Appreciation or Appropriation

Arianna Proul

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.

Apropiación Cultural en Los Angeles y los EEUU por Evan

Cuando era niño, siempre íbamos a un restaurante de sushi, pero era una experiencia muy diferente que otros restaurantes japoneses.  Todos los trabajadores de los chefs a los meseros no eran japoneses sino mexicanos.  Siempre fue chistoso ir a un restaurante y comer muy buena comida japonesa, pero nunca oír nada de japonés todo el tiempo.  En el contexto de la clase, esto puede ser un ejemplo de apropiación cultural, pero yo no creo que esto sea el caso.  No pienso que haya limitaciones en cuales trabajos debes tener basado en raza.  Si eres mexicano y quieres ser chef de sushi, no me importa nada; debes lograr este sueño.  Lo importante en esta situación es como se presenta el tipo de comida y si es honesto o no.  El restaurante a que iba muchas veces no presentaba como restaurante “fusión” mexicana y japonesa, presentaba como restaurante de sushi y nada más y en este respeto, tuvo éxito.

Image result for sushi

Estoy de acuerdo con el artículo del Atlantic en que tenemos tanta gente diferente aquí en los Estados Unidos que siempre hay una mezcla.  Puedes encontrar cada tipo de fusión aquí y también cada tipo de comida con influencias de muchas partes.  Bayless dice que esta fusión es una forma de traducir, y creo que es una buena manera de decirlo.  El restaurante de sushi fue una forma “traducido” pero, en mi opinión, mantenía su autenticidad en la comida también.

Un ejemplo de apropiación cultural que he visto durante este semestre fue cuando fui a EscaLA para mi presentación sobre la comida de Colombia.  No sabía que fuera un restaurante de fusión hasta que llegara allí, pero aparentemente es un restaurante de fusión colombiana y coreana.  Después de ver la carta, me di cuenta de que no tenían nada coreana en el menú, tampoco en el ambiente.  Además, usan una imagen de un hombre asiático como su logo.  Creo que la única razón que se llama coreana es porque está ubicada en Koreatown y tienen que caber bien entre restaurantes de KBBQ y bares de Karaoke.  Por eso, creo que es un ejemplo de apropiación cultural que no tiene ningún sentido culturalmente y solo es para negocios.

Image result for escala restaurant

Hay muchos ejemplos que hemos visto de apropiación cultural, pero también hay ejemplos que realmente no son escándalos grandes.  Hay que reconocer cuando eres capaz de hablar sobre un tema con ramificaciones culturales grandes e importantes.  Yo reconozco, como un hombre blanco, que muchas veces no tengo el derecho ni la habilidad de hablar sobre problemas muy grandes, pero intento educarme y leer mucho de ellos para que pueda seguir y añadir un poco a la conversación, reconociendo que mi voz no es la más importante.

Cultural Appropriation: A Complicated Issue by Brandon Towers

The idea that the United States is a “melting pot” of cultures and peoples is something that I, and many others, were taught as kids. The melting pot is a result of many different types of people coming together, mixing, becoming, and adding to the culture of the United States. While this sounds great in theory, I learned a few years ago that this actually is not a great metaphor for how immigrants have assimilated into the U.S. It was brought to my attention that the cultures in the U.S. combine more like a salad rather than a melting pot. Salads have many distinct pieces that form the whole dish. It is not a homogenous soup like a melting pot, and I believe this is a better reflection of the U.S. as a whole. The different groups of people all contribute to the whole in different ways. If the melting pot metaphor was correct, I’m not sure cultural appropriation would exist because we’d all be just further contributing to the same larger culture that we make up. In a theoretical melting pot, any American could represent the food or culture of another group because that group would have contributed to the larger American culture. Would that not give them the right to speak about another groups culture?

