For my first civic issues blog, I’d like to take a look at the concept of cultural appropriation of food. I’d like to think that this is a fairly innocuous aspect of culture when people consider what counts as appropriation. I couldn’t find any evidence of foods that are sacred or a case of someone trying another culture’s food and having it be some great offense. In fact, sharing other cultures’ foods is actually seen as a great system of exchange. We have countless restaurants with nearly every countries’ cuisine represented, specially marked off sections in supermarkets, and countless local markets dying to sell you a taste of another culture. It’s a worldwide cultural exchange that dates back to the spice routes and countless trips overseas to experience the new foods that these cultures have to offer.
But when does this cultural exchange begin to cross the line into the dangerous world of cultural appropriation. Perhaps it begins when people begin to see food as something more than it actually is. Suddenly people begin to believe that they have become experts of a culture simply because they have tasted its food. Asking a person about their heritage becomes a chance to proclaim your love for a certain type of that culture’s food and proclaim your own special brand of understanding. Some may even take the opportunity to use the food as an excuse for their behavior (“I can’t be racist, I love _________ food). Chefs open restaurants dedicated to serve “authentic” or “inspired” food and scoff when asked about some of the ingredients they never consider (i.e. feet, beaks, hot-dog meat, etc.). We even have the gall to create something based off a culture and then claim that the new food was part of that culture all along. I’m looking at you fortune cookies. I don’t care how delicious you are, you’re not real.
Does this mean that any and all incidences of appropriation are inherently bad? When you think about it, appropriation is sometimes necessary. Picture the most American food you can think of (hamburgers, hotdogs, Fourth of July fodder) and then remember that these foods originally came from Europe and other nations from around the world. American food culture is made up of all of the different cultures that came to this country so many years ago. Is this really a case of appropriation or a case of adoption? Perhaps we can return to the idea of a cultural exchange and intermixing, rather than theft and appropriation.
So in the end is appropriation of other cultures’ food a terrible crime? I would have to say no, on the grounds that sharing and enjoying these foods is in and of itself not appropriation. It becomes appropriation when people begin to glorify, fetishize, and just stop enjoying food for what it really is. A beautiful outlet for an exchange of cultures, the very foundations on which this country should be built. You can appreciate cultural food, but it will not give you the key to enlightenment about a certain race or culture, nor will it give you a free pass to be a racist. So please, have some table manners and close your mouth when you’re eating, no one wants to hear that anyway.
(this is a little bingo card my friend found and I thought that I could go through it for each aspect. feel free to let me know if I’m being too harsh or not harsh enough when it comes to passing judgement on appropriation)
Interesting Articles and Links for Your General Consumption (haha a play on words, I’m so clever):
“Craving the Other” Soleil Ho http://bitchmagazine.org/article/craving-the-other
A Dad on White People and Tacos http://triciaratops.tumblr.com/post/75776115907/dad-on-cultural-appropriation-conversation-was-in?utm_medium=email&utm_source=html&utm_campaign=post_chat