Last week, the New York Times published a piece by me entitled “Cuisines Mastered as Acquired Tastes.” In it, I tried to explore how American-raised chefs learn to cook the food of immigrant cultures, and why they so often become more successful than the immigrants themselves.
I admit the article started in my head because I felt that immigrant chefs often get dealt a tough hand, but I tried to report out an even story. In part, that was because I really respect the American-raised chefs I wrote about, but also because I think many of the factors that make for this phenomenon aren’t anyone’s “fault”—they’re tied up in a bigger picture of how restaurant people, media, and our society deal and don’t deal with all the weird stuff that happens when you mix all kinds of races and cultures together like we do in America.
But then my friend Eddie Huang emailed me. The son of a Taiwanese immigrant restaurant family and chef / owner of Baohaus, he wrote, “Look, for a lot of the article I was like, ‘FRANCIS, HAMMER THEM!’ I really didn’t like the thing about the chefs being more ‘objective’ because they’re distanced from the food and it’s not personal. I disagree entirely. Food is PERSONAL. Business is personal! The Godfather was wrong!”
And so we talked, immigrant son to immigrant son, food-lover to food-lover, Chinaman to Chinaman. (It isn’t the preferred nomenclature, but it works for us.) We had an honest debate over whether it’s right for chefs to “take” someone else’s culture and sell it, what responsibilities writers and chefs have to make sure people understand where cuisines come from, and, in the end, what it means to be an immigrant in America. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation. It’s long and there is some tough talk in there, but we felt it was worth sharing. And please share your thoughts in the comments below, but you don’t want to see how Eddie deals with trolls.
read this read this read this
ugh i have SO MANY feels about this and imo eddie hits the spot here when he says
Well, the crux of the issue for me is this… Immigrants, my parents and myself included, are exposed to years of ridicule. I was made fun of for my stinky lunch upwards of 10 years. Immigrants of our parents’ generation have largely given up any hope that Americans will like their food.
because when we make our food, it’s not desirable. when the product is being made by people who know it, who live with it, who were raised by it and in it (not literally) and with it, it’s the undesirable other, and we are ridiculed for the sorts of food we eat (i still clearly remember having my lunchbox thrown across the room because the people i sat with decided it was “stinky” and “smelly”) and we’re looked down upon because our food is ~backwards~ and ~gross~ and ~why would you ever eat that~ (i have the biggest issue with the last one, especially given china’s recent history with famine — both my grandparents and multiple uncles and aunts (this includes my mom’s cousins and my grandparents’ siblings) on both sides of the family lived through it and i will NOT tolerate people laughing at my cuisine because when there are people living off of tree bark and leather belts, the last thing you care about is whether or not you’re eating pig ears or pig feet)
but the instant a white person comes in and “rediscovers” the food (which was never lost, which we have had to change in order to make a business off of your horrid taste buds because seriously, what the fuck is general tso’s chicken) and repackages it as “authentic” (lol okay because your food is more “authentic” than the food made in the people who have actually grown up eating it, whose dishes have been in families for generations), it’s a hit and everyone loves it and just has to try this suddenly accessible cuisine for hundreds of dollars more than poor immigrants who have to make a living and support themselves and their families have charged.
and given the significance of food in chinese culture, and just how much we are defined by the food that we eat and the sheer hugeness of chinese cuisine (it’s split into five official schools, but there is tons of regional variation) it’s kind of…bleh when you take something that is very genuinely formed by our thoughts/philosophies (confucius made metaphors about governing the country with this shit, but, less jokingly, our food is very much shaped by the belief in balance and harmony) and not only strip the chinese people out of it, but strip the chinese-ness in its preparation (i mean obv not every family talks about ~harmony and ~balance when cooking meals — but the dishes that are cooked, and the way we serve food is very much based in that idea, even if it’s not consciously practiced — my family certainly does not).
plus it does NOT sit well with me that when chinese things are done by chinese people (or sino people, i guess, since chinese culture isn’t exclusive to china (but that does not mean it’s accessible to everyone and everyone can partake in it jsyk it means the various chinese diasporas around the world as well as taiwan)) they’re dirty and gross and undesirable but all of a sudden whitey decides that my culture is hip and chic and all of a sudden he gets to profit off the backs of my people, many of whom in this country are immigrants with a very basic understanding of the language and are trying to do the best they can without nearly the amount of publicity or recognition for PARTAKING IN THEIR OWN CULTURE.