As far as who has the right to represent the food and culture of a country, I think the right to decide who gets to belongs to those people. This doesn’t mean only those people do represent their country/culture in that way, just that they also get to decide whether or not those who are from the outside can also do so. For example, my opinion on who should or should not be able to cook Korean food should not really matter. However, if it were about a cuisine that was more closely linked to my family history then my opinion should hold more weight. Of course it is still possible for a chef to cook food from a culinary background that is not their own, it just has to be done in the right way. This sentiment is shared by Han Ly Hwang, a Korean chef who said in an interview with Vice “Realmente no me interesa si preparas comida coreana sin ser coreano, pero hazlo con respeto y que sepa bien. Conozco chefs que hacen comida coreana maravillosa y no son coreanos. Pero se distinguen por haber realizado investigaciones sobre esta gastronomía, respetan los sabores y saben lo que están haciendo.” A chef has to treat the food with respect, and spend time really getting to know flavors and ingredients and different pieces of the cuisine that make up the larger culture. And it’s not always easy to know when someone does that. It’s much easier and faster to look at someone and say “what could this white dude know about Korean food?” than to look up someone’s backstory and figure out why they are cooking that type of food.

I don’t think that a chef cooking food from a different ethnic background is necessarily cultural appropriation, but I also don’t fully agree with the alternate given in the article from the Atlantic. Someone commented on the Oberlin college controversy by saying “Mixing and matching and intermingling and borrowing and stealing and creating new traditions out of whole cloth is what America does, and in my view, it is the encapsulation of what is best about this country …” I agree that mixing and borrowing and stealing is what America does, but I don’t think it necessarily is what makes this country great (in this case). Of course the mixing of the many unique cultures in America has given rise to fantastic fusion food as well as many other great things. But it’s not like these people had the right or duty to take things from other cultures and “improve” on them. And only a few of the people that do sort of co-opt food from outside of their background do actually impact the greater culture. We all would have been just fine without the newest take on pho or whatever dish is the next “big thing.”

Some chips and salsa from my meal at Frontera Grill in Chicago

I’m huge a fan of Rick Bayless’s food. His restaurants in Chicago are some of my favorites to go to. There is a Frontera Grill in the Chicago O’Hare airport, and it is legitimately my favorite part about traveling. I haven’t eaten anywhere else in O’Hare in years. I wasn’t previously aware of some of his insensitive comments. It seems like saying dumb things must run in the family, because his brother, sportscaster Skip Bayless, has made a living uttering some of the most ridiculous and inflammatory sports takes on national television (I could write a whole different blog on him). That point aside, I do think Rick Bayless has the right to cook mexican food. Going back to what I mentioned earlier, I know he truly and deeply appreciates Mexican culture and food. It’s not like he saw some emerging trend in Mexican food and decided to capitalize on it. He lived in Mexico, he speaks Spanish. He’s not pretending to be Mexican or fronting as if the culture is his own, and he’s taken the time to learn about it and learn from it.

I do agree that Bayless is translating this food for an American audience, but I do also believe that “all translation is a loss.” It is impossible to take food from a different part of the world and bring it someone far away and still preserve the exact same flavors and sentiments. For one part, you are literally losing the terroir of that region when transporting the food (either through preserving it while it is shipped or cultivating it somewhere else). You can translate some dishes really well, but it won’t ever come across the exact same way. I more or less agree with everything in Professor Portnoy’s book about Bayless as well. He has made some dumb and insensitive comments, but he has contributed a lot to mexican food and culture status in America and his food is amazing in my opinion. I don’t believe that some of the criticism against him is a form of racism. I think it is more due to his privileged attitude and the insensitive and unaware comments he makes. The fact that he had not previously thought about how being white could have given him some advantages in his career (from the podcast) is telling about the kind of person he is.  For me, the background of the chef cooking my food is not that important. So while I don’t agree with some of the stuff Rick Bayless has said, I will probably continue to eat at Frontera Grill every time I am at the Chicago airport.

