Food Appropriation por Brooke F

While white people have a multitude of privileges, one aspect of white culture that is lacking is the actual culture. Because white people, especially in America, believe that our culture is a melting pot and one where we take a little from each culture. This phenomenon is well explained in Professor Portnoy’s book with the term “columbusing”, which is “the act of reckless and thoughtless appropriation (typically by rich white people) of a thing that has been around for years or decades (a thing that usually belongs to non-white people).” This idea is sewn into the fabric of our country, quite literally. It is everywhere, food, fashion, home decor, and most times people don’t even realize what they are doing. An example that is frequently in the news is Urban Outfitters, the poster child for cultural appropriation. They are constantly under fire for stealing designs and idea from Mexican cultures, prints from Indigenous tribes, amongst countless other call outs. Urban Outfitters benefits from stealing the bits and pieces from other cultures, producing them cheaply and selling them for exorbitant prices, and paying no respect or gratitude to those cultures while passing them off as their own. While this is extremely evident in fashion and unfortunately many Halloween costumes, this is also seen in food and in the culinary world.

Urban Outfitters cultural appropriation
Rick Bayless

Food is something of tradition, a foundation for every culture in the world, while fashion is something that is innovated and created everyday from scratch. So in the case of food, it almost seems as if you are without a rich cultural background, you are without the ability to cook. This often results in borrowing of other cultures, fusing your American culture with the culture one attempts to emulate or pay homage to. When white people cook Vietnamese food or sushi, are they committing the same act as Urban Outfitters? Are white people only allowed to grill up cheeseburgers and hot dogs as their American tradition calls for? For chef Rick Bayless, a white man from Oklahoma and incredible chef of Mexican cuisine, he thinks no. Rick speaks on his experience as a white man exploring Mexican culture and food, talking on his “deep understanding” of the culture. Rick speaks fluent Spanish, has travelled extensively through Mexico, and attempts to bring his own twist to Mexican food, while maintaining the tradition. Is a deep understanding enough, or does it need to be a part of your blood, your heritage? In my opinion, I think if someone genuinely takes the time to learn a language, travel, talk with people and explore another culture they have the right to share their experiences in a culinary manner. But of course, I am coming from a perspective of a white woman who has no idea what it’s like to have someone rob and appropriate my culture. That being said, I think it is easy to diminish one’s culture to a Chipotle or Baja Fresh, but I believe Rick Bayless is a different case, as well as many other white American chefs who do an excellent job communicating another culture’s cuisine to Americans who otherwise would not experience it without traveling long distances. Food brings us together, and when done in a respectful and understanding manner, white Americans can show other Americans of all races a new or familiar cuisine we can all enjoy.

Another example of white men cooking other culture’s food is a good family friend of ours, Jeremy Umland, who found the Japanese restaurant Ozumo, which has locations in San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Monica. Jeremy is a New York native, and happened to be an incredible baseball player, incredible enough to live in Japan and play internationally for several years. He became fluent in Japanese, played baseball with Japanese locals, and fell in love with the cuisine, so much so that when he returned, had a dream to open up his own Japanese restaurant. Ozumo serves traditional dishes such as sashimi, sushi, and higher end and more experimental Japanese dishes. All the chefs and staff are of Japanese descent and communicate with Jeremy in Japanese. They are able to bring their culinary arts and culture to California because Jeremy was able to experience another culture and be inspired to bring it to us. The food is not only authentic, but delicious. Most ingredients I am unfamiliar with, but through my experiences at Ozumo I was able to get out of my comfort zone and try all these exciting flavors authentic to Japan, and gain a new respect and understanding for a culture I have yet to experience through a visit, all because of our friend Jeremy who lived in Japan to play baseball.


My experience with food at USC is that it is either at a dining hall and gross, or average and extremely overpriced. So for the culinary appropriation study, I decided to go to SunLife Organics, which is a health food company based out of Malibu with overpriced juices, smoothies and acai bowls amongst other treats. Most of the employees are Lululemon’s target customers and they are all fit, fun and on the run. The walls have bible verses carved into them, and that paired with the inspiring novels on the wall scream white culture. There is a smoothie sold for $32 dollars and I bet it doesn’t even taste good. I have searched and searched for an authentic Brazilian açai bowl time and time again, and the only time I truly feel like I succeeded was at the farmer’s market I used to go to in San Diego. My friend would speak in Portuegese with them and give us deals on the most delicious and fresh açai bowls I’ve ever had. SunLife Organics, amongst the multitude of other white health brands attempting to recreate the açai bowl have given no homage or respect to the Brazilian dish. The base, “açai”, is a watered down smoothie that only sometimes contains açai, and an American serving of granola and fruit doused in coconut shavings. The açai bowl as been repurposed and up sold under the brand of “health foods” and stripped of it’s original cultural intention. The açai puree was originally intended for martial artists in the Amazon, but none of the culture or history has remained in tact. SunLife organics is columbusing this dish in order to turn profits in the wealthiest parts of the country. While I understand this is a fusion of white/American culture and Brazilian, it feels extremely whitewashed and not at all a fusion. I believe many people do not know the origin of açai bowls, but they will always remind me of my Portuguese speaking friends, cold and meticulously prepared açai, fresh fruit, granola, and drizzled honey.

