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.

El Chapo’s Mother Claims That The US Illegally Extradited Her Son And She Wants Him Back

Things That Matter

El Chapo’s Mother Claims That The US Illegally Extradited Her Son And She Wants Him Back

ABC News / YouTube

El Chapo’s mother has reportedly asked Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to bring her son back from U.S. federal custody. María Consuelo Loera Pérez, El Chapo’s mother, claims that the U.S. illegally extradited her son from Mexico.

María Consuelo Loera Pérez, El Chapo’s mom, wants her son brought back to Mexico.

According to Daily Mail, El Chapo’s mother sent a letter to President López Obrador claiming to have information that proves that the U.S illegally extradited her son. In the letter, Loera Pérez argues that her attorneys have sufficient proof that the U.S. acted inappropriately and is asking President López Obrador to bring El Chapo back to serve his sentence in Mexican custody.

It is alleged that Loera Pérez’s attorneys are already in talks to bring El Chapo back to Mexico.

Some people have been able to find humor in the news. El Chapo was extradited and eventually convicted by U.S. authorities on a series of felonies tied to his participation in the drug trade. His involvement in cartel activities in Mexico that spilled into the U.S. led to his extradition and sentencing in U.S. custody.

The news comes after a viral video showed AMLO visiting with El Chapo’s mother.

The video, allegedly taken in Badiraguato, Sinaloa, Mexico, shows AMLO walking up and greeting Loera Pérez as she sits in a car. He can allegedly be heard telling her not to get out of the car and that he did get her letter. The mention of the letter does lend credibility to the claims of El Chapo’s mother fighting to bring him back. However, it is unclear what the letter he mentioned addressed.

The video is drawing strong reactions from people as AMLO is violating social distancing guidelines set forth to combat COVID-19.

AMLO has been panned for leaving Mexico exceptionally vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic by not moving quickly enough to set restrictions. Health authorities in Mexico are urging all 130 million citizens to stay indoors and to only leave on essential business.

Some people are more upset with the fact AMLO met with El Chapo’s mother.

“In this case, the least of the problems is the social distancing for Covid19,” @archibaldo53 tweeted. “The true problem is the significance of this visit that clarifies our doubt completely and finds López in relations with these people.”

El Chapo is currently serving a life sentence in U.S. federal custody. He was sentenced to life by a Federal District Court in Brooklyn for his drug, murder, and money laundering charges.

READ: El Chapo’s Daughter Is Using His Name And Face to Launch A Beer Brand After She Launched A Fashion Line

Google Launches Faces Of Frida So You Can Pass The Time Learning About The Artist’s Life

Culture

Google Launches Faces Of Frida So You Can Pass The Time Learning About The Artist’s Life

Google

Few artists have reached the level of fame as Frida Kahlo. The Mexican painter is more than an artist. Kahlo is a point of cultural pride that transcends nationality within the Latino community and unites Latino art lovers in their le of Latin American art. Now, Google, in the time of self-isolation, is giving everyone a chance to learn about the iconic painter.

Google wants to give everyone a chance to learn about Frida Kahlo with its online “Faces of Frida” exhibit.

Credit: Google

Anyone who visits the “Face of Frida” exhibit can browse through the artist’s incredible paintings. Kahlo is one of the most influential artists the world has ever known. Her fame and people’s admiration continue to this day with tributes still appearing around the world for the Mexican artist.

Viewers can decide which museum’s Frida Kahlo collection they want to explore.

Credit: Google

The exhibit is made possible by 32 museums from around the world collaborating to show Frida Kahlo’s impressive and iconic works of art. Museums across four continents shared Kahlo piece from their exhibits with Google to create an exhibit showing more than 800 paintings. Some of the museums include Museo Frida Kahlo in Mexico, Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the United States, Nagoya City Art Museum in Japan, Fundación MAPFRE in Spain, and Buenos Aires Graffiti in Argentina.

The interactive exhibit is perfect for all Frida Kahlo and art lovers alike. While 3.4 billion people in the world are on lockdown orders, the incredible virtual exhibit of Kahlo’s work gives people a chance to see works of art they haven’t been able to visit yet.

The exhibit is easy to navigate and some of Kahlo’s works have been collected into their own themed galleries.

Credit: Google

Kahlo is most famous for using her own life as the inspiration for her works of art. The artist often played with the themes of pain and death due to her own near-death experiences. Her tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera influenced Kahlo’s work depending on where they were in their relationship. The couple was notorious for taking extra-marital lovers throughout their marriage.

“Faces of Frida” also offers art fans a chance to learn about Kahlo through editorial features.

Credit: Google

Kahlo was one of the most revolutionary women in the world. She moved through space unimpeded by society’s views on her gender and place in society. She was politically engaged and held onto a list of values that many still argue over today. Namely, there have been discussions and think pieces about the sudden commercialized usage of Kahlo’s image and what she might have to say about it. As someone who was opposed to capitalism, it seems safe to say she might not have appreciated herself being used for capitalistic gains.

You can visit “Faces of Frida” by clicking here.

READ: This LA Play Explores The Mystery Surrounding Frida Kahlo’s Death, Her Love Affairs, And Her Passion For Art