Melting Pot: Ethnic Cuisine Culturally Appropriated or Appreciated?

 

By: Natalie Cheung

This podcast will investigate the melting pots within our countries and kitchens, question the boundaries of cultural appropriation, and examine the symbolic significance of food in our identities.

Episode Pitch

Can food be seen as a political weapon? Food as a builder for social construct? Food as a means for segregation and isolation? Perhaps, food as an extension of our identities? Have you ever considered the possibility of food being an object for racism? In North America, globalization has opened gateways to widen the exposure of ethnic foods. As food for thought, we may not think much about what we actually eat. Food is a personal matter, yet food choices affect everyone around us, including the representations of ourselves. As culinary historian, Massimo Montanari says, the cultivation, preparation, consumption and distribution of food are all acts of culture. As we share our food, we are simultaneously sharing parts of our identities and preserving our cultural pride. What happens when the wholesomeness of food is taken away and a recipe’s ethnic origin becomes socially objectified? In the Toronto Star article, “Please Don’t Appropriate My Burrito,” columnist Vinay Menon investigates cultural appropriation based the burrito cart shutdown controversy in Portland, Oregon. Two American owners of Kooks Burritos, were forced to close their business amid raging accusations of racism, exploitation and cultural appropriation.  Menon argues that although he has a neutral stance on the situation, weaponizing a burrito has thrown the debate off tangent. Menon says that the tolerance for cultural appropriation in food has become so restricted that we might as well say that all master chefs are committing crimes by travelling the world for food inspiration, all fusion restaurants should be taken down for profiting off another culture, and that all supply chains and production processes should be inspected for authenticity. Menon argues that food is dynamic and that all ethnic cuisine has been influenced by a hybrid of cultures at some point in time. Food should be seen as a culturally unifying factor, and not an object of crime against humanity.  

My name is Natalie Cheung and on this episode, Melting Pot: Culturally Appropriated or Appreciated Cuisine, I will tackle both sides of Menon’s argument on the cultural appropriation of food. How much do we capitalize watered downed, society friendly versions of the ethnic minorities’ recipes? Have chefs approached ethnic cuisine with open respect or have they completely butchered centuries’ worth of tradition to cater to a few months’ worth of culinary trends?  I will discuss the melting pots within our countries and kitchens, question the boundaries of cultural appropriation, and examine the symbolic significance of food in our identities in several perspectives.

Works Cited

Menon, Vinay. “Please Don't Appropriate My Burrito: Menon.” Thestar.com, The Toronto Star, 27 May 2017, www.thestar.com/entertainment/2017/05/27/please-dont-appropriate-my-burrito-menon.html.

Montanari, Massimo. Food Is Culture, Columbia University Press, 2006. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/york/detail.action?docID=908243

 

Bibliography

“Consolidated Federal Laws of Canada, Canadian Multiculturalism Act.” Legislative Services Branch, Justice Laws Website, Government of Canada, 1 Feb. 2018, laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-18.7/page-1.html#h-3

This is the Canadian Multiculturalism Act in Canada’s Justice Laws Website. The act is described as “an act for the preservation and enhancement of multiculturalism in Canada”(“Consolidated…”). This is a scholarly source. According to the preamble, there are several acts that are against discriminatory behaviour. It most importantly enforces status, privilege, and power equality across all ethnicities and backgrounds regardless of origin. All persons that belong to ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities should not be denied the right to practice their culture, religion and language under the Canadian law. The Multiculturalism Policy of Canada was implemented by the Government of Canada to recognize and promote multiculturalism, preserve multicultural heritage and language, enhance the understanding of diverse communities, eliminate cultural barriers and stigmatization, and advance and foster the appreciation and evolution of multiculturalism in Canada. This podcast is a good source of knowledge for any listener worldwide, but there are many aspects in which Canadian listeners will relate to as it is stationed in Canada. There will be several cases in discussion that are based in Canada. Understanding the Canadian multiculturalism laws is essential in determining the political and social landscape that shapes Canadian food culture. Perhaps understanding the laws that structure our society may further enhance our understanding on the acts of discrimination and prejudice. In investigating cultural appropriation, applying the laws to the case may provide a new perspective as to deciding what constitutes as cultural appropriation or appreciation.