One of the three Frontera Grill restaurants in Chicago O’Hare airport

To quote an article from NPR, “ Columbusing is when you “discover” something that’s existed forever. Just that it’s existed outside your own culture, nationality, race or even, say, your neighborhood.” I couldn’t think of a better way to say it myself. I wish I had more context for Petersen’s article, but it did not seem like columbusing to me. I absolutely think it is possible for a non-latino to write about latino food. They just have to do it in the right way. It is very similar to what was mentioned earlier about how chefs have to approach food from outside of their background. The writer should not frame the food as some “new trend” or use different terms for the foods instead of the original ones (translating or using new and traditional terms together is fine). Just pay homage to the culture that creates the food, and don’t sensationalize it.

I can relate to the banh mi situation, but from the reverse perspective. The first time I tried banh mi was in the Cafe 84 dining hall. It was soggy bread with a gross vegetable slaw. It was not good, and I did not like it at all. A couple years later I visited Vietnam during my semester abroad. I was apprehensive to try banh mi, but it only took one bite for me to realize what I had at USC was not banh mi at all. I had one or two a day for the remainder of my trip there. I do agree with the student from Oberlin. It is wrong to take modified heritage food and label it as authentic. I don’t have any issue with modifying the food, but presenting it as authentic is disingenuous and wrong. It goes back to how the chefs have to treat the food and culture with respect, and in that case they did not do that.

At least in my experience, the fusion food I have encountered does not seem like a product of racism but it might be a form of cultural appropriation. I haven’t done the necessary background research on the chefs or owners to determine if they are culturally appropriating, but my gut feeling is probably a few of them are just exploiting the current popular food trends for a quick buck. They might not be as invested in the culture and history of the food and just want to profit off of it. On the other hand, Taco Bell seems like a better example of cultural appropriation. I don’t think it’s a product of racism, but after learning the founder’s story in this class I definitely think it’s borderline appropriating. To me, Glen Bell’s story seems similar to that of the girls from Kooks Burritos. He got some Mexican chefs to show him how they made their tortillas, and then he took that idea and started his own restaurant in a predominantly white area of Los Angeles. According to Professor Portnoy’s book he then “constructed his restaurants with a Mexican “theme park image using faux adobe walls” and a “mission-style bell tower” that gave its customers a sense of the restaurant’s authenticity.” So he took the tortilla, added his own fillings, and then passed it off to consumers as authentic Mexican food. It seems like cultural appropriation to me, and the food has only been further altered as time has gone on. And I’m sure his restaurants inspired a whole new generation who believed they “columbused” tacos as well. This doesn’t mean I don’t eat at Taco Bell, or that I’ll never go there again. But going forward I’ll probably be more conscious of where I’m eating and the culinary history of the food and chefs as well.

Un Discusión Sobre “Cultural Appropriation” de Comida Latina

Por Mia Yanez

Cuando pienso en “cultural appropriation,” pienso en la moda y cuando los modelos Anglos copian los estilos afroamericanos o latinos.  Sin embargo, “cultural appropriation” puede ocurrir con comida también, cuando un chef de una cultura diferente cocina y prepara la comida de una cultura no suya. En mi opinión, si se dedica sus estudios y da respecto a una cocina de una cultura no suya, se tiene el derecho de representar esta comida. Es importante que se entienda de verdad la cocina y la cultura, especialmente si la cultura se ha marginado en el pasado.

Por ejemplo, un chef famoso que cocina comida mexicana es Rick Bayless. En una entrevista con NPR, Chef Bayless, un hombre caucásico de Oklahoma, dijo que recibió criticismo a causa de su raza y su elección de cocinar. Pienso que Bayless no usó el término “racismo” correctamente porque racismo viene de un sistema y una historia de privilegio y supresión. Sin embargo, Bayless claramente demostró su dedicación fuerte a la comida mexicana cuando él explicó que vivía en México mientras estudiaba las técnicas y los platos. Él no empezó su restaurante con la esperanza que gana dinero; solo tiene la energía y pasión para la comida. Es probable que Bayless, con su privilegio blanco, tuviera más éxito porque navegó los procesos de abrir un restaurante, obtener permisos, y más. Sin embargo, es interesante que Bayless notó que los chefs latinos tienen una ventaja sobre él porque ellos pueden modificar las recetas latinas y platos tradicionales, pero Bayless necesita adherirse a las recetas si no, parece que Bayless está apropiando la comida.