NDN artwork, black music or fashion, etc. etc. When we do it it’s dirty and crap, when a white person does it, it’s new and fresh and revolutionary. And all the people who hop out to defend “cultural sharing” only defend white people doing it, never have anything to say when POC are getting shit upon for DOING THE EXACT SAME THING.
White supremacy disproves it’s own logic everyday, but it’s delusional amnesia and reattribution of itself as the source of all things while it shamelessly steals from everyone else says everything.
It’s not sharing when you do not participate in the communities of origin. It’s not sharing when you cannot tie a name or a place to the thing you’ve taken. It’s not sharing when you refuse to say who you learned it from. It’s not sharing when you profit and give nothing back. It’s not sharing when you take accolades and never point anyone to the person who does it better than you that you got it from.
Everything said here is why I felt a great deal of trepidation when I heard that ‘Filipin@’ cuisine was the next big thing.
Next big thing to whom? I’m pretty sure it has always been big with, you know, Filipin@ people. Like, it has always been my favourite kind of food. But I guess millions of people eating and enjoying the food =\= until a white chef ‘discovers’ it and starts an expensive restaurant for white people.
Chile, they BEEN done that to soul food. It wasn’t anything but nigger shit in our hands but once they got hold of it and cleaned it up (i.e. made it “healthier” by stripping it of everything that made soul food yummy as fuck) then it became “Southern cuisine.”
They do that with our hairstyles too. Any old heads here remember the movie “10” and how Black folks, especially BW, protested how cornrows weren’t new at all and Bo Derek didn’t “discover” them. That we used that style as an easy style-it-and-forget-it do. But when WE wore it, they were just some nigger slave braids.
Hell we were filing lawsuits to be able to wear those styles to work & school while white people were fawning over Bo Derek. Shit, we still occasionally have to take it to court & shit got so real the federal government included hair styles on their list of protections for federal employees. Think about that while you’re fawning over white people discovering anything POC create.
- honeyhut likes this
- pellmellbells reblogged this from sunflecked
- elendraug reblogged this from dearwhitefolk
- amymurlowski reblogged this from mylifeasafeminista
- theblackcommunist likes this
- mujer-invencible reblogged this from dearwhitefolk and added:
- bigmouthbigideas likes this
- totallytaba likes this
- cracks-in-the-ceiling likes this
- sgtbarnes reblogged this from whatgodzillasaidtogod
- whatgodzillasaidtogod reblogged this from queennubian
- whatgodzillasaidtogod likes this
- hiiikathrynnn likes this
- clementinesjupiter reblogged this from mylifeasafeminista and added:
- meander-at-sea reblogged this from warcrimenancydrew
- meander-at-sea likes this
- kissesandchamomile likes this
- agirlnamedmolly reblogged this from douce--amere and added:
- legionsofme reblogged this from warcrimenancydrew
- lookatthisworldinwhichwelive reblogged this from warcrimenancydrew
- sloppyvirginloser likes this
- prettynitsrik reblogged this from warcrimenancydrew
- warcrimenancydrew reblogged this from karnythia and added:
- chicagochi reblogged this from douce--amere and added:
- erespielmorena likes this
- gimmebrainz likes this
- xmeeeshell likes this
- nerdy-but-cool likes this
- calmyodolewhips reblogged this from shakepia and added:
- lazersilberstein reblogged this from superhusbandslove and added:
- glompcat reblogged this from mylifeasafeminista
- soulsentwined reblogged this from vampirefinch
- vampirefinch reblogged this from karnythia
- randomlyrelevant reblogged this from dearwhitefolk
- icecreamorgtfo reblogged this from yiheyuans
- thatchickliz reblogged this from mylifeasafeminista
- cariga reblogged this from doyayoda
- cariga likes this
- krisralphio likes this
- amymurlowski likes this
- okorogariist likes this
- mylifeasafeminista reblogged this from queennubian and added:
- aratal reblogged this from sunflecked
- bookwurm likes this
- alostbird reblogged this from queennubian
- alostbird likes this
- oaklandcitygurl likes this
- defyexpectations reblogged this from sinidentidades
- cpsu likes this