Cultural appropriation has been making headlines — and rightly so — for the past few years. Sports teams, such as the Washington Redskins have been held up as examples of how our society has borrowed from other cultures, and often done so in ways that degrade or insult. At a more community-based level, we’ve come to realize that our fashion and lifestyle choices can often disrespect the cultures from which they originated. The cornrow-sporting fashionista, the dreadlock-wearing university hippie, the bindi-speckled raver, the born-again-yogi… They’ve all reached a point where the line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation has blurred.
Recently, people have come to realize that the borrowing of food culture — without a more thorough knowledge of the cultural traditions of this food — is its own form of appropriation.
Ruth Tam tackles this issue in a recent Washington Post article. In it she describes how she went from being shamed for her traditional cuisine — particularly from the cooking smells that clung to her throughout childhood — to seeing it as part of a “discount tourism — a cheap means for foodies to feel worldly without leaving the comfort of their neighborhood.”
It’s an excellent read and gives us much to think about. In particular, about how “ethnic” cuisine is not just an adventure for many, but a way of life.