If you found this blog by Googling my name or by following sundry noxious links (you know where), please note that all claims that I was fired from my job are 100% false, as are most of the other things written about me. I don't know the people who are libeling me, but it's clear they have some imaginary axe to grind and way too much time.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger

I took the winter off due to time and money constraints, and also because it was exhausting and sometimes boring to eat with strangers all the time. Many things have germinated quietly during the cold months, and I've figured out my next steps, career-wise, as well as a few other projects I want to do, food-wise. Strictly Platonic will probably not be the same blog ever again, but I have too many thoughts to suppress, so I guess I'll write other food-related things here until a better platform emerges.

In the Colbert style, I present two things today in the Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger format:

First up, Tip of the Hat to Eddie Huang of Baohaus. Have y'all heard of Baohaus? It's the new gua bao joint that's taken the NYC food scene by storm lately. I haven't been yet, and, being a chink of the uncouth mainlander variety, I've never even had a gua bao in my life. Nevertheless, I've been following Eddie Huang on his blog and I'm digging a lot of what he has to say. Two posts in particular sum up my own feelings on fusion and Chinese immigrant restauranteering.

Every food lover seems to have an opinion of fusion, but when I come across a fusion-y menu item, my question is how they got the idea to put galangal in the beef wellington (not really, that would be gross, but you get the idea). By my reckoning, "fusion" cuisine is the best in the world. Vietnamese cuisine is fusion. Creole is fusion. Pretty much every cuisine in the world is some degree "fusion." The difference in heart (and taste) is that great fusion comes from resourceful people working with what they have in a foreign setting; it comes from diaspora, not some kid out of cooking school with a bag of tricks but no sense of place. Authenticity is not about sticking to a recipe, it's about having a sense of place.

In that way, Eddie Huang and his Baohaus very much "emspiritfy" the type of restaurant I might open someday. I was talking to my friend, the talented Gabriela, about why there's no good Mexican food and very little good Chinese food in Manhattan. In a grander sense, we were also talking about why Mexican food and Chinese food belong in the "cheap ethnic" box rather than "haute ethnic" box (think Japanese food) in the mind of the average white American yuppie foodie.

"The good stuff still lives on in enclaves, serving their own communities," I remarked, "tacos on 116th, Chinese places in Flushing. All places with no real menus, no real ambiance, no English speaking staff, much less any kind of PR strategy. And how many immigrant restauranteurs can afford the overhead in hip Manhattan neighborhoods anyway?"
"Who's going to serve authentic food but make it better, more accessible, then?"
"People like us, I guess. English-speaking, college-educated, social media-savvy."

Eddie seems to be successful because he's done exactly that: kept the authenticity, amped up the quality, and gave it both foodie cred and a dynamic personality. (The words "Niman Ranch" go a long way toward accomplishing two of the above.) So props to him, I'll be interested to see what he does next.

~~~

Next up, Wag of the Finger to Andrea Scotting, who posted this jaw-dropper on The Atlantic today. Here's a test: how many words of that article can you read without rolling your eyes? My eyes met heaven after ten, but let's be honest, the title had me suspicious from the get-go.

Aside from the disturbingly flippant Afghanistan/Haiti allusions, by far the most vapid quote was this one: "But I clearly have a nagging, deep-seated case of something that makes me frame everything in life through food."

Lady, that frame is called privilege, which is clearly something you've never paused to consider very deeply. This is abundantly clear by the lame attempt to claim "equal opportunity" food racism because you also get distracted by New England wasps and their lobster rolls. I agree on one thing: racist is not the right term for you because you can't be racist toward white people. A New England wasp, you see, has never been made to feel Other because of his lobster roll. This is like when Madonna wears a bindi, it's fashion; when an Indian woman wears a bindi, it's foreign.

For you, this must be difficult to understand, because you seem to treat the people of color who provide goods and services in your life like your personal recipe dispensers. I'm sorry, but it's pretty fucking offensive that "dal" lights up in your head every time you see an Indian person. God forbid that person be allowed to exist beyond connoting a foodstuff. Even if it's not true for you, a contributor to The Atlantic who hopefully wrote your article tongue-in-cheek, a lot of people do associate
ChineseAsian people with fried rice/chicken wings/MSG and little else (case in point).

As a person of color, I've come to see food both as a boon and a bane. While it does allow people to connect (and I'm sure that's what you thought you were doing with that call-center employee), boiling people of color down to the bite-sized pieces of their respective cultures happens all too often at the expense of acknowledging the ongoing struggles of the people themselves. Conservatives and liberals alike get to say "look how multicultural we are, all gathered together eating bibimbap," while disenfranchisement and xenophobia remain unchallenged.

And no, cutting a check to the Red Cross does not mean your work is done: if you're going to commoditize, consume, appropriate, "discover," or denounce the commoditizable, consumable, appropriatable, discoverable, and denounceable parts of someone else's culture - most often the foods - at least grapple with the truth that it's because you are white and wealthy that you get to look at the world around you as a smorgasbord.* This is your frame, and you're lucky to have it.

Addendum: Oh good, I'm not the only one who's appalled.
Addendum 2: I read back over some old entries and realized that I've basically said all this before, but in a nicer way.

*You also have to get comfortable with your privilege, because you're not a bad person and at the end of the day, it's ok to keep eating that bibimbap. You can even sing Kumbayaa if you'd like. You just can't write pithy articles about "food racism," because that shit is dumb and pisses me off.