Culinary Misappropriation

by Buck Reed

In this PC-dominated world that we are being drawn into like a fly into a spider web, we are soon going to be devoured by our own selves. Like a snake eating its own tail, we will soon find our culinary diversity disappearing. It’s not so much how it began, but the scary part is where it will end?

Take the Portland, Oregon, controversy. Two ladies went to Mexico and picked the brains of almost every person in Puerto Nuevo who had ever made or even eaten a burrito to crack the code of making an authentic dish. Armed with this knowledge, they went home and spent money on building a restaurant and spent time making their recipes good enough to produce a faithful rendition of this wonderful Mexican dish. They found some success and took a great deal of joy and pride in what they were serving. However, it was pointed out that the ladies were Caucasian and did not have the cultural right to make money from the traditions of another culture. Forget that they were making wonderful food or that they spent all that time educating themselves on a tortilla wrapped around wonderful ingredients and served with sauces. They could very well be offending the very people they are trying to emulate. Right now, you can find a list on Google of restaurants located in Portland that serve ethnic foods that are owned by white people.

We are not talking Taco Bell here, which any Mexican will tell you is not authentic Mexican food. Hard shell tacos are not found on menus in their country, and chimichangas and nachos are a no-go as well. It’s great late-night food after a night of drinking, but do not call it Mexican food.

Chinese restaurants are guilty of Americanization as well. General Tsao was a real person who brutally brought down a revolution in ancient China for the emperor, but his chicken dish is a dish made in America for Americans. And don’t go to Beijing looking for chop suey; you might do better to look in New York, where it is said to have been created. Even in England, the land of spotted dick, the national dish is Chinese, with Indian bringing up a very close second.  

There are more than a few Caucasian chefs who are making a mark by serving authentic Mexican dishes, even one named Chef of the Year, who is being called out for misappropriation.  Who is making what and profiting from it should not be the point. In the big picture, we should be rating a restaurant by whether the food and service is good. I believe that a restaurant should be a welcoming place and should give good service to everyone, even people you do not agree with politically. Making lists that assign blame that may or may not exist sound a bit Draconian to me. And the thought that a popular establishment that is someone’s favorite might close seems a bit sad to me.

Share →