Food Guilt

If you haven’t been made to feel guilty enough recently about all your shortcomings in open-mindedness and inclusivity, here’s yet another aspect of your life to repent of – your taste in foods.

According to this article, white Americans are basically racist when it comes to food.  We claim to like a broad variety of cuisines and tastes and influences, but we refuse to pay for them, relegating them to a substandard industry where they are forced to compromise to keep prices low while still making ends meet.  This results in non-authentic cuisine that is not reflective of the rich diversity of the cuisine in its native culture, which further reinforces our cultural stereotypes of the food.  A vicious cycle predicated upon our stupidity as consumers and our racist tendencies as human beings.

All of which is fascinating and, in various ways, I’m sure somewhat true.

However the article seems woefully one-sided in evaluating the nuances involved in this subject.  Primarily, it performs a basic form of racism itself, where it presumes that the guilt and decisions in this arena are completely in the realm of white Americans, and completely ignores the economics and priorities and choices of the people running ethnic restaurants.

The article makes no mention of how pricing of food in countries of origin affects the way restaurant owners price the food when they come to America.  If you come from a culture where the majority of people don’t pay for extremely expensive food, those assumptions about pricing will likely translate to your new culture – at least initially.

There is no mention about how a newly-arrived entrepreneur might need to price things more affordably because they can’t afford to fail.  Finding financial backing to launch a high-end, ritzy Chinese restaurant might be difficult for an emigree – in part because of stereotypes here in America, to be sure, but also perhaps due to a comparative scarcity of capital.  If your goal is to move to a new country and establish yourself with a reliable source of income, how risky do you want to be?  Do you set up shop quickly and sell food as cheaply as you can to build a large customer base?  Or do you hope that your understanding of your new culture is adequate enough to successfully launch a chic, boutique, upscale dining experience?

Who is the restaurant owner trying to cater to as well – Americans or a smaller ethnic population base within the larger culture?  Is the Chinese restaurant owner hoping to lure in other Chinese, or Americans?  How does this affect pricing, as discussed above, based on the pricing of food those other Chinese diners might expect from their own lives in China?

Basically the article ignores completely the role of the ethnic restaurant owner, and focuses solely on the white American consumers as the cause of problems and challenges.  Midway through the article the expert briefly admits that there is a natural, human tendency to like what we know, what is part of the dominant culture in which we are born and raised.  “It’s important to point out that this is all probably part of the natural ethnocentricity of a people.”  In which case, all cultures and all peoples are guilty of liking what they like because they were born and raised with it and because it is what they are most familiar with and because they are less familiar with other types of food and cooking.  And if this is the case, perhaps it isn’t something to feel guilty about, but rather to recognize as inevitable and probably at a base level, good.

The assumption that we all ought to be blank slates open to uniform and wide-ranging shaping and influencing is problematic on so many levels, yet forms the basis for most of our cultural self-critiques these days.  The upshot seems to be that we are bad people as white Americans, yet we are guilty of nothing more than the average Chinese or Indian or French person in this particular respect of food preference.  In this article the assumption is that we ought to be willing to pay more for ethnic food and we’re racist because we won’t.  Perhaps we ought to start questioning why we pay so much for certain kinds of food, and whether that’s really necessary or wise.

 

 

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