Culture

When Writing About Other Cultures’ Food Gets Real “Yiiiikes!” Real Fast

Flickr Creative Commons / Sharla Sava

Food is good. It is so good, you guys. We should all be exploring and tasting and experiencing as much food as we’re able to, because is good.

Food is also personal. It connects to us to culture, to history, to our own roots and those of others. Food is the result of trade and migration, disasters and famine come and gone, wars fought and lost, celebration and mourning, class and custom. Food is never just food and good food writing understands that.

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Credit: Source Image via Flickr Creative Commons / Pete Zarria

This is why it’s so disappointing to see food writing forget that food is personal. Take this NYC restaurant review, which opens with a bang:

Eating Chinese food in this city is generally an exercise in extremism. You can get gross and roll around Chinatown or Flushing. You can go big and have yourself an out of body spice experience at Mission Chinese or Han Dynasty. Or you can overload on delivery, which prevents anything productive from happening the day after.

A general rule of thumb that’s always worked for me is remembering that, when writing about a given cuisine, it’s best to avoid proclaiming that the neighborhoods where that cuisine is made, appreciated, and enjoyed are places to “get gross.” Just a lil’ tip!

The review goes on to note that the restaurant is run by “a pair of non-Chinese Chinese food enthusiasts who wanted to share their passion for Chinese flavors with the world” and stresses the restaurant’s approachability and cleanliness. As Noah Cho writes on Medium, it becomes pretty clear pretty fast that this review’s intended audience is not people who are already familiar with Chinese food (like, say, a lot of Chinese people):

Truly, no one before them has ever decided to “share their passions for Chinese flavors with the world” except for, you know, Chinese people, who have been cooking watered down versions of Chinese cuisine precisely so douchebags like yourself feel comfortable. But it isn’t enough! Too bad all that ASIANNESS got in the way of you feeling “clean.” Cool story, bro.

This pervasive trend of writing about culturally-specific food with no active participation from that culture — and, in fact, a sense of disdain for and distance from it — is also on display in a recently re-promoted Bon Appétit article on what to eat in Cuba (timely now given President Obama’s March visit to the island). And, again, it kicks things off with class and grace:

If you’ve always wondered what Cuba was like beyond cigars and vintage cars, start packing: It’s time to witness a country at a moment of pivotal change. Havana is a party, no doubt, but it’s also a confusing place for Cubans and tourists alike. Cubans have a saying, No es fácil: It’s not easy. It applies to everything—food especially—in a place where cab drivers make more than doctors, and where a meal in a home restaurant can easily cost a month’s state salary. It’s a tricky city to break into, but with a little planning, it can change your life.

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Credit: Adult Swim / The Dating Buffet

LOL, YIKES. I could go through a line-by-line diatribe on why this paragraph is the written equivalent of strolling, uninvited, into someone else’s home and taking a sh*t in his refrigerator, but you can figure it out for yourself.

So, context matters. Food is tied to culture, and culture doesn’t exist in a void. When food writing discusses food in a way that willfully divorces it from its culture and context, by using coded language about “cleanliness” or extolling exoticness as this nebulous goal in and of itself, it is a means of keeping a giant swath of people out of the conversation, whether deliberately or through a sort of mindless neglect.

NPR’s The Salt recently delved into the topic of appropriation when it comes to food. Who, they wondered, ultimately ends up profiting and being listened to when it comes to evangelizing food from cultures other than one’s own?

 For some nonwhite Americans, the idea of eating ‘ethnic cuisine’ (and there’s a whole other debate about that term) not cooked by someone of that ethnicity can feel like a form of cultural theft. Where does inspiration end? When is riffing off someone’s cuisine an homage, and when does it feel like a form of co-opting? And then there’s the question of money: If you’re financially benefiting from selling the cuisine of others, is that always wrong?

Their prime example is Rick Bayless, a gringo whose career is predicated on his appreciation for and mastery of Mexican food and cooking techniques. The difference, once again, is context (and it’s a context that, based on Bayless’ own interpretation of the critiques against him, he might not fully appreciate).

