but not enough of a snob to play their music. Oh well.

Donna B. said...

Did you follow the first link in that article to another by the same writer?

"The theme of this evening’s meal is radical honesty, and 42 people sit listening with some of the innermost pieces of themselves exposed: written proclamations of their biggest failures, job insecurities and societal frustrations immortalized in front of them. I tell them the menu is my thanks for their offerings, seven courses of my own fears and confusions, curiosities and conflicts. “This may make you uncomfortable,” I warn them. I start the evening with “Privilege,” a course of tiny portions: plump mussels carefully shucked, soaking in corn juice, and hand-peeled baby tomatoes. It’s about the excess in our conscious choice to waste."

It gets worse.

Texan99 said...

That's what I'm looking for in an expensive restaurant meal: to be made uncomfortable. It's best if the chairs are a bed of nails.

It reminds me of the SNL skit about a restaurant that served only meat that had died naturally. There was roadkill, of course, and a waitress explained that the mutton course would be delayed, because the sheep in the kitchen was "still wheezing."

It's true that eating food from one's own local, childhood culture can be jarring when it's prepared by people in distant regions who don't understand it at all--not talented chefs playing with regional motifs, but hacks who simply don't know what the style tastes like in the first place. Yankee TexMex can be a strange experience, replacing jalapeno slices with black olives, for instance. But that's not cultural appropriation so much as simple ignorance. If it turned out to be a successful experiment and tasted good, I'd have no problem with it. And of course TexMex itself is a weird distortion of some kind of ancestral south-of-the-border tradition. Do I care? No indeedy.

When I was growing up in Houston in the 60s and 70s, ethnic food was barely a thing. There was a bit of Mexican and a bit of American-Cantonese, and that was nearly it. Not even much Italian beyond pizza. One wonderful Greek place serving the ship channel. It was pretty terrific when Szechuan, Thai, and Vietnamese places started springing up all over the place in the early 80s. In our innocence we never dreamed there was anything to be ashamed of. We also committed many psychosocial infractions in the Halloween-costume line.