Back near the beginning of this blog, I wrote about how Vegetarian Journal exotified Asian foods & seemed, in doing so, to be writing from a viewpoint that centered non-Asian — probably white — American experience & culture.
I was excited to look at the most recent issue & find an article called “Vegan Fare from India” that was an exception to this attitude. While describing common ingredients & modes of preparation in Indian food, nothing was said about how “exotic” anything was. We didn’t get the ooh-ing & ahh-ing (Those funny brown folks! Whatever will they come up with to eat next?) that makes me wanna claw someone.
So I was irked to see, elsewhere in the magazine, a blurb called “Practically Perfect Pakoras.” The frozen pakoras reviewed will appeal to “even the most culinarily timid” & serve to introduce them “to this seemingly exotic cuisine.” In fact, “[e]ven people who normally find Indian food intimidating” will like them.
Again, I ask, exotic to whom? (I noticed that the article on Indian food was written by someone whose bio & name leads me to believe she is Indian, which may explain why it lacked the annoyance factor of the pakora review.)
Look, I get that many people have never eaten Indian (or fill-in-the-blank with whatever cuisine) food. But there’s a difference between acknowledging that, & assuming that your audience has uniformly come from such a background — & that such a background is the norm.
I’m so glad you brought this up! I fear I am probably guilty of some of this myself, out of what amounts to ignorance. Which isn’t an excuse, just that having it pointed out to me helps me increase my sensitivity. An ongoing project, I think, for most of us who grew up white. There’s so much that is unconscious, it helps to read these things so that we can dig it out of that unconscious state.
Something else that gets to me is when people go on about how “authentic” a food is at various restaurants. I was at an ethiopian restaurant last weekend with a friend and she was talking about the authenticness (if that is a word), and I started laughing. Who are WE, whose entire experience of Ethiopian cuisine is through restaurants in DC, to make a judgement like that? And anyway, I think it is some weird status thing. I always argue that there is no such thing as “authentic” the way it tends to be used in these situations, because if we were in Ethiopia eating at the houses of various people, we’d never taste the same thing the same way twice, would we? It would depend on who was cooking it, what foods were available at the time, the preferences of the people who were cooking or being cooked for, how it happened to turn out that day, etc.
I don’t know if I’m making much sense to anyone but myself, but I’m definitely going to pay more attention to assumptions I might make as to my audience in the future. Thanks again for posting about this.
Good point about the expected audience of these pieces. I’ve always thought that when ‘exotic’ recipes or ingredients are written about in mainstream magazines, it’s exotic to middle-America. But since this is in Vegetarian Times, one would expect the average subscriber would not want to feel patronised in being told what they may have never heard of.
Deb, I understand what you’re saying about authenticity. Once, I met a young lady who refused to eat Japanese food unless it was served by a Japanese cook. Her argument was that only ‘real’ Japanese could cook authentic Japanese food. And like you said, how could she have known what authentic means if she were a Serbian girl who has never been to Japan? It’s just snobbery, plain and simple.
Wow, I’m not sure I ever thought of it like that! Though I’m white Australian, my mother’s family spent some years in Malaysia, so we were just as likely to have Asian-style food as we were that English/Australian food at family occasions. And, as many of my friends are from Asian backgrounds, the average social occasion usually features food from a wide spectrum of cultures. It’s rather enlightening at times!
Hmm, you’ve got me thinking now! 😀 Keep up the good work!
Thanks for your comments, everyone! (&, er, better late than never w/my response? Eeek!)
The “authenticity” thing is such a sticky wicket. I mean, there’s the whole issue of who gets to decide what’s authentic, like you folks have said, & also obviously fusion of cultures is a natural (& often good) thing. But then you have to look @ how the fusing is happening — is it more like one culture being subsumed/swallowed by another (like, er, so much of what gets eaten by American culture these days)? Who’s got the position of power in what melds together? etc.
I think about the authenticity stuff wrt travel a lot, too — & hopefully @ some point I’ll be posting here w/some of my thoughts.
Thanks for commenting, everyone!
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