Food can and does belong to anyone. We are free to try it and make it and love it across different cultures. Cooking techniques and ingredients are passed on from culture to culture; fusion is ultimately inevitable. The idea of appropriation, specifically, comes from the attempt to take ownership of a culture other than one’s own, thereby shutting out people from that culture who made it possible for you to experience and enjoy this food in the first place. The issue is one of giving credit, of heralding local chefs and home cooks whose mastery of cuisine of worthy of attention. Bayless had to learn about Mexican food from someone. Many someones. Where are they? Where are their  books and restaurants? Where are their cooking shows, their line of kitchen equipment on sale now at your local Williams Sonoma? If they were talented and masterful enough to inspire Rick Bayless, why has Bayless not introduced them to us, so that we might learn from them as well? Pass the mic, along with the elotes.

It is vital, then, to give proper credit, to usher new people into a food experience while grounding it firmly in the context and culture in which it was created, and including its inventors in the conversation, rather than leaving them out of it. This holds true whether the conversation happens to take the form of a restaurant review (and subsequent aside about soy sauce fermenting in a “Chinese field”), a guide to food in a country where food rationing exists, or numerous cook books about a country’s “vibrant flavors.”

Put simply: Devotion stripped of context isn’t so much devotion as it is fetishization and appreciation without credit isn’t so much appreciation as it is appropriation.

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Credit: Source Image via Flickr Creative Commons / kendrahw

And if you take just one thing away from all this today, please let it be this:

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Christ on a (artisan-crafted, chipotle-kissed) cracker.

READ: Latinos Love Arroz y Frijoles, But Not Every Dish Is The Same

Can people appropriate food? Do y’all trust Rick Bayless to understand the innate appeal of a gansito eaten over the sink at 3 a.m.? Tell us in the comments.

Some People Are Blaming The Actions Of The Women At Mexico City’s March For The Attack On A Reporter

Things That Matter

Some People Are Blaming The Actions Of The Women At Mexico City’s March For The Attack On A Reporter

@adn40 / Twitter

Hundreds of women in Mexico took to the streets to demand justice after two teenage girls reported being raped by police officers. The protests filled Mexico City and women were not going to silent as they demanded justice. One reporter covering the protest was attacked on camera and the blame game is in full force as people try to find out who started it.

ADN40 reporter Juan Manuel Jiménez was covering the anti-rape protest in Mexico City when he was attacked by a random man.

Credit: @adn40 / Twitter

The video shows Jiménez reporting from the protest as protest participants threw glitter and other items at the reporter. The entire time, Jiménez mentioned that the women were angry at the injustice women face against Mexican police. When he mentioned going to another location to continue his reporting, that’s when a man walked behind in and sucker-punched him.

The man had spent time standing next to the reporter and was caught on camera, despite him trying to hide his face later.

Credit: @v_altamirano / Twitter

“This idiot el the coward,” tweeted @v_altamirano. “@juanmapregunta I hope they find him @SSP_CDMA @PGFJD_CDMX have his FIRST and LAST name.”

The man was seen standing near the reporter for some time as Jiménez was talking to the camera. Then, he retreated into the crowd and started talking to two people that were marching. After speaking with the two people, the attacker made his way back to the reporter and attacked him from behind.

The footage has angered people who are tired of the violence in Mexico and see the attack as lessening the protest.

Credit: dianamoon0506 / Twitter

“I am a mother, sister, and daughter and I do not approve this display, NO TO VIOLENCE,” tweeted @dianamoon0506. “The women started the violence. We will never advance humanity like this. All of my support to @juanmapregunta.”

Some women said the feminists marching defended the reporter and that it was a random man who attacked Jiménez.

Credit: @mickeydobbss / Twitter

After Jiménez was knocked to the ground, the video shows women cornering the attacker and attempting to detain the man. The man pushed the women off and ran into the crowd to get away from those pursuing him.

A lot of people are blaming the women who first started to attack Jiménez for creating the atmosphere.

Credit: @Omar_ca_P / Twitter

“They didn’t defend anyone, those who did ‘attack’ the aggressor and scream ‘it was him’ because they knew that this kind of thing damages their image and they want to distance themselves from blame,” tweeted @Omar_ca_P. “They too attacked the reporter, not with punches but they attacked.”

Another video posted showed some of the protesters stopping to care for Jiménez after he was knocked to the ground.

The people caring for Jiménez helped him wake up and are shown in the video caring for him. This all happened after he was knocked to the ground and the attacker ran away.

You can watch the full video below.

What do you think about the attack and the blame game happening with the march?

