And The July 5 Comment Of The Day Trifecta Concludes With Arthur In Maine’s Delicious Analysis of “Your 4th Of July Ethics Quiz: Food Racism?”


Finally, in the last of today’s opening trio of outstanding and varied Comments of the Day, Arthur in Maine, whom I did not know until this comment was a former chef, whips up a filling and pleasurable examination of of the issues raised in “Your 4th Of July Ethics Quiz: Food Racism?”...

There’s no longer any doubt in my mind: people are actively looking for ways to be offended. In the case of BLM, for example, the belief is clearly simple-minded rage at the rank-and-file level, but among those further up the chain it’s obviously about power and the grift. Calibrate your outrage correctly, and one can lead quite a handsome life.

Racism (and its first cousins misogyny and homophobia) is the perfect charge to level to achieve this (lucky souls like Lori Lightfoot can, and do, score the trifecta by claiming all three).

As a recovering professional chef (I haven’t lifted a pan for a paycheck in more than 30 years, and still miss it almost every day) I can tell you that serious pro cooks may be able to wow you with the complexity of their offerings. But the foods most of them prefer to eat generally trace back to poverty foods – those developed in poor cultures, where most people ate what the rich folk wouldn’t.

Most Americans, regardless of when or how their ancestors first showed up, simply don’t understand that in most other parts of the world NOTHING goes to waste. We give our scraps to cats and dogs. But very few other places do that. Thus, it’s little wonder that someone figured out a way to make duck feet in a way that actually tastes good. For the record, I would order those in a heartbeat, with full knowledge, just to try them! But in a place like China centuries ago, wasting protein like that was unthinkable, so you did what you could to make them tasty and that’s what’s for supper.

This doesn’t mean I like everything – not by a long shot. I find tripe revolting, and it’s extremely popular in first-world France. As a true afficionado of sushi, I’ll try anything – and just about the only thing I’ve ever been horribly disappointed in at a great sushi bar was ankimo – which is steamed monkfish liver. [Above] It was described to me as the “foie gras of Japan,” and I can see why. But it was still vile. I like foie gras, but not when it’s overlayed with the aroma of a cod-liver-oil-based ointment my mother used to use on us when we were small.

Some cultures happily eat grubs – no thank you. Others eat various insects; again, I’ll pass, but you’re welcome to my helping. The fact is that every culture has its culinary oddities and we’ve all got different tastes. This doesn’t mean our distaste for something is racist. It merely means that it’s so far outside of our culinary comfort zones that we just can’t get our heads around the idea. Many cultures find the American fondness for huge slabs of meat served up with starch baffling, for a variety of reasons.

This, by the way, extends beyond ingredients. There are those only too happy to make accusations of “cultural appropriation” when it comes to food. It is not. When I cook Chinese or Thai or Indian or Mexican food, I do so as a student, not as an appropriator. I do it because I’ve had the good fortune to taste these wonderful cuisines done properly. I want to understand how they’re done, partly because cooking professionally makes you fascinated by differing techniques and ingredients, and partly because I love to eat them and access to these foods locally, prepared by those from that region, is sharply limited. In the case of Chinese, especially, Chinese-American food has been so heavily adapted to North American tastes that it bears little resemblance to the real thing – and almost all of the adaptation has been done by Chinese cooks and restaurant owners. I really want to try the real thing.

Far as I’m concerned, when I make up a dinner of low-country shrimp and grits, the last thing on my mind is contempt for the poor Blacks for whom this was subsistence food. Rather, I’m thinking “this is absolutely ingenious. They took cheap stuff (grits) and free stuff (shrimp) and whatever else they had lying around and made it transcendent!” For me to cook it is not appropriation – it is the deepest possible respect.

I could make a similar argument with music, but I think you folks get my drift. This is “The Great Stupid” and “A Nation of Assholes,” to use Jack’s terms, colliding head-on to form a Great Nation of Stupid Assholes. We’d better come up with a way to pull out of this dive, and quickly.

