Is food blogging portraying racial stereotypes?

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by koukouvagia, Mar 3, 2017.

  1. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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  2. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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          First, we can get rid of the term "micro aggressions".  That's an unnecessarily negative representation of original intent. Going by the examples in the article, misinformed or incorrect would be more accurate. I'm sure those involved weren't being aggressive  or intending to be insulting. They simply didn't have their facts straight. That has never been an uncommon phenomenon. 

    Imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery. Looking for insults in what could be viewed as a compliment is getting old and tired to me. 

          The author could also have delved into a consideration of "fusion" cuisine, which this whole "issue" is part and parcel of and which, as noted on other threads on this website, has been going on for hundreds of years, long before anyone used the term fusion to describe it. Some times it is done well, other times it's horrible. Not to mention the entire question of "authentic" according to whom? Having grown up in an area replete with Italian restaurants, i've been listening to opinions on what authentic Italian is for years. 

    Overall, my tendency is to dismiss the article as simply an opportunity for the author to write about something, perhaps for it's click worthiness rather than any in depth analysis. 
     
  3. peachcreek

    peachcreek

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    If I eat my tacos with chopsticks that is my choice. Get over it. Its my food.

    Love, Peachcreek,

    Culinary Anarchist
     
  4. norcalbaker59

    norcalbaker59 Banned

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    Being the daughter of a Japanese mother who was born and raised in Japan, I can say a lot of what the article deems as misrepresentations or appropriation are actually improvisations. I live in a very diverse community by most standards. The area is a major food and wine center--heart of the Napa Valley. Yet there isn't a single Japanese, Middle Eastern, or Indian food market within an hours drive from where I live.

    If I want to cook a Japanese dish, more often than not, I'm going to improvise. My Japanese born and raised sister in law lives in the Berkeley area. Even with more readily available Japanese markets, she and my brother shop at the Korean market because it's better stocked. So she frequently improvises with Korean ingredients.

    I learned to cook a number of Filipino dishes from women from the Philippines. Most explained the dishes prepared in American were adapted to product availability. In some cases substitutes are use; when there is no suitable substitution, an ingredient may be omitted. It's not racism, it's practically and reality.

    I participated in a week long culinary workshop in Italy. The school is owned and operated by an Italian chef and food historian. Her executive chef is Chinese American. He told us not to ask any questions about Chinese food because he was an American, grew up eating American food, and was classically trained in French cuisine in France. So the article's statement on hiring by ethnicity to allow people of color to represent themselves is no means a guarantee chefs of a particular ethnic origin know a thing about their ethnic cuisine.

    There's also an underlying truth that the article does not see: Trade, exploration, colonization, and travel has taken food from culture to culture since the dawn of humanity. My Japanese ancestors did not invent ramen. The Filipino pancit and lumpia are adaptations from Chinese cuisine. The fact is, the provenance of food is not absolute, as food is the most fluid and adaptable element of culture.
     
  5. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    Excellent points everyone. One of my initial reactions is "are we making a mountain out of a molehill?" After all I think the intent of everyone who eats cuisine that they didn't culturally grow up eating is one of positivity. I eat ramen because it's freakin delicious, not because I'm trying to appropriate the Japanese culture. I eat it with chopsticks and a little fat plastic spoon because that is the utensil given me and because I can. I eat pizza with my hand because I enjoy it more than with a knife and fork. Not because I'm trying to be authentic. My mother eats sushi by rolling it around in soy sauce on all sides and stabbing it with a fork. I'm only mildly embarrassed to be seen with her lol.

    Going out to dinner for me can be and usually is a cultural experience as well as a culinary one. It is one small way in appreciating a cultural dish that should t be discounted.

    I also think that when it is said that pho is the new ramen they really mean that people are discover and appreciating this dish as much as they appreciate the previous dish they discovered.

    The only way I can connect to what the author is trying to say is with Greek food. For some reason when people find out that I'm Greek they tell me something like "you're Greek? I love spanakopita" or "I just had a gyro." Which is a little bizarre but not insulting. The only time it irritates me is when people try to reduce my culture to one dish or one ingredient. Sorry, but putting feta cheese on your burger does not make it a Greek burger. That's sort of annoying.
     
  6. norcalbaker59

    norcalbaker59 Banned

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    Koukouvagia,


    I agree dining out is in many ways a cultural experience. Authenticity in of itself doesn't garner acknowledgement and respect for a culture. Taken to extreme it can have a negative effect.

