Lexington Food Justice Podcast #7

Culinary Appropriation

Early this year, I read this article: Filipino Food is the Next Big Thing -- Again (Published in Bloomberg on January 11, 2017). After googling this topic for more articles, I found this one published in the Washington Post back in April 21, 2015: At Long Last, Filipino Food Arrives. What Took it so Long? And just last month I read this article: How Filipino Food is Becoming the Next Great American Cuisine (Published in Vogue on June 1, 2017).

My takeaway is that (1) Filipino food has finally arrived for mainstream America's gastronomic pleasure. And (2) Americans are ready to embrace the food of my childhood. YAY!! But I'll be honest, I have mixed feelings. Because as much as I love my food and am always happy to share my family's recipes with dear friends. This food has also been a source of pain and shame.

Growing up, other kids made fun of my "smelly stinky" food. Which was merely one of many ways they reminded me that I was not one of them. Once I got into a big fight with my mother when she insisted on bringing pancit to our church potluck. I was embarrassed, but my mother was steadfast and unwavering. "Don't be silly, Rowena. EVERYONE loves pancit." And of course, she was right. The pancit was gone in a matter of minutes. And everyone asked for the recipe.

I eventually embraced my life as an Asian-Filipino-American woman. And fortunately before my mother passed away, I learned to make dishes that I loved and cherish to this day. In fact, every year for Tim's birthday I make lumpia (Filipino spring rolls) and paella that he absolutely loves.

But as the headlines of these articles suggests, Filipino food has been far from the mainstream. So I've been able to keep this food to myself. Sharing my mother's recipes on my own terms, without pain or shame. Perhaps for not much longer -- I suppose we'll see.

Then when I approached my dear friend, Mae Suramek, to be a guest on our radio show, we discussed potential food justice topics. The obvious focus was on her incredible and innovative social justice concept for Noodle Nirvana. A restaurant located in Berea, KY that offers Thai and other Asian-inspired noodle bowls. But when Mae share this article: How it Feels When White People Shame Your Culture's Food -- Then make it Trendy (Published in the Washington Post on August 21, 2015), we knew it was time to broach the topic of "culinary appropriation".

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"Cultural appropriation" is when a dominant culture (or someone of this group) adopts or uses of the elements of a marginalized or oppressed culture for the dominant culture's gain. And as applied to food, the term is "culinary appropriation". Regardless of the element involved, the concept tends towards a debate about misappropriation vs. appreciation, which is vastly multi-faceted and deeply nuanced.

Googling either term, you'll quickly realize the depth of this hotly contested issue. So we wanted to provide some local context for this debate, vis-a-vis Mae's experiences and challenges in introducing her family's Thai (and other Asian-inspired) noodle recipes at Noodle Nirvana.

With this show, we went in the direction of "authenticity": What is authentic Thai noodle bowls? Who gets to judge authenticity? At what point on the continuum of adaptations do these expressions of cultural touchstones lose their authenticity? Complex questions, to be sure, with answers that will be continually debated.

But whatever our opinions, for those who know Mae, we can say with certainty that Noodle Nirvana is authentically Mae. This unique space is the embodiment of Mae's love, respect and vision. And a positive example of cultural exchange and progress. Entering Noodle Nirvana with open-minds, rather than adhering to a static construct of “authenticity”, will be an enriching and awesomely tasty experience. So we hope you enjoy this podcast as much as we did!


Here's a Recap

Here are links to content mentioned during the show:

Events and Announcements

Additional Research

As mentioned, this show focused on the "authenticity" aspect of culinary appropriation. But if you're interested in learning more about this topic and its other facets, here are some articles that I found helpful:

Up Next (July 21)

Many THANKS to Mae Suramek and Dr. Jeff Richey! And please tune in to our next show on July 21st, 10 - 11 am, 93.9 FM WLXU Lexington Community Radio. We are still confirming our guest(s). And once we do, we'll post more information on our FB page. But trust us -- it will be another fantastic show 😍💯⚖️🍽