As said by chef Auguste Gusteau, “Anyone can cook”. I believe this is true and chefs, whether in world-renowned restaurants or at home, should be able to explore any culture’s food, but should take care to do so with respect for that culture. I think food is not exclusive as to who can cook it, but I believe the misrepresentation or act of marketing it as something that it’s not, is when the problem of cultural appropriation arises. In relation to Wes Avila and Guerrilla Tacos, I don’t think his tacos are an act of cultural appropriation at all. Though the word tacos is in the title, he does not market his food as a traditional Mexican dining experience, instead he calls it as it is, his own creation growing from the heart of Los Angeles. It wouldn’t be common to claim his sweet potato tacos as a form of appropriating Mexican culture, because they’re so uniquely his and done with benevolence. A contrary example, however, could be seen in Taco Bell, or as my dad likes to call it, Taco Hell. Starting with the architecture of the restaurant, the faux adobe and mission bell aspires to market itself as something its not. In their mission statement is states, “We take pride in making the best Mexican style fast food providing fast, friendly, & accurate service.” I doubt many would label Taco Bell as the best, or even a form of, Mexican food. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not still very successful, and for some very delicious. The misrepresentation as a Mexican restaurant, however, is problematic as it perpetuates white culture taking other cultures for their own gain.
“We take pride in making the best Mexican style fast food providing fast, friendly, & accurate service.”Taco Bell
Just at Taco Bell markets their food as something its not, the same issue arose at Oberlin College. As student Diep Nguyen complained, “How could they just throw out something completely different and label it as another country’s traditional food?” This misrepresentation is done so without regard for the traditional cuisine, or the culture is originated from and that is an example of cultural appropriation. Food can be more significant for some rather than others, one dish could be comfort food, years of ancestry, an art form and/or religious. Disregarding that significance is the issue with this dining hall food.
The main issue when separating cultural appropriation from cultural appreciation is whether or not it is done with respect. For example, in relation to Elotegate, Peterson was not disrespecting Mexican culture when writing about the elotero, and therefore, though problematic in its legal implications, I don’t think it was a form of malevolence or appropriation. “Food is food” as said by Arellano and Esparza, and therefore anyone can enjoy it and write about it, but do so with respect and awareness (Portnoy, 106). Though Peterson apologized, other similar critiques can be received with much more anger. Just as Bayless claiming reverse racism. For me, if the food I’m eating is good and authentic to what the restaurant claims it is, I don’t think one culture has to exclusively cook their own culture’s food. However, in Bayless’ case, his disregard of his white privilege in the restaurant scene and his disrespect for minorities’ struggles, diminishes my desire to eat his food.
“Food is food”Portnoy, 106
Overall, the complexity of cultural appropriation does not allow for a black-and-white classification as such. Rather, each diner, chef, restaurant and critic has their own relationship with their own culture and the representation of it. If done so with respect, I believe other cultures should be explored in cuisine, but done so carefully so as not to neglect the importance of each dish served.