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".
Listen to our Podcast!
"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:
- The New Opportunity School for Women is a nonprofit that helps so many women in the Appalachia area reach their potential and improve theirs & their families’ futures. Noodle Nirvana partnered with NOSW during its first year to raise $30,000 -- Well done noodle lovers!! And congratulations to Mae, her family and her team.
- Lazy Eight Stock Farm is where Noodle Nirvana sources zucchini (80 lbs last season!) for its zoodle-based bowls.
- Lexington Pasta is where Noodle Nirvana sources its ramen noodles.
- Sustainable Berea (Berea Urban Farm) is another local source for Noodle Nirvana's veggies.
- Berea College is where Mae served as Alumni Director for 9 years. And where Dr. Jeff Richey is a Professor for Religion and Asian Studies.
- Arts & Crafts -- Berea is the home for many Kentucky Artisans!
- Native Bagel Company recently opened and is part of the emerging local food movement.
- Clementine Bake Shop is another recently opened business that is part of the emerging local food movement.
- Berea Farmers Market is the Center of a Booming Local Food District is an article published in the Lexington Herald-Leader that discusses this burgeoning movement.
- How it Feels When White People Shame Your Culture's Food -- Then make it Trendy is an article that we discussed.
- YELP review that we discussed during the show (Note couldn't figure out how to embed the review, so these are screen shots, which are cropped to fit the frame. But no content is omitted. You can click on each screen to enlarge the image for easier reading.):
Events and Announcements
- First Friday Berea is a community-focused block party happening every Friday in Berea from July 7th - September 8th. And looks like great fun!
- God's Outreach Madison County Food Bank is the 2017-18 non-profit partner for Noodle Nirvana. Each month, this organization distributes approximately 2,200 backpacks every Friday during the school year to ensure that children will not go hungry over the weekend.
- Noodle Nirvana Celebrates Anniversary with New Partnership -- Article published on BereaOnline.com, June 30, 2017, and which we posted on our FB Page.
- Eating for a Cause: Berea Restaurant Raises More than $30K for Nonprofit -- Article published in Richmond Register, June 28, 2017 and also posted on our FB Page.
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:
- Who Owns a Recipe? Race, Food and The Debate over Cultural Appropriation
- When Chefs Become Famous Cooking Other Cultures' Food
- Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Cuisine
- Why Hunting Down 'Authentic Ethnic Food' is a Loaded Proposition
- Cheap Eats, Cheap Labor: The Hidden Human Cost of Lists
- What Americans are Willing to Pay for "Ethnic" Restaurant Food Reveals Some Deep Prejudices
- Why Everyone Should Stop Calling Immigrant Food 'Ethnic'
- Why We Can't Talk ABout Race in Food
- The Feminist Guide to Being a Foodie Without Being Culturally Appropriative
- 7 Ways of 'Honoring' Other Cultures that are Really Just Cultural Appropriation
- Beyond Talk: Looking for Real Solutions to Food Appropriation
- Dear Sean: We Need to Talk
- America's Most Political Food
- What's Leafy, Green and Eaten by Both Blacks and Whites?
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 😍💯⚖️🍽