    There's a restaurant in town called Ca' Momi. It's owned and operated by Italians. Their motto is "Obsessively Authentic." They have a full menu, but they take special pride in their pizza. Their pizza is Neapolitan style, with VPN designation. Their policy is No Substitutions. This is how their "Obsessively Authentic" and No Substitutions approach translates in the dining room.

    So you want to sprinkle some grated Parmesan for your pizza? Nope, gotta ton of parmesan in the kitchen, but can't have a flake for your pizza because that's not "authentic." Want pepper flakes to spice up that pizza? Nope, they won't even stock it because it's not "authentic." Have a food allergy, so would they please leave the cheese off the dish? Nope, no substitutions cuz leaving if off wouldn't be authentic.

    So here's the kicker, their dishes aren't all authentic. Their meats and charcuterie are American made. Having eaten a lot of meats and charcuterie in Italy, I know there are distinct difference in flavor profiles between products produced in Italy, and comparable products produced here. Besides, if it ain't made in Italy, it ain't Italian.

    There's also long standing disagreement of provenance between the French and Italians on many dishes. In Italy, they insist the chefs of Catherine di Medici taught the French all the classic methods and dishes. The French dispute that claim. Some of America's most noted food historians back up the French.

    So authenticity of food is more a matter of cultural belief and identity, rather than undisputed fact. But when authenticity is taken the extreme, as it is at Ca' Momi, the pure joy of eating is lost and the experience is reduced to a harsh ethnocentric browbeating. I've eaten there twice--don't plan to return.
     
  7. french fries

    french fries

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    .... and in the same vein, putting an accent on any random vowel doesn't make you sound French! /img/vbsmilies/smilies/eek.gif

     
  8. kuan

    kuan Moderator Staff Member

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    Good grief not again.  All of us use fusion techniques, all of us borrow from other cultures.  So big deal.  Someone screwed up on a prop.  The constant barrage of detraction is turning me into a dull desensitized head nodder.  I could get on the side but why bother when everything is being shouted at us?
     
  9. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    @Norcalbaker59  that's such a good point.  I've made a point several times on the forum of saying that authenticity is overrated and overexploited.  I have about as much interest in authenticity as I do in making an apple pie "from scratch" - and since I have no desire to plant an apple tree that interest is at zero.  So I'm with you, I wouldn't go to that place again because the only thing I hate more than ultra authentic food is people telling me how to eat or not eat my food.  

    Growing up my parents owned a hot dog shop.  There were a few hot dog shops in our area and some of them were very old fashioned.  The oldest hot dog shops were old school and wouldn't even have ketchup on hand - it's considered blasphemy to put ketchup on a dog in the south.  But you know what, we had ketchup because people asked for it.  Who are we to tell people not to put ketchup on their dogs?  
     
  10. norcalbaker59

    norcalbaker59 Banned

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    koukouvagia,

    Yes, respecting people's right to eat as they please. My youngest son loved peanut butter pickle sandwiches as a kid. I cringed and gagged, but hey his choice. He liked what he liked.


    "...considered blasphemy to put ketchup on a dog in the south"

    This rule adhere to religiously...its the Eleventh Commandment...never ketchup on a hot dog: :chef:
     
  11. chrislehrer

    chrislehrer

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    I think the article touched something real, but missed the point. Yes, a lot of discourse on "ethnic" foods is subtly racist--and subtly does not mean unimportantly. But the focal point is usually the notion of authenticity.

    Consider something like Chopped. "No, this isn't good, because it's semi-Italian but in Italy they don't combine cheese and seafood, so you suck." First, some Italians do, eg in Sicily. Second, why is authenticity a criterion on Chopped?

    On shows like Top Chef, cooks who aren't lily-white are told to "dig deep" and "express your heritage," etc. Why? Someone mentioned a Chinese chef who's classically French-trained. He said not to ask him stuff about Chinese cuisine because he doesn't know. The interesting question is what's behind him saying that: it's people saying, "hey, he's of Chinese descent, he must know Chinese food." That's the problem,

    As for college students getting wound up about small things... that's what they're supposed to do. Doesn't mean they're right, but they SHOULD get excited about whatever catches their intellectual attention. That's what college is for.
     
  12. chrislehrer

    chrislehrer

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    I don't know about blasphemy, but it sure pisses off my dog!
     
  13. mike9

    mike9

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    Sorry can't help myself - /img/vbsmilies/smilies/lol.gif

     
    scott livesey likes this.
  14. scott livesey

    scott livesey

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    I think almost all food cooked here in the states is fusion because of the availability of ingredients, especially proteins.  Beef, pork and chicken is plentiful and cheap.  When in Italy and Sicily, I never saw pasta with meat sauce except on the navy base.  I was almost thrown out of a pizza place in Naples because I picked up a slice with my fingers.  The Asian food I had in Singapore was mostly vegetables with protein used to accent and flavor.  
     