7 thoughts on “And The July 5 Comment Of The Day Trifecta Concludes With Arthur In Maine’s Delicious Analysis of “Your 4th Of July Ethics Quiz: Food Racism?”

  1. Jack, I think AIM’s entitled to a double header. His reply to Zanshin’s comment is tremendous as well. A post in itself.

  2. Here is an amusing culinary anecdote:

    In my last year of university, I spent a semester in Mérida, Yucatán, México. (Yeah, those accent marks are pretentious but I like them!!!). Now, picture the scene: A Catholic boy from Northfield, OH (southeast of Cleveland, to the uninitiated) decided to go to a foreign country (barely reading the language) to get a deeper understanding of other cultures. Man, I should have listened better in those Spanish classes i aced in high school and college. What they don’t tell you in those classes is that, when you ask a question or make a comment in rudimentary Spanish, the likely response is going to be in a form and rapidity of the language you are not prepared to understand. That, my Ethics Alarmists, includes local spins on words.

    Well, three days into living with a wonderful family, they had their Sunday lunch/dinner. Remember, that Mexican tradition is thus: light breakfast (desayuno), heavier lunch (almuerzo or cena) and dinner (a light snack/lighter meal), with snacks in between. Also remember that Mexican cuisine is much broader and deeper than tacos and burritos, which in Mexico includes more than delicious tacos al carbón, garnachas, sopes (a personal favorite), antojitos (which is a whole new and amazing food group in my never-to-be-humble opinion), and tamales. Mexican cuisine will rival the best of other cultures. These will differ according to regions and local tastes. What you eat in Yucatan is not the same as what you eat in Morelios or Chiapas or Mexico City. All are amazing (though I still can’t wrap my belly around tripas – nope; no way).

    So, there I was, a proverbial Rush fan out of water in a strange world with strange foods and very lovely people who, contrary to anything anyone says, are the most welcoming communities on the planet. If you at least try to adapt, they will embrace you and teach you.

    We were at the table, having said grace, and plates were passed around. Juán, about my age at the time, was showing the proper way to eat tortillas – it’s an art form – filled with beef or chicken and black beans, cut onions, radishes, and lettuce. There was this bowl in front of me with a clear liquid and chunks/pieces of some red things. They were dabbing their tacos with this sauce, so I thought I would show my open-mindedness and do the same, whereupon I ladled lots of those lovely red pieces and the vinegar salsa with reckless abandon.

    Mamá Alicia was watching me and said, “Ten cuidado, Juán. Esa salsa pica. Pica mucho.” I kept spooning this salsa onto my taco. She said again, “Pica, Juán.” Then, she sat back and watched. Juán, rapscallion that he was, couldn’t wait for the show to start and his twin sister, Claudia, just watched. I, oblivious to what “pica” meant and the sudden quiet settling on the table, dove into my taco. And immediately wished I hadn’t. At first, I had this amazing sensation of flavors, which lasted about 7 tenths of a second. Then, all hell broke loose: The top of my head exploded, my face went from normal tones to blood red, my throat tightened, my eyes watered, and I very nearly passed out that the table. Juán fell out of the chair from laughter, Claudia looked on with sympathy (damn luck, that . . .), and Mamá Alicia just shook her head.

    First Responders were called, last rites were administered, and an impatient call was made to my parents informing them that Sunday lunch had taken its most unfortunate toll. After the paramedics put the fire in my throat out and repaired the damage to my skull, Mamá Alicia explained that I put way too much chile habanero on my taco, and that there was a plastic spoon in the salsa for a reason – the metal ones melt from the heat but it has no effect (well, to her knowledge, anyway) on plastic spoons. Habaneros are to be used sparingly and treated with utmost respect and deference. Juán still laughs about it and Claudia fell in love with someone else . . .

    That, my friends, goes to show you that you should listen to your mamá and/or inform your Spanish teachers that “pica” means a whole lot more than “to pinch or stick”. It also means, “that is spicy.”


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