Hosting dinner guests has always been complicated. What are their likes and dislikes? Does anyone have food allergies? Are they vegetarian or vegan?
Last week, however, I discovered how complicated the world has become. I am only allowed to serve culturally appropriate meals.
Not culturally appropriate for the guests. I can only prepare food that is culturally appropriate for me to cook.
In case you missed the story in the news, two young women vacationed in Puerto Nuevo, Mexico, and fell in love with the tortillas. They asked about how they were made and were given incomplete answers. Sort of like asking for an old family recipe and grandma withholds a key ingredient. The two women watched the tortillas being prepared. They even, as they admitted, peeked through windows to learn the techniques. They became convinced that making good tortillas was easy.
Returning to Portland, they attempted to replicate the recipe. An article about their eventual success quoted one of the entrepreneurs, “We learned quickly it isn’t quite that easy. . . The day after we returned, I hit the Mexican market and bought ingredients and started testing it out. Every day I started making tortillas before and after work, trying to figure out the process, timing, refrigeration and how all of that works.”
Eventually, they perfected the recipe and opened a wildly popular food truck – Kooks Burritos. The article above was the pinnacle of their success. And then all of the publicity quickly turned negative.
Critics cried foul saying that the women did not compensate the Mexican women for their recipes. Besides, how dare these two women prepare Mexican dishes when they weren’t Mexican.
Three days after the first – positive – article appeared, the story went national. The criticism was unyielding and, one day later, the popular restaurant closed. All of its social media accounts were deleted.
But the bad press wasn’t done. Other restaurants were warned in an editorial, “While the closing of Kooks Burritos is a victory, it’s a small one and unless we continue to call this out it will happen again.”
Now some of you may be confused why a small food truck owned by two women was targeted when large national chains appear to do the same. Don’t worry, though, Taco Bell is confident that no one will confuse their offerings with actual Mexican food.
After reading these articles, I realized that I was guilty, too. My next dinner party featured chicken enchiladas.
Who did I think I was? I looked deep in my heart and realized I need to apologize. So here goes:
I appropriated my chicken enchilada recipe. A woman shared her recipes on the internet and I downloaded several. I changed several items as I experimented with variations, but the basis is this poor woman’s recipe. And, I must confess, I never paid her. I can only ask for forgiveness. So, if you are listening, I hope you will accept my apologies, Señora Betty Crocker.
Whew, I feel better already.
But with a dinner party looming, I am scanning my recipe list to find something I am culturally allowed to prepare.
I am Southern. What Southern delicacy can I prepare?
Shrimp and grits!
Many of you not from the Southern US might find that combination to be quite unsettling, but its recipes date back to . . .
Grits, made from corn, originated with the Muskogee Indians. The Gullah Geechee, slaves from West Africa that worked plantations in the Low Country of South Carolina, combined the grits with cheap seafood caught along the coast. Shrimp was plentiful and became a staple ingredient. So this Southern delicacy was culturally appropriated from African slaves who culturally appropriated it from Native Americans. Based on today’s cultural appropriation rules, this dish requires chefs to be descendants of both slaves and Muskogee Indians. I strike out on both counts. Strike the shrimp and grits.
What else did I learn as a child? My parents taught me how to make pizza and pizza parties were always a neighborhood hit.
We (ok, fine, my mother) would make the dough and let it rise all day. We would cut up lots of vegetables and meats, make a sauce, and set everything out on the counter. Friends would come over and each could add whatever ingredients they wanted to their own pizza. We created some wild combinations.
But where did this pizza making knowledge originate?
My father learned all about making pizza while living in a Polish neighborhood in Chicago.
He worked at various jobs to earn cash to pay his way through college. One of those jobs was working in the steel mills of Chicago. At one point, he lived in a relative’s attic that had been converted to a bedroom. That neighborhood was primarily Polish. They rolled out the pizza dough in square or rectangular pans and added polish sausage as the primary meat.
When my father returned to Nashville, he brought the concept back because pizza was unheard of then – the mid 1950’s.
Later, as pizza became more known, we converted to round pizza pans like most everyone else.
Can you see the problem here? We took an Italian concept through a Polish filter and then added the shape from restaurants. We are neither Italian nor Polish nor restaurant owners. Making pizza might result in my sentencing in a Hague court for all of the cultural crimes.
Ok, what about my mother’s lasagna recipe? I grew up eating it. She found the recipe on the back of a Mueller’s box. Mueller’s lasagna pasta. But pasta is problematic since historians argue whether it originated from Italians, Arabs or Chinese. And I am none of the above. Can’t do it.
Next in my recipe book. Fried rice! People love it whether I add shrimp or chicken or pork. But I have no Asian relatives. Strike it off the list.
Ok, let’s go the root. What am I?
My family came to the United States in the late 1700’s, arriving mostly from Ireland, Scotland and England.
Perfect, I will just prepare an Irish meal.
What comes to mind? -Shepherd’s pie – lamb cooked with vegetables and covered with a crust of mashed potatoes.
Potatoes aren’t Irish. They originated in Bolivia somewhere between 5000 and 8000 BC and were culturally appropriated by the Spanish when they conquered Peru in the 1500’s. Sir Walter Raleigh is credited with introducing potatoes to Ireland shortly after. So the potatoes have to come off the recipe.
And that lamb? Sheep date back to 9000 – 11000 BC in Mesopotamia. No lamb allowed.
You are welcome to come to the house for dinner, but I am going out into the woods, cutting some branches, and chopping them up with their leaves, and serving it on a plate.
But no kudzu. That’s from Japan. I don’t want the cultural police to raid my dinner party.
On this Memorial Day, I want to express my gratitude to all of those who gave their lives in the defense of this great nation and our allies. My thoughtful support is given to the families and loved ones left behind. Your ultimate sacrifice humbles me and I am forever grateful.