Appropriation, Power, Narrative, and Tacos

Today was a discussion based on the homework reading “When Chefs Become Famous Cooking Other Cultures’ Food“. We had a rich discussion about how discrimination, race, and power affect assumptions about who “owns” a culinary tradition, and who has the power and privilege to write one. We narrowed down to a question of discrimination and racism.

This portion of the interview cited in the article had us talking:

Pashman: “There are also other Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who are like, ‘Screw this guy Rick Bayless.’ So how do you feel when you get that kind of reaction to your work?”

Bayless: “Well, usually people who have that opinion of me don’t want to have a conversation. Those people that say it are usually very political, and they have a mouthpiece and they just go around saying it. And everybody thinks, ‘Oh, lots of people must believe that.’ And honestly, I don’t think they do. I know that there have been a number of people out there that criticized me only — only — because of my race. Because I’m white, I can’t do anything with Mexican food. But we have to stop and say, ‘Oh wait, is that plain racism then?’ “

The last part, about “because of my race” had us thinking about how discrimination differs from what we consider the structural conditions of racial oppression, which is racism. Certainly one can discriminate by race, but power and history must also be examined. Of course, these struggles happen in stories, but they also happen in foodways and the stories related to food.

Check out the podcast from The Sporkful. You can listen to the interview with Bayless and more here.

We also did some work on WordPress to link to the class blog and opened up Instagram accounts. The hashtag #tacoliteracy is what we’ll be using for the course to archive our writing and research.

We followed @southernfoodways on Instagram, the Southern Foodways Alliance. The SFA has a fantastic archive of media documenting the changing South. This documentary titled “Mexington” is one fantastic example.

The documentary does an excellent job representing the space and the people who dine there. The food as well captures attention with the close shots of the different dishes, as well as the production of the tortillas. But the highlight is the story of the Ramirez family, and the narrative of their restaurant. The food becomes secondary because the humanizing aspects of story are what make us care about the dignity of these folks. The story has food as a central element, but the real story is about the people. We might ask, how does cultural appropriation remove this human element, or become a form of dehumanization?

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