  15. norcalbaker59

    norcalbaker59 Banned

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    It's interesting that we all deem pasta and tomato based sauces Italian since the ingredients indicate cross-cultural influences. The tomato is indigenous to the Andes. When archeologists found 4,000 year old noodles in China, it gave credence to the Chinese claim that they, not the Italians invented noodles.

    African Americans lay claim to collard greens, citing the culinary tradition of both cultivation and cooking greens in Africa. And indeed, there is a long tradition of eating greens in Africa. But again, the cross-cultural influences is present in the use of non-indigenous ingredients. Recipes throughout Africa include tomatoes (Andes); ginger (Indian subcontinent); cumin (Indian subcontinent).

    Mexicans insist mole is an ancient, pre-Columbian sauce, but again the ingredients tell a tale of Old World influence. Almonds (North Africa, Middle East, Indian subcontinent), cloves (Indonesia), anise (Mediterranean, Asia), Cinnamon (Sri Lanka), pork lard (Eurasia, Africa).

    Few dishes have an absolute, single cultural origin as migration, war, exploration, colonization, and slavery influenced and evolved what we, and when we it. Those who beat the authenticity drum have a shallow understanding of geography and world history. I believe understanding and respecting a culture comes in knowing and understanding issues such as how the tomato ended up in Africa and, more importantly the subsequent consequences to the people and their land after the tomato arrived.
     
  16. pete

    pete Moderator Staff Member

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    First off, I can't believe that no one has mentioned how poorly written that article was.  Secondly, the author picks out a very few, limited examples of what she sees as the problem (1 Bon Appetit article, Andrew Zimmerman, and some poor choices of use of chopsticks as props) but she fails to discuss the hundreds, if not thousands of people around the world, from all cultures that are busy writing food blogs.  As an ex-blogger I looked for inspiration in all corners of the internet and believe me there are people everywhere writing about food, it's not just white people.

    Next, while I can't disagree that there isn't any racial bias towards white people when it comes to the elite of food blogging, so she does kind of have a point there, I think most of what she implies as being racist or, at the very least racial stereotyping really is more of a lack of understanding of a certain culture.  While in the short term that might play into some people's biases, in the long run as all of us become more and more familiar with the foods of other cultures, it should inevitably follow that we will become, at least, passingly more familiar with their culture, at least in the context of food, which is a start anyways.

    She also harps on the photography in food blogs wondering why Asian dishes are often photographed on bamboo mats or banana leaves and with chop sticks.  Well it's because people like to see things in context, sure that plays into stereotypes somewhat, but most food photographs do this.  When I had my blog and I was doing an article on BBQ ribs, they weren't photographed on my best china on a lace covered table.  They were pictured on the grill, holiday cocktails-shot in front of the Christmas tree, dishes of foraged vegetables-shot in the forest.  Sure, I could have but that bowl of Udon soup in a French style tureen and set the table with vintage silverware, but then the focus wouldn't have been on the food, but on the odd setting for the dish.

    Finally, there is a lot of talk about "authenticity."  In the past, I have echoed many of the statements made here.  What is authentic?  When in a cuisine's evolution is it the "authentic" cuisine of that country?  I still believe in that. Food evolves and has always evolved as populations of people have moved from one place to another, as countries have exchanged citizens, as new places have been discovered.  But, be careful, to completely dismiss the idea of "authentic" is a slippery slope and to do so endangers our history.  It's difficult to establish a cuisine as authentic, because when are you talking about?  The cuisines of Europe were quite different from the cuisines of Europe after the New World was discovered.  The food of Japan was siginifcantly different before and after each war fought with the mainland throughout the course of history.  It's much easier to consider a dish authentic as that dish can usually be ascribed to a certain place and time period, although even that can be difficult as each family often has their own way of making it.
     
  17. norcalbaker59

    norcalbaker59 Banned

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    CLASSIC! Love that "Squint" Eastwood.
     
  18. jake t buds

    jake t buds

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    Interesting topic. I don't think the BBC article is about food at all, but something else entirely. Especially in today's current cultural/ social climate. It appears to be mostly about defending race/ ethnicity/ culture and fighting perceived negative stereotypes within the framework of nationalism, in terms of food. Cultural appropriation happens all the time, and as someone noted, has occurred since man became aware. One basic human trait that separates us from primitive beings is the ability to copy. Any other argument has to do with identity, ideology, and politics. It's a dicey subject in light of the recent elections and the social climate in Europe. 

