06 June 2017

You Heard about What Happened in Portland?

I'm not referring to the white supremacist terrorism, I am referring to the giant hissy fit over burritos.

A couple of chefs went down to Mexico to review and recreate their cuisine, and once they did, the Social Justice Warriors immediately started screaming "Cultural Appropriation" and said chefs closed down their food stand.

This is complete crap.

Restaurants steal from each other, both within and across cuisines, and have from time immemorial, and to suggest that there is something wrong with that is to infantilize the surveyors Mexican cuisine:
My thoughts on cultural appropriation of food changed forever in the research for my 2012 book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. One of my personal highlights was discovering the restaurant that Glenn Bell of Taco Bell infamy had cited in his autobiography as being the source of "inspiration" for him deciding to get into the taco business. How did he get inspired? He'd eat tacos the restaurant every night, then go across the street to his hot dog stand to try and recreate them.

Bell freely admitted to the story, but never revealed the name of the restaurant. I did: Mitla Cafe in San Bernardino, which is the oldest continuously operating Mexican restaurant in the Inland Empire. I was excited to interview the owner, Irene Montaño, who confirmed Bell's story. I was upset for the Montaños, and when I asked Montaño how she felt that Bell had ripped off her family's recipes to create a multibillion-dollar empire, I expected bitterness, anger, maybe even plans for a lawsuit in an attempt to get at least some of the billions of dollars that Taco Bell has earned over the past 50-plus years.

Instead, Montaño responded with grace: "Good for him!" She pointed out that Mitla had never suffered a drop in business because of Taco Bell, that her restaurant had been in business longer than his, and "our tacos were better."

It's an anecdote I always keep in mind whenever stories of cultural appropriation of food by white people get the Left riled up and rock the food world. The latest skirmish is going on in Portland, where two white girls decided to open up what the estimable Willamette Week called "a concept that fits twee Portland": a breakfast burrito pop-up located within a hipster taco cart. The grand sin the gabachos committed, according to the haters, was the admission that they quizzed women in Baja California about how to make the perfect flour tortilla.

For their enthusiasm, the women have received all sorts of shade and have closed down their pop-up. To which I say: laughable. The gabachas knew exactly what they were doing, so didn't they stand by it? Real gumption there, pendejas.

But also laughable is the idea that white people aren't supposed to—pick your word—rip off or appropriate or get "inspired" by Mexican food, that comida mexicana is a sacrosanct tradition only Mexicans and the white girls we marry can participate in. That cultural appropriation is a one-way street where the evil gabacho steals from the poor, pathetic Mexicans yet again. 


What these culture warriors who proclaim to defend Mexicans don't realize is that we're talking about the food industry, one of the most rapacious businesses ever created. It's the human condition at its most Darwinian, where EVERYONE rips EVERYONE off. The only limit to an entrepreneur's chicanery isn't resources, race, or class status, but how fast can you rip someone off, how smart you can be to spot trends years before anyone else, and how much money you can make before you have to rip off another idea again.

When Oberlin (where else?) students accused food services of cultural appropriation for serving allegedly crappy sushi, the REAL issue was not cultural appropriation, it was bad food.

When a friend was saying that dreadlocks were cultural appropriation, because white people could wear them, and black people were told that it was unprofessional, I said, "That's not cultural appropriation, that's racism."

The only cultures that don't appropriate from others are dead ones.

Cultural borrowing is a fact of life, and it more prevalent in cuisine than almost anywhere else.

I don't like crappy mass-market bagels, a food of my people, but my problem is not cultural appropriation, it's that the mass market bagels are complete sh%$.

If you are ranting about cultural appropriation, you are an imbecile.

If you are ranting about how outsiders have gotten a cherished aspect of your culture wrong, you are just like the rest of us.


Stephen Montsaroff said...

It gets even better: The use of cooked meat in Tacos come from Shwarma:

Matthew Saroff said...

Actually, that is mentioned in the linked article, along with how Mexican cuisine took French pastries to create pan dulces.

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