Appreciation or Appropriation?

On the Americanization on foods

For a long time now, white American restaurants have made foods from various cultures much more accessible to a range of people from different ethnic backgrounds. Local Capitol Hill restaurant, Stateside, is well known for its Vietnamese cuisine, which head chef and owner, Eric Johnson sees as a blend of French and Chinese food. Where is the line drawn between appreciation and appropriation?

Similar to Johnson, other white chefs around the United States seem to be profiting off of traditional meals, winning prestigious awards for the same things people of color are making.

Junior, Thomas Christensen believes it should only be viewed as a problem if someone who isn’t of a certain ethnicity is more financially successful.

“People who are part of the culture where something is from should get more recognition than other people who are trying to make or do the same thing,” Christensen says.

Intentionally or not, white chefs tend to modify foods specifically from non-white cultures and altering them in ways that can fit the standard American meal, therefore capturing the attention of a white population. A Native American restaurant has recently opened in San Francisco by Italian filmmaker, Francis Ford Coppola, whose menu demonstrates minimal knowledge of Native American tribes, resulting in Americanized versions of Native American dishes.

Junior, Anthony Lu sees this as Americanizing culture, “When culture has been demeaned through whitewashing, people aren’t able to taste the real thing,” Lu said.

The fact that white chefs are profiting off of cultural foods isn’t anything new. Junior Tianna Andresen believes that white businesses often seem to benefit from mimicking cuisines created and passed down for generations by people of color.

“It’s capitalizing off of our foods, making money off of what we created, and not giving much credit to it, and just disrespecting it,” Andresen said.

This might sound very familiar; for many, food is considered to be a political issue because white people have a history of benefitting from the work of people of color. Take white colonizers who imperialized lands from indigenous people, or cultural clothing they use as fashion styles. The same is also happening with food.

“I see [food] as another form of colonization…it being Westernized kind of strips away culture,” Andresen said.

White chefs are imitating foods from people of color, while also changing them to make them more appealing to white people’s culture or their tastebuds. It can also be seen as a problem because the foods are advertised as the way people should be eating them and labelled as “new.”

Lu has directly seen this type of appropriation with foods, saying, “When a white chef is telling me how to eat my pho this is something white people have made up, not my mom or even people within my ethnicity.”

Although many people of color are frustrated by the westernization of food, there are some that feel it could be handled in a more acceptable way. Senior Citlali Arias feels that things would be different if this was done out of appreciation.

“There are cookbooks and recipes that show you how to create the dish from where the food is from. Please use them,” Arias said.

Food holds cultural significance, especially in households where food is generally synonymous to festivity and coming together as a family, which is why it can become an issue. When traditional foods are being changed, they also lose their originality and meaningful history in the process.

“Food reminds me of home. No matter how someone else makes it, it kind of brings you back home…the fact that it reminds you of your mom’s food,” said Andresen.

The argument stands that instead of giving your money to large corporations, you should support local food trucks and businesses owned by people of color. Lu believes that such places are able to preserve a sense of culture and home due to authenticity.

“Restaurants in the International District hold a galore of Asian restaurants managed by people of color,” Lu said. “Stop going to those ‘Asian fusion,’ and ‘Mexican inspired’ restaurants, and go get the real deal.”