En mi experiencia con la comida en esta clase, los chefs modernos explicaron sus ideas y inspiración detrás de una modificación de comida. Por eso, no siento que son ejemplos de “cultural appropriation” porque demostraron una dedicación por la comida. Por ejemplo, Wes Avila en su restaurante Guerilla Tacos modificó la tradición de un taco con las influencias de ingredientes californios y sus técnicas sofisticadas. Se puede decir que Wes Avila es mexicano, pues tiene el derecho que modificar su comida. Sin embargo, Avila creció como Roy Choi, en Los Ángeles, una ciudad global que mezcla las identidades de culturas diferentes. Roy Choi modificó la comida mexicana con sus ingredientes y estilo coreano—pero no creo que es “cultural appropriation” también porque es un producto de su fondo y explicó en artículos y entrevistas.

En otro ejemplo, los chefs no son las personas en cuestión. Para escritores de comida, necesita preocuparse de “columbusing” o “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)” (Portnoy 2016). Escritor Lucas Petersen cometió “columbusing” cuando escribió sobre elote, una comida de calle que todos los latinos ha disfrutado por años y años. Pienso que él podría haber evitado la controversia si (1) explicara la historia de elote y (2) incluyera una voz latina que podría contestar “¿por que los Anglos no han probado esta comida?” También, un no-latino puede escribir sobre la comida latina si admite su privilegio o demuestra un esfuerzo de entender la comida. Cuando mis amigos Anglos recomiendan un lugar nuevo, usualmente dan crédito a la persona que los introduce a mis amigos. Este crédito es importante porque ya no es “columbusing.”

Finalmente, en un problema que relaciona a nosotros en USC, los estudiantes de Oberlin College se quejaron cuando el Banh Mi sandwich de Vietnam no era auténtica y el pescado del sushi era de baja calidad. Hay situaciones diferentes en este asunto en contrasta de los ejemplos tradicionales de “cultural appropriation.” En las controversias de apropiación, un dueño de restaurante decidió modificar una comida para ganar dinero, pero en este caso, un “dining hall” decidió que cocinar platos para alimentar los estudiantes. Es una idea conocida que la comida en la “dining hall” es mala, pues las expectaciones no pueden estar altas. Parece que el asunto es sobre las diferencias en privilegios de los estudiantes, los cocineros, y los ingredientes disponibles.

“As de Boer wrote, “I’m a college educator. It’s the only job I ever wanted. It’s my job to take college activists seriously. And this reflects bigger problems … life is full of political injustice, but also full of just sucky and disappointing sh*t, and you need to know the difference … I have this crazy hang up: I care about student activists so much, I pay attention to whether their tactics can actually win or not.”

Conor Friedersdorf, “A Food Fight at Oberlin College” in The Atlantic

En los “dining halls” de USC, ya supe que la comida no representó la versión autentica ante de leí el articulo. Cuando comí ramen con mis amigos asiáticos, ellos siempre decían “este no es autentico” o “yo sé un lugar más mejor que especializa en ramen” pero no empezamos una manifestación sobre este asunto. No pensé que los “dining halls” me deben uno plato autentico cuando decidieron servir uno plato diferente. Yo entiendo que los “dining halls” no tienen la capacidad de cocinar uno plato tradicional con el tiempo corto o ingredientes limitados. Aunque los platos no son verdades de su cultura totalmente, para la mayoría de los estudiantes, es el primero tiempo que proba esta comida. Si le gusta, es un comienzo para un viaje para comer afuera de USC.