    But in keeping with the narrative here in the thread, why isn't a feta burger greek? I don't mean to be snarky, but If you argue authenticity is overrated, why take offense at calling a burger greek with feta cheese? I personally believe in a sliding scale. There are degrees of authenticity. Some slide the scale marker to the more 'authentic' side if one is particularly proud or feels the need to defend their culture and ethnicity. Or those that defend globalism or a heterogenous, multicultural and diverse society. Or those that play it up to market a product, like the pizza joint mentioned above, or for people that are sticklers for the "rules." Others don't care much for authenticity for whatever reason. Everyone in the west thinks Thai's eat with chopsticks, and they provide them for western tourists. But Thai people don't generally eat with chopsticks, but they don't care what the world thinks. Others do care, and for reasons I mentioned above. Its about negative stereotypes/ generalizations and the propagation of them. But “negative” is subject to interpretation. 

    I tend to land more in the middle of that sliding scale. I respect authenticity and tradition, but I also appreciate thinking outside of the box - or inside someone else's box - and bring it into my own sphere. Sticking to only authentic cuisine misses opportunities for something new and different. This much has been proven. I don't remember who said this : you need to learn the rules before breaking them. But that's just my own personal philosophy. 

    And finally,  I don't think ketchup should be put on anything. It's a vile, characterless, engineered substance to flatten all flavor profiles, imo. I've read reports from food scientists that suggest they purposefully balance the five flavors(sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami) equally in order to mask other flavors. This is why children smother anything and everything they don't like with ketchup. I'm in the minority, I know. But I’m ok with you putting ketchup on your Korean dumplings if you so desire.

    /end rant. 
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2017
  19. norcalbaker59

    norcalbaker59 Banned

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    Pete,
    You make good points, especially about context. I own standard dinnerware, fine china, as well as an array of Japanese tableware. I only use my Japanese tableware for Japanese food. The exception is rice--I eat rice from any dish:). I never thought about it before, but my choice of utensils and tableware is a reflection of my upbringing, of how I see myself. I'm not stereotyping when I use a Japanese bowl for miso soup, I'm doing what my mother taught me about serving and eating miso soup.

    If a blogger put udon in a French porcelain tureen, the self-appointed authenticity police would have a meltdown. So in many ways, there's no way to do the right thing. The article criticized Caucasian bloggers for not doing more research (which is a form of authentication) before posting an article. But there's a lot of inaccurate information out there. And cultural pride often makes us reluctant to acknowledge the genesis of our traditions.

    My mother is from an area in Japan that is famous for its ceramics. Many pieces from the area are in museums and private collections. My grandfather was a collector. My mother was quite proud of the ceramics. So I was surprised to learn from my Japanese cousins their ceramic traditions are in fact rooted in Korean ceramics. My mother never uttered a word about the Korean connection. Likewise, when I wouldn't shut up about how great yakiniku is, my then Japanese boyfriend said, "you know we stole it from the Koreans, right?" Authenticity is a thousand shades of gray. So I always take a step back when people start talking about cultural appropriation, misrepresentation, and authenticity.

    Not to say racism isnt real--it is certainly real. But I'm careful about the lense I use to view the world. My dad is Caucasian; my mom Japanese. I look like my dad. My brother, who looks like my mom, once told me I was lucky that I "pass" as white. He said "passing" saves me from the brunt of racism that he endures. But the flip side of "passing" is people say and demonstrate racist things in front of me because they assume I'm Caucasian, so they dont filter their thoughts in the same way that they might if they were speaking to my brother. I'm very careful not to systematically assume an off-colored remark or action is rooted in racism. Frequently, it's just a lack of understanding of how a comment or action could be interpreted by others. Understanding intention has to be the first step. I have utter stupid insensitive things. I hope people are gracious enough to extend me an opportunity to both own and redress my faux pas.
     
  20. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    I don't mind if someone puts feta on their burger.  I think it's a great idea.  But to put feta on a burger and then call it a greek burger makes my eyes roll.  Geez thanks for simplifying what makes greek food greek.  Must be the feta.  That's the problem with appropriation - you take something that is a benign staple in another culture and put it into a context that makes sense to you.  It is harmelss, but it is also a stereotype and I don't like being stereotyped.  I don't even like feta cheese. A burger with feta makes it no more greek than putting soy sauce on my pasta makes it chinese food.  Not all food has to be pinned into an ethnic category, especially if just one ingredient from a culture outside your own is in use.  Sometimes I really like putting soy sauce on my corn on the cob, I wouldn't say I was making asian corn.  Sometimes I dip my fries in mayo, that doesn't mean I'm Belgian.