Cwiertka, Katarzyna J.. Modern Japanese Cuisine : Food, Power and National Identity, Reaktion Books, Limited, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/york/detail.action?docID=449404.

Dr. Katarzyna J. Cwiertka is the Chair of Modern Japan Studies at Leiden University and is a recognized expert on food history and culture of Japan and Korea. In this scholarly source, Cwiertka illustrates her research on food as a catalyst for social change, as a representation of the Japanese identity, and as consequences from Japanese colonialism and imperialism. With the growing rise of popularity of Japan cuisine, Cwiertka explores its major contributions in the evolution of Western gastronomy. Her research consists of comparisons between early and modern Japanese cuisine and the changes that shaped Japan’s culinary history and culture. It examines the generalized Western adaptations of Japanese food (e.g. California roll) and the shifts and replacements in traditional Japanese diet and practices as a result of modern imperialism. The source provides detailed research of Japanese military, home and urban culinary practices that will create a new perspective in this podcast. Japanese cuisine plays a significant role in today’s culinary and fusion trends, all prominent topics of this episode. Its booming presence in urban gastronomy in North America will certainly be a fascinating investigation in terms of reflecting the Japanese identity and food origins, and establishing issues on social stigma and the Japanese marginalized community in Western society.

Edmiston, Jake. “The Dark Side of Poutine: Canada Taking Credit for Quebec Dish Amounts to Cultural Appropriation, Academic Says.” National Post, 29 May 2017, nationalpost.com/news/canada/the-dark-side-of-poutine-canada-taking-credit-for-quebec-dish-amounts-to-cultural-appropriation-academic-says.

“The dark side of poutine: Canada taking credit for Quebec dish amounts to cultural appropriation, academic says” is a National Post article written by Jake Edmiston covering Nicolas Fabien-Ouellet’s “Poutine Dynamics” graduate paper. This popular source covers Fabien-Ouellet’s opinion on poutine’s status in Canadian culture. Fabien-Ouellet, a Montreal-born graduate, will be presenting his paper, “Poutine Dynamics” at the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at Ryerson University. The graduate exposes “how the Canadian culinary identity is constructed and construed by means of cultural appropriation processes”(Edmiston). He claims that while eating, cooking or adapting poutine is not cultural appropriation, the status of the poutine is culturally appropriated by Canada. He insists that poutine is Québécois, and its popularity has been Canadianized and appropriated into Canadian food culture. “’The dish should be, ideally, labelled explicitly as a Québécois dish,’ Fabien-Ouellet writes, ‘and not a Canadian one to further underscore the cultural context to which it actually belongs’”(Edmiston). Fabien-Ouellet will receive the Canadian Association for Food Studies’ Student Paper Award at the Congress. Poutine is seen as a statement cultural dish in Canada that is well talked about. Edmiston’s article on Fabien-Ouellet’s paper develops a unique point of view of Canadian food culture as well as the composition of Canadian identity.

Hui, Ann. “Whose Food Is It, Anyway? How Chefs Can Approach 'Ethnic' Cuisine Respectfully.” The Globe and Mail, The Globe and Mail, 12 Nov. 2017, www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/whose-food-is-itanyway/article36439158/.

National food reporter Ann Hui investigates the cultural authenticity of food and how to respectfully approach ethnic cuisine in an in-depth article for The Globe and Mail Toronto. Hui provides an extensive account of several ethnic cuisine restaurants in Toronto. In this popular source, she interviews the head chefs and questions their opinions on the awareness of racial and cultural differences and the effects of ethnic privilege and struggle. Amid the sensitivity towards cultural learning, borrowing and sharing, the chefs highlight the importance of educating themselves to avoid cultural appropriation and to “remember where it came from.” Hui discusses the differences between “ethnic” and “exotic” foods, the stigma that surrounds certain cultural cuisines, and the offences of “borrowing” from marginalized communities. Does food really belong to anyone? Or has "ambassadorship" become blurred with exploitation? This detailed article provides a local view on cultural appropriation in cuisine with a variety of primary perspectives influential to this podcast.

“Immigration and Ethnocultural Diversity: Key Results from the 2016 Census.” Government of Canada, Statistics Canada, Government of Canada, 1 Nov. 2017, www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/171025/dq171025b-eng.htm.

