People of Portland: The Council of Making Every Damned Thing a Problem has come up with a list of restaurants to hate. As the Facebook post says:
These white-owned businesses hamper the ability for POC [people of color] to run successful businesses of their own (cooking their own cuisines) by either consuming market share with their attempt at authenticity or by modifying foods to market to white palates.
At least the list makers say it’s not about cooking for yourself at home, so don’t worry that you’re a bad person if you’re German and celebrate Taco Tuesday.
As one article cited in the post put it:
“When you patronize white-owned restaurants whose food comes from a separate culture, you allow money to be taken from them, thus making room for the oppression of that culture, and allowing the culture to be reduced to a food. You can eat food from as many cultures as you like — ”
Thanks! And some say these people are control freaks.
“ — but ignoring their origins and significance makes you an unappreciative, appropriative vulture.”
In the early 1920s, Minneapolis was a leading center of candy-bar production and invention; the “Minneapolis nougat,” a creamy whip, made candy history. The Milky Way was invented in Minneapolis in 1923.
You know the author of the post thinks about that every time she eats one. She adds: “Don’t use a culture for their food and then support a presidential candidate that wants them out of the country.”
If you see someone in a MAGA hat buying hummus, slap it right out of his hands.
The peculiar thing about “cultural appropriation” is the one-way direction of the charge. If you’re a white woman from Kansas serving Thai–Peruvian fusion cuisine, you’re a vulture. If you’re a Thai person dressed like a Peruvian businessperson — that is, in business garb whose style originated in Europe — no one cares a jot. There’s no horrified intake of breath when someone from Nigeria wears a suit and tie instead of traditional African dress, however that’s defined.
Why? Well, it’s because of historical power imbalances and colonialism’s imbalanced power over history. Because of the cultural genocide we call “assimilation.” But mostly because universities grant degrees to people who specialize in this nonsense. They have to do something with all that rage sloshing around in their noggin, and getting people angry at menus fills the time nicely.
This might be an example of something to be angry about: There’s a thing today called “Detroit pizza.” It’s rectangular instead of round. The crust is thick, but crispy on the bottom. Really, Detroit? Are you unaware that pizza has been rectangular in Italy for, like, forever? All the women who worked in trattorias and had no access to birth control because of the pope and couldn’t invent penicillin because they had no personal autonomy, they don’t count? They don’t exist to you?
Why are we not making lists of pizza places in Detroit that disappear the stories of Italian women who crushed those tomatoes by hand the way their mothers did, the bowl red with juice and pulp like a metaphor for their own broken ripeness, grown only to be consumed by the white incisors of the patriarchy?
How can this possibly be okay in 2017? The only people who should be making pizza are stout women in simple dresses with faint moustaches. It should be served only in places where the table has a wine bottle impaled with a candle sitting on a checkered tablecloth, and a fat man with a moist face should be weeping out an aria from Cavalleria rusticana in the corner with a squeeze box.
Speaking of Minneapolis: GQ recently praised a pizzeria in the Mill City because it used Korean beef. I know, I know: Burn. It. Down. For one thing, unless actual genuine Koreans are making that beef while humming genuine Korean folk songs and wearing the traditional garb of the Korean butcher, then we are actually, literally talking about white people thinking they can combine Asian and Italian culture without reinforcing the narrative that Marco Polo “discovered” China.
That’s one way to write the story. Here’s another: “In Minneapolis, home of Mary Tyler Moore, you might be surprised to find yourself having a Somali waiter serve you galbi-influenced pizza with a side of Yucatán-inspired hot sauce for dipping.”
Those would be the remarks of a sane person.
Of course culture is more than food. Of course someone who grew up in a culture that had a certain set of staple dishes has with the tastes and smells of the food a relationship that’s different from that of someone who gummed down Tater Tot Hotdish growing up and discovered curry when he moved to a bigger city.
That goes without saying. But nothing goes without saying these days; it must be said, so someone can take offense.
Many of the products of Western civ — technology, medicine, fashion, music — are regarded as “some stuff that happened somehow,” divorced from the cultures that produced them. Beethoven, antibiotics, and Bluetooth aren’t problematic because the perpetually horrible people don’t want to make access to these things fraught with flaming spiky moral quandaries. But admitting the universal application of Western civ’s products and ideas would diminish their efforts to portray the West’s sins as unique, unforgivable, and perpetually relevant.
America is a hot dog with harissa relish and a brioche bun and sriracha chips on the side with some kimchi slaw, washed down with a German beer, enjoyed in a restaurant in an old bank building in the Roman style. It’s one thing to be a glorious synthesis of cultures, but America adds something else.
America is delicious.
– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.