READ: Hundreds Protest After Teen Girls Accuse Mexico City Police of Rape

Puerto Vallarta Has Long Been An LGBTQ-Friendly Travel Destination And Here’s Why

Culture

Puerto Vallarta Has Long Been An LGBTQ-Friendly Travel Destination And Here’s Why

ThatGayGringo / Instagram

Puerto Vallarta is one of the favorite Mexican tourist destinations of the LGBT community. There are hotels, bars, nightclubs, beaches, and even drinks specifically for LGBT travelers, and due to the safety and welcoming environment for these guests, it is the first city in Mexico to receive the Gay Travel Approved distinction by GayTravel.com.

But why PV? What made Vallarta Mexico’s top gay destination?

Let’s start back at the beginning.

Credit: thatgaygringo / Instagram

In the south of Puerto Vallarta you will find the “Old Town,” also called “The Romantic Zone,” the tourist area favored by expats and foreigners who want to soak up local traditions. The Old Puerto Vallarta is also considered the gay neighborhood since 1980, when the gay community and retired Canadians and Americans bought land and properties in order to create gay-friendly businesses. Today there’s a wide variety of attractions with this focus, including bars, restaurants, stores, nightclubs, and both budget and boutique hotels.

In this zone is nestled the popular beach Playa de los Muertos, which, although not exclusively gay, for the last 20 years has been known as a gay-friendly beach (also called Blue Chairs, because of the many blue chairs placed by a gay resort which bears the same name), mainly in the high season, from November to March.

Why is this pristine beach the LBGT meeting point? Because the gay-friendly beachfront hotels in the area causes—and guarantees—a concentration of LGBT tourists, bringing a multicultural ambience where members of this community will be respected without discrimination. In the morning they can socialize and enjoy the party atmosphere, and in the afternoon walk holding hands under the dazzling sunset, in a romantic atmosphere free of hostility. Such is the high demand for LGBT-friendly vacation spots that the area has been extended to include the green chairs and as far as the north coast, in the elegant Oceano Sapphire Beach Club, owned by gays.

But it’s about more than just the beach.

Credit: David Stanley / Flickr

Unlike certain countries, laws against homosexuality never existed in Mexico. There is, however, a strong macho culture and religious influence which disapproves it—nonetheless the locals show respect. Under these circumstances, the growing community has led LGBT organizations to work to promote a change of culture in the pursuit of equality. Their work has gotten results: they have achieved recognition of gay rights, and implemented laws against the provocation and incitement of hate or violence against LGBTs, and also to guarantee equality in employment and public accomodation and services. Even more, in 2013 Puerto Vallarta legalized civil union between LGBT couples, followed by same-sex marriage in 2016.

This city organized its first Gay Pride March, and has hosted the Pink & Proud Women’s Party—the equivalent lesbian celebration—for the last four years, with assistance from the local Canadian and American communities. The multiple events in support of the LGBT community have marked out Puerto Vallarta as the “Mexican San Francisco.”

Now, there’s a giant and flourishing LGBTQ tourism industry that welcomes people from around the world.

Credit: Kristopher Roller / Unsplash

For the last 10 years, the number of LGBT visitors has increased in Puerto Vallarta and Jalisco, and in order to meet demand, the number of LGBT-friendly resorts and touristic attractions has also increased. Now three of every 10 hotels in Puerto Vallarta are LGBT-friendly, and most also offer weddings and other symbolic ceremonies.

Bars, nightclubs and other amenities are already focused on this market, and there are also tours—like the Gay VIP Bars Tour—and even drinks—like the Gay Tequila and the Gay Energy Drink—to make these guests feel extra welcome. As a result, Puerto Vallarta now hosts International LGBT Business Expos, with important conferences and events, including fashions shows, beach parties and music festivals to celebrate this booming market.

Puerto Vallarta remains the gateway to Mexico for many LGBTQ travelers.

Credit: kwhigam / Flickr

Some other cities have recognized the demand, and are now attempting to attract LGBT tourism to their destinations. Puerto Vallarta is not letting it happen: diverse businesses—no matter the sexual preference—are joining forces to create organizations to promote this targeted brand of tourism. The market gives consumers what they want, and they have identified this growing target and will not let it go.

Beyond the marketing, Puerto Vallarta became a platform to support gay rights, and the LGBT community knows it and feels welcome here. What really keeps the LGBT community hitting Puerto Vallarta is the activism, respect, and freedom they find in this beautiful paradise.

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