Without doubt, immigrants play a crucial role in developing Canada’s multicultural social, economic and linguistic landscape. This scholarly source is the 2016 consensus from Statistics Canada released at the end of 2017 and is an essential primary source in research. It is thorough in profiling and representing all ethnicities in the Canadian population with concise descriptions, clear charts and diagrams. The consensus covers a multitude of topics relating to Canada and its population, but the immigration and ethnocultural diversity category is the most relevant to this podcast. The statistics in the consensus provides the numbers on diversity in Canada from an economical and geographical point of view and will be relevant in the podcast when hard facts are needed. Relevant topics include statistics on the ethnic and linguistic cultures, origins, locations of residence and the age groups that are representative of the immigrants and permanent residents living in Canada. This source will be useful when the podcast touches on the ethnocultural aspects of food identity and the origins of cultural cuisine in Canada.

Menon, Vinay. “Please Don't Appropriate My Burrito: Menon.” Thestar.com, The Toronto Star, 27 May 2017, www.thestar.com/entertainment/2017/05/27/please-dont-appropriate-my-burrito-menon.html.

Are we what we eat? In the Toronto Star article, columnist Vinay Menon approaches the highly sensitive topic of cultural appropriation surrounding ethnic cuisine. In this popular source, Menon’s opinion is based off the Kooks Burritos controversy in Portland, Oregon. The two owners were accused of having strong opinions on racism and exploitation during an interview concerning their trip to Mexico that “inspired” their burrito recipes. Their burrito cart, Kooks Burritos, was promptly shut down after multiple headlines remarking their disrespect, insensitivity and ignorance of committing the crime of culturally appropriating Mexican cuisine. Menon compares the case to many inconsistencies, such as Taco Bell’s global expansion, cultural hybridization and the rise of fusion cuisine (a.k.a. the growing empires of the sushi burrito and Chipotle’s Burrito Bowl). He argues with irony that every master chef and fusion restaurant must be taken down because travelling the world to find food inspiration “now qualifies as a crime against humanity.” Menon states that all cuisine is dynamic and has “benefited from regional cross-pollination at some point in history.” He believes that something as simple as food should be culturally unifying, and should not be viewed within such narrow cultural lanes that seems more racist than its intention.

Menon’s witty and engaging voice provides a fascinating outlook and opinion on the widely debated topic on the cultural appropriation of food. Inspired by his article, this podcast will question the fluidity of what constitutes as appropriation and appreciation.

Montanari, Massimo. Food Is Culture, Columbia University Press, 2006. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/york/detail.action?docID=908243.

Food is Culture is a book tastefully written by distinguished professor of food history, Massimo Montanari and published with Columbia University Press. This scholarly primary source provides a thorough overview of food culture and identity that is necessary knowledge to produce this podcast. The book’s underlying premise is that food is culture. Specific food choices by a community determines, and is determined, by society, environment and economics.  Montanari argues that the processes of preparing, eating, cultivating and sharing food are all acts of culture. He shares his musings as a culinary historian through an enriching series of reflections, narratives and analyses. The book includes chapters on the creation of one’s own food, the invention of cuisine, the pleasure and duty of food choice, and food as linguistic, social, political and religious identity. The book ends with a statement on the evolution of food culture and its history and origins. His musings contain the symbolic significance of certain foods, the distinctive powers of traditionally selected foods, the attitudes towards types of food, the relation between cuisine and class, and the interpretation and transformation of food with civilization. The culturally rich history of food that is found in this book is an ideal source for composing vignettes based on culture and representation, and will add insight on the derivation of ethnic food culture and cultural appropriation.

“Multiculturalism.” Canada.ca, Government of Canada, 10 Dec. 2017, www.canada.ca/en/services/culture/canadian-identity-society/multiculturalism.html.

