Culture

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

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.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

This Mexican Mom Has Gone Viral On TikTok For Her Recipe Videos Showing You How Easy It Is To Be A Cook

Culture

This Mexican Mom Has Gone Viral On TikTok For Her Recipe Videos Showing You How Easy It Is To Be A Cook

@JennyMartinezzz / TikTok

Look, it’s no secret that cooking isn’t for everyone. It can be tiring, time-consuming, and sometimes downright difficult. Even if we’re learning from our abuelos or tíos, who are passing down a generation’s worth of recipes, the idea of cooking can be intimidating.

But one woman has taken to TikTok to demystify Mexican cooking and she’s making it look super easy in the process. And as someone who’s actually tried out several of her quick TikTok recipe videos, I can tell you, it is as easy as it looks.

Jenny Martinez has quickly become TikTok’s favorite Latina mom.

In her videos on TikTok, Jenny Martinez shares her traditional Mexican recipient with more than 1.5 million followers – and everything from her dad’s famous shrimp cocktail to her easy churros is on the menu.

Martinez got the idea to create recipe videos for TikTok from her daughter, who herself is an avid TikTok user. The duo shot a few short videos and from their things quickly escalated.

“The following morning my phone was blowing up and we couldn’t believe it that one of my videos had gone viral,” Martinez told In The Know.

Although creating video content, especially cooking content, is a lot of work, Martinez sees it as a chance to do what she already loves – to cook. For her, it’s not just about making mouthwatering meals, like conchas con nieve or chuletas abobadasit’s about preserving Mexican culture.

She learned traditional cooking from her mother growing up.

Like so many of us, Martinez grew up learning how to cook with her mother.

“For me, it’s not — it’s not that I’m giving away my secrets,” Martinez told In The Know. “To me, it’s just sharing my knowledge to the younger community so we can continue our culture, the authentic Mexican recipes that our grandmas, our mothers passed down to us.”

Food is one of the greatest bonds between a community. It helps shape traditions, events, ceremonies, and entire cultures. Martinez knows this and believes that food can unite the people within a culture while educating those outside of it. Some of her followers haven’t heard of the ingredients she uses but her explainers in English make such barriers fade away.

“The whole Mexican cooking, it’s just something that connects us together as a community and as Mexicans,” Martinez told In The Know. “Now that I see that in social media that everybody wants to learn and everybody wants to keep on the traditions, that’s what I like. That’s what I want to see.”

The mom’s recipes are great for budding chefs at all levels.

Martinez tells her followers not to get so hung up on trying something new and just attempt to do what you want with the recipe.

“You don’t have to be an expert in cooking. Just open the fridge and start following my recipes. I try to make them as easy as possible,” she said.

But at the heart of it all, Martinez is really passionate about her craft.

“I honestly see the beauty in food and in the cooking,” Martinez told In The Know. “I mean, it’s kind of like an art at the end of the day. When you’re plating it and when you see everything just combining. When you see all of those ingredients, that aroma coming out, to me it’s just beautiful.”

One of her most popular recipe videos are her sandia paletas!

Sure, summer may be over but it’s still forever sandia season in my mind. Especially the version Martinez does on her TikTok. Lathered in chamo y and tajin, you’ll never look at sandia paletas the same.

And you’re not the only one – this video has been viewed more than 1.2 million times!

This is the one that I tried to make and it turned out soooo good.

Carne asada nachos are the ultimate cure for la cruda and every time I was out at bar hoping (pre-Covid obviously), I’d almost always end up at a truck by my house for these guys. But doing them at home is just as easy and mil veces mas delicious!

Martinez teaches you how to make these bomb nachos in less than 30 seconds so it’s worth your investment. The result is everything!

Which recipes are you most excited to try out? Or h

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Mexico Wants To Be The Hub Of Latin America’s Space Industry And This Is Their Incredible Plan

Things That Matter

Mexico Wants To Be The Hub Of Latin America’s Space Industry And This Is Their Incredible Plan

Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/Getty

Although the world is still struggling with how best to contain the Coronavirus pandemic, many governments are forging ahead with long term goals and development programs.

One of the most important to new programs to launch in Mexico is central to its economic and scientific future – its future in space. Together with other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (some of which already have their own independent agencies), Mexico is looking to become the leader in the region when it comes to space research and exploration.

The country recently announced its intentions for just such an agency, that they hope would be based in Mexico with foreign capital providing the seed money to get the project off the ground.

Mexico announced its intention to head up a Latin American and Caribbean space agency.

Mexico has launched an ambitious new project – creating a Latin American Space and Caribbean Space Agency that would facilitate the sharing of satellite images and aims to observe the planet. The agency would be dedicated to earth observation, satellite image sharing and multi-sector dialogue.

The project was presented by Javier López Casarín, Honorary President of the Technical Council of Knowledge and Innovation of the Mexican Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AMEXCID). López Casarín attended the meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), where he presented the project for the creation of the Latin American and Caribbean Space Agency, an entity that will be at the same level as other agencies (think NASA and the European Space Agency) of world space research with which it hopes to exchange information.

As part of the same meeting, the Latin American coordinators highlighted the role of Mexico in charge of the presidency of the community of Latin American states and appreciated the proposal to create a joint space agency.

Mexico has had a space agency of its own since 2010 but they’re looking to expand the operations.

Mexico has had its own space agency, the Agencia Espacial Mexicana, since 2010. Plus, several other countries across Latin America and the Caribbean have their own similar departments that over see satellites, information gathering, meteorological date, etc.

Mexico’s space agency has been tasked with carrying out study programs, research, and academic support, however, its duties have never included the aim of space exploration with its own infrastructure.

One of the agency’s key objectives is to help increase internet connectivity across the region.

In 2019, the Agencia Espacial Mexicana announced it was developing its space program around the needs of Mexican society – that it would be for the social benefit.

Among other techonoligcal solutions, the government has made it a core principle to help expand access to Internet across the country. By merging various space agencies into one, this increased Internet connectivity will likely spread to other countries in Latin America.

Internet connectivity rates vary from around 27% in El Salvador to close to 80% in Brazil – so bringing that wide gap is seen as critical for sustained development in the region.

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