Trendiness Is No Excuse For The Cultural Appropriation Of Food

I will be the first to tell you I am a complete foodie. There’s almost nothing I won’t try, and with new restaurants and food trucks popping up all over America, there is no shortage of interesting options to try.

However, these dishes are not new at all. These dishes have long been enjoyed by the cultures that  invented or discovered them, they existed before they became trendy, and, while outside cultures can appreciate these dishes, they should not be ignorant or exploitative by practicing cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is defined as people from a dominant culture taking elements of culture from a marginalized group without caring about how that affects the marginalized group. Typically, when we talk about cultural appropriation or (debate with people who are sure it’s not a thing—it is, sorry!), we talk about hairstyles and fashion. For example, a magazine that insists a hairstyle worn by people of color is new and trendy after it is adopted by a white pop star. Or a person who wears a culturally significant Native American item of clothing as a fashion statement for the cover of a magazine.

However, cultural appropriation can also exist on your dinner plate. The other day, I noticed that my local meat market, which is owned and mostly patronized by suburban white people, had started selling oxtails. Oxtails are thought to be one of the cheapest parts of the animals, typically bought by Black/African American families who couldn’t afford more expensive cuts of meat. Now, oxtails have become trendy and are therefore sold at a premium. Why is this such a bad thing? Because when a food becomes trendy, the price goes up, and this ultimately puts a bigger strain on food-insecure communities, which are mostly made up of people of color.

Appropriating food allows people of privilege to enjoy parts of another culture without having to think about the real people who suffer as a consequence. In Craving the Other: One Woman’s Beef with Cultural Appropriation and Cuisine, author Soleil Ho said, “When you divorce a food from its place and time, you can ignore global civil unrest and natural disasters (see: Zagat declaring Pinoy cuisine the “next great Asian food trend” this past fall as deadly floods swept through the Philippines), knowing as you do that the world’s cultural products will always find safe harbor in your precious, precious mouth.”

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family having dinner together

Being aware of cultural appropriation doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy foods from other cultures, but there is no reason why people from said culture can no longer afford to enjoy their foods because it now costs $40 per plate at some restaurant owned by a crap-ton of hipster dudes in beanies, Buddy Holly glasses and beards. Trend is no excuse to contribute to food deserts, or to deny farmers an opportunity for fair trade. For example, singer Jason Mraz owns a 5-acre grove where he grows and supplies organic avocados to Chipotle restaurants in San Diego county, while that is great for Mraz, it would be more ethical for Chipotle to a receive its avocados through Equal Exchange and their partnership with a small group of avocado farmers in Michoacan, Mexico, which allows the farmers to be paid for their product.

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 be reduced to a food. You can eat food from as many cultures as you like, but ignoring their origins and significance makes you an unappreciative, appropriative vulture. Don’t use a culture for their food and then support a presidential candidate that wants them out of the country. When you accept the food of a culture, you accept the people and the impact of exploiting that culture has on them.

View Comments (24)
  • It’s so sad to see that we have racist who wish to destroy the melting pot of America. Oxtail dishes have been around since ancient times from the Romans to the Chinese, but I guess promoting racial hatred is just too good to pass up.

  • I guess black people had better stop eating fried chicken, watermelon, corn bread and anything else they’ve appropriated from other cultures.

    Come on. Ain’t nothing original. I had a chick berate my best friend in public for being a white guy with dreadlocks. Didn’t have the heart to tell her she and her people culturally appropriated dreadlocks from the ancient Greeks. I don’t care and I certainly wouldn’t give her static about it. It is amusing that some people think some food “belongs” to them. No, I bought the ingredients and I’m doing the cooking. If my version of coxinhas is different from yours, well, I never tasted two coxinhas that were alike in all of Brazil. I can make a coxinha if I bloody well please, and your being offended is just salty tears to spice up the dish. Please. Whine more.

    • Can you imagine how backwards and primitive the world would be if ancient peoples had not taken the best ideas from the next tribe and used them? Appropriation and reinvention is the heart of most advances in history. I suspect these Marxist twits who spout these childish ideas have never read a history book.

  • What the hell are you talking about? Do you have any idea how much crap like this makes white people hate you?

  • Obviously some white supremacists got a hold of that “Portland Appropriated Restaurants” Google Doc and decided to hash out their feelings on all the blog posts listed as resources. Dang trollers exist all over the internet these days… thanks for the work on this piece, Angel! Very informative, and brings a new perspective to the discussion. It’s important to be conscious of where your money goes, and you’ve done a great job of showing just how damaging white supremacy can be on immigrant and POC farmers.

    • POC farmers? Who the f**k cares
      Yes, many are motivated by the Portland incident to tell the fools like you there is no such thing a cultural appropriation.

    • The suggestion that destroying a business because of the race of the owners is wrong, is not trolling. Angel is a horrible racist.

    • So as a practicing white person, if i spend my money in restaurants that don’t serve ethnic food there is no cultural appropriation and restaurant owners who are also people of color are not harmed when i don’t eat in their restaurant?

      What i really find perplexing is that the google doc you mention asserts that there are almost 50% more white restaurant owners than people of color and implies that’s a bad thing. Great if true because that means a MAXIMUM of 60% white to 40% people of color owned restaurants. Great because the demographic profile of Portland that i googled shows over 80% white so people of color are doing well from a share of market standpoint. Math doesn’t lie.

      Hey, what if the owner of an ethnic restaurant is married to a white person? do i only eat there half as often as i would otherwise? Food for thought…

      Full Disclosure: i am married to a Hispanic American and we adopted two infants of Mexican ancestry. When we are asked about our ethnicity, we reply “American” because we are. It’s a melting pot don’t you know! No hate here, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The sharing of different viewpoints is strongly encouraged, however, regardless of the color of your skin.

  • No such thing as culinary cultural appropriation, this is a made up complaint. If you can not patent, copyright or trademark it, then whatever it is is free use for all. Mexican don’t own burritos and Italians don’t own pizza.

  • wow talk about whites being racisist. this so called writer sure skates around the real topic….its only rasist if your white i guess

    • I’ve heard well-educated people express the viewpoint that only the people in the majority can be racist. Minorities or people not in power are limited to the term “bigot” only.

      Fortunately in California, where i live, there are now more Hispanic Americans than anglos, so i can no longer be racist! Woo Hoo!

  • I’m just curious. Who decides what is culturally appropriate? How far back do you take cultural roots? Only people of Mesoamerican Ancestry can have Maze, Potatoes, Peppers, Avacados, Cocao, Vanilla, Tomatoes, etc… This would mean the individuals with European, Asian, and African Ancestry cannot use these foods. As these foods are all new world (North & South Americas) foods this means that people who enjoy these things in other cultures should immediately stop using them?

  • In my personal experience, I was first introduced to certain ethnic dishes in cafes and restaurant where I was already a customer, and if I liked the “appropriated” food I might later become a customer at the authentic places to enjoy the real thing. So, this appropriation can work both ways, introducing new customers to frequent these family run businesses. Also, certain ethnic groups don’t have any businesses near my home, and so I appreciate that I can pick up a sushi tray or frozen burrito at Trader Joe’s, instead of being forced to exist on sandwich bread and bologna (whoops – that was appropriated from Italians).

  • The whole cultural appropriation issue is a bad joke that obscures and detracts from the real life concerns of POC. It is one of the reasons why people of all races are checking out of the debate. I have had it with the stupid lectures! I know a lot of “woke” businesspeople who will hire anyone with 2 years of a STEM program over any humanities graduate. I wonder why.

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