Canada’s government website has a rich archive of publications pertaining to Canada’s identity and society. The government website provides plenty of information for newcomers as well as citizens, and encourages the preservation of ethnic culture and cultural pride. There are numerous sources that educate Canadians on historical figures and events that played a key role for multiculturalism in Canada. The most requested sources are related to Black History Month, Asian Heritage Month and the Holocaust. The Canadian government uses a great amount of effort to guarantee that immigrants are given a sense of place in the new country. Through numerous funding programs, heritage campaigns and endeavours to educate citizens, Canada is a country that encourages preservation and integration of multiculturalism, “ensuring that all citizens keep their identities, take pride in their ancestry and have a sense of belonging” (“Multiculturalism…”). The publications relating to the various ethnicities that make up Canada’s cultural mosaic are important scholarly sources for this podcast. It represents Canada’s values and expectations from their society as a whole. The fact that multiculturalism is highly valued and prevalent in Canada plays a large role in the food landscape in the podcast’s stationed city. Toronto, one of the most multicultural cities in the world, is home to one of the most diverse and innovative cuisine cultures. Taking information from this source will certainly focus my topic on an area that Canadian listeners can relate to. I hope to tackle ethnic cuisine in Toronto as well as the rise of fusion and hybrid food phenomena.

Tucker, Rebecca. “In Food Culture, Is Appropriation Actually Possible?” Bay Street Bull Magazine: Luxury Business and Lifestyle, www.baystbull.com/food-drink/in-food-culture-is-appropriation-actually-possible.

This popular source is written by Rebecca Turner on the Bay Street Bull blog. Bay Street Bull is a Toronto-based business and lifestyle publication for professionals that covers the latest topics on food, culture, business, fashion and technology. In the article, “In Food Culture, Is Appropriation Actually Possible?” Turner explores the acts of borrowing and swapping recipes in Canada. She references Fabien-Ouellet’s “Poutine Dynamics,” the Kooks Burrito case, trend-focused foods and examples pulled from hybrid cuisine and questionable legitimate ethnic restaurants. She questions the authenticity of fusion cuisine, such as sushi burritos and butter chicken perogies, the free exchange of ideas that lead to cooking innovation and the economics and politics behind food creation. Turner interviews several prominent North American-based ethnic cuisine chefs, gourmands, bloggers, professors and podcasters on their views of cultural appropriation and minority food identity. Not only is this article straightforward and outlines the opinions questioning food appropriation, Turner shows a considerate amount of research that supports her article. Her references will be good sources for this podcast, and she writes with a Canadian point of view. One interesting interviewee is Dan Pashman, the host of the American podcast, “The Sporkful.” The podcast focuses on food politics, with an early series named, “Other People’s Food,” which focused on cultural appropriation in restaurant kitchens. Pashman’s statements show his in-depth knowledge of the political food industry that will give an interesting American perspective to this podcast.

Valentim, Rodolfo. Portuguese Food in Toronto: Exploring the Relationship between Food Practices and Ethnic Identification, York University (Canada), Ann Arbor, 2003, Dissertations & Theses @ York University; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global, http://ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/305287647?accountid=15182.

This scholarly source is a dissertation thesis submitted to York University’s Graduate Program in Social Anthropology by Rodolfo Valentim. Valentim’s thesis “explores the relationship between food and ethnic identity; that is, the role of food in the process of defining an ethnic identity” (Valentim). Specifically, he focuses on the food practices of the Portuguese immigrant community in Toronto. Valentim’s thesis study answers the core question, “What is the role of food in maintaining Portuguese ethnic identity in Toronto” (Valentim), and evaluates the food practices and establishments as a creator of the Portuguese identity in Toronto. The variety of food practices are unique and its differences are indicators of the diversity within ethnic groups. Valentim displays extensive research on the Portuguese immigrant community’s culinary practices that form their sense of self, and are representative of their cultural heritage. When living in a new land, the preparation and consumption of food gives them a sense of mental and physical connection to their homeland. Food has symbolic qualities of belonging, and different foods allow the association with different groups. Finally, Valentim examines two Portuguese ethnic restaurants in Canada and its contribution to the presence of the Portuguese identity and cultural validity in Toronto. As one of the visual minority groups in Canada, the Portuguese immigrant community is an interesting perspective to add into the podcast. Especially with this source being based in Toronto, Canada, it focuses on an area that is relevant to the audience and creator. This thesis will certainly be useful as it examines a major theme in the podcast: the ethnic minority’s culinary practices and its relation to cultural identity.