8 respuestas a “Food Appropriation por Brooke F

  1. rachelmagnin

    Such a cool story about your family friend who started Ozumo. I went there when I was living in San Francisco this summer and the food was absolutely incredible. I think it is interesting that you describe the food as both authentic and experimental

    I love your example of açai bowls as cultural appropriation. I honestly had no idea that açai came from Brazil and I completely agree that this form of “health food” in the United States is an appropriation of culture because it doesn’t even recognize its roots and rather just uses the ideas in order to turn a profit.

  2. Brandon Towers

    Su comparación entre comida y moda es muy interesante. También su ejemplo de Urban Outfitters es muy bueno. La empresa ha robado partes de culturas que están de moda sin la responsabilidad de ser una parte de la cultura. ¿Pero hay situaciones cuando está bien tomar diseños de una cultura? ¿Si Urban Outfitters había donado o ayudado a causas o caridades mayas por ejemplo, es aceptable para usar diseños mayas? No sé dónde está la línea.

  3. Tejas Kaur

    I think your perspective on clothing and Urban Outfitters is a really interesting segway into answering the question about cultural appropriation and the culinary world. These two topics have their similarities but are certainly distinct as per the example of what Urban Outfitters typically does in contrast to both Bayless and Umland. I think it’s really interesting to see how cultural appropriation exists in multiple aspects of American “culture.”

  4. nred9

    Brooke, me gustaba bien su artículo y en particular la pregunta que pediste, “When white people cook Vietnamese food or sushi, are they committing the same act as Urban Outfitters? Are white people only allowed to grill up cheeseburgers and hot dogs as their American tradition calls for?” Me gustaría pensar que no a las dos — las personas blancas tienen ambos el derecho y los recursos (ej. millones de recetas en línea) para cocinar lo que quieran. El problema, en mi opinión, es cuando las personas blancas usan estas recetas o tradiciones como su proprio “brand” y luego cuando ganan dinero de una cultura de otras, como Rick Bayless. Me gustaba también que hayas incluido el ejemplo de la historia del amigo de tu familia, que ha fundado Ozumo, porque demuestra como conoces bien y tienes una relación con este sujeto. Nunca he sabido que los “açai bowls” han comenzado en Brazil.

  5. ariannaproul

    Brooke, I thought your observation of white culture’s lack of culture was very interesting. Your identification of Urban Outfitters at a poster child for cultural appropriation is accurate and I think people often recognize clothing and costume appropriation, while food appropriation is far more common. Besides apple pie and hamburgers, American food is consistent upon stealing and commodifying other cultures’ food for the American palate. However, I don’t think that means white culture can’t explore other cultures, it is just dependent on the intention and execution that makes it offensive to the original dish. Jeremy Umland’s story is very interesting, and I think a good example of exploring another culture in a respectful manner, and I really want to try his sushi! I also agree Sunlife’s açai bowls suck and aren’t tasty nor respectful of the bowls origin.

  6. Victoria Martinez

    Tu blog fue genial, pero específicamente disfruté tu comentario sobre alimentos saludables. (Como lo hicieron otros según los comentarios) Realmente me llamó la atención que mencionara lo que se pierde con la apropiación. Usted reduce la experiencia a un impostor más barato (pero en este caso el impostor es demasiado caro). Otra tendencia de salud que se debe tener en cuenta es la creciente popularidad de la quinua y la disminución de la capacidad de los nativos para costear y disfrutar de este suplemento cultural.

  7. Sarah Portnoy

    Me ecantó este blog, Brooke! Y obviamente tus compañeros, también.
    HIciste preguntas retóricas muy interesantes como, “When white people cook Vietnamese food or sushi, are they committing the same act as Urban Outfitters? Are white people only allowed to grill up cheeseburgers and hot dogs as their American tradition calls for?” Me hicieron–y nos hicieron–pensar de manera diferente en el tema.
    Y el ejemplo de tu amigo que es dueño de Ozuma es muy interesante y perfecto para el tema. Ahora lo quiero probar cuando estoy en SM Place la próxima vez!
    Y me encanta tu descripción de las personas que trabajan el el lugar de los smoothies de $34 (en serio??)! Sí, se encuentra acai en Brazil. Lo desayuné cuando pasé el verano allí hace muchos años, pero aquí sí es algo “appropriated” para Lululemon yoga chics!

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