By: Camille Stafford
“Food is one of the purest and most intimate forms of culture”– Brad Japhe (Munchies, 2017)
Our world has become so interconnected and cultures are constantly being diffused and shared as a result of globalization. I believe that people should have the opportunity to represent the food of a culture or country. Restricting the opportunity to cook food from a certain region based on race and heritage is limiting the potential of an individual and robbing society of a new culinary perspective. It creates divisions in a world that is becoming increasingly codependent. It is possible for a chef to prepare food and learn from a culture that is different than their own. For example, Ricardo Zárate and Rick Bayless are both extremely successful chefs creating incredible food. Zárate trained in England under a Japanese sushi chef and is responsible for creating dishes that incorporate his native Peruvian heritage with his Japanese style training. Bayless, is a white American from Oklahoma who studied and traveled extensively in Mexico learning the cuisine to create and celebrate what he considered to be “the greatest cuisine on the planet.”
First – Ricado Zárate….Second – Rick Bayless…..Third – Wes Aliva
The art of cooking is a form of creative expression making it difficult to label someone’s individual perspective as appropriative. For example, is Wes Avila’s modern, “Angelino” twist on the traditional taco an insult to Mexican culture or is it a young chef’s opportunistic ingenuity? The answer to this question depends on the perspective of the reader and whether or not they see they world as glass half full or half empty. The perspective of half full can see the opportunity in chefs from different backgrounds preparing different foods and “translating” food to expand culinary horizons. Avila has translated the meaning of the taco from his personal Angelino perspective creating a unique and popular style of food. Whereas, the glass half empty perspective has difficult seeing past traditional food being prepared by people of that ethnicity and when translated, the food loses its authenticity.
Personally, it does not matter who is making the food. Good food is good food is good food. In my hometown there is a deli, which is generally an establishment associated with American or Jewish families that is owned by an Asian couple. They serve traditional “deli food” such as cold cuts, egg and tuna salads, sandwiches, and in addition, they have more traditional Asian food options such as teriyaki chicken that can be added or substituted with other menu items. Their ability to make an excellent tuna salad sandwich is based on their ability to include ingredients in the proper ratio, not how American they are.
This manner of thinking also translated into my perception of dining hall food at USC. My expectations were relatively low considered it is a dining hall that is feeding an extremely large student population. To my surprise it included a variety of options. Being from an Italian family I grew up with the staples of homemade sauces, meatball, and pasta, which were all offered as options at the USC dining halls. With that said, the quality and overall taste of the food was subpar compared to my mothers food, nonetheless I appreciated the effort the USC dining hall staff put forth to make sure students of different backgrounds were accounted for. For this reason after reading the Atlantic article about students complaint with their ethnic food options, I’m sympathetic, however it is unfair to discredit the effort of the staff and university to try and provide for their students.
One staff member at Oberlin was quote saying, “I had never even heard or seen a chickpea before I started working here,” but she learned about the food because of her job. Without anything more than a chickpea, this staff member learned something about a different culture. Whether consciously or subconsciously, this worker made a small connection to another culture through food. Food as a global commodity is a powerful unifier. Rather than criticize the inappropriate use of an ingredient, see it as an opportunity to teach other and share a piece of the world. Whether or not dining halls are successful in their efforts to provide ethnic food is dependent on many factors and students should continue to voice their opinions with the understanding that universities are operating with a budget not dedicated entirely to food.
“I had never even heard or seen a chickpea before I started working here”Member of the Oberlin College Staff
The practice of different food reaching an increasingly global market is present in restaurants all across Los Angeles. For example, Grand Central Market in DTLA is home to a variety of ethnic and traditional American food. A new fruit stand is expected to open in Grand Central Market that is an adaptation of the tradition fruit stands seen on the corner of many streets in Los Angeles. This particular booth may be subject to “columbusing” because of the amount of media and attention that is already centered around the extremely popular market. The attention is all of sudden being paid to a concept that has been a commonplace of Los Angeles street food for decades. It is appropriated because street vendors are generally unacknowledged or less respected as a result of their location. The new fruit stand has the potential to depreciate the value of fruit sold on the street corner because it will be catering to a majority of white patrons. With that being said, I think the concept of food appropriation is about the mindset of the consumer. I choose to say that there is a lot I have to learn about other culture’s customs, practices, idea, etc. and I accept it as a challenge to grow as a persona and contribute to our global society.