Learning to savor other cultures
“American” food includes a melting pot of flavors and influences. Yet restaurants sometimes exploit the cultures they seek to celebrate.
We asked Paloma Martinez-Cruz, associate professor of Latino/a cultural and literary studies and author of the book Food Fight! Millennial Mestizaje Meets the Culinary Marketplace, to help us better honor cultural culinary influences.
- What led you to write this book?
The first chapter that I worked on was “Farm to Table: The Alt Food Network.” Culinary sophistication, aesthetic excellence, local and sustainably sourced food, all of those are important with “farm to table” food. But we need to make sure we’re not just paying attention to what the food is and where it comes from, but who produces it, and what those working conditions are.
- How can food consumers celebrate cultures without appropriating?
We should be enjoying each other’s cultures — that’s the thrill of the national project. To achieve its promise, we should look for what misappropriation looks like: defamatory. A local “Mexican” restaurant uses a mustache logo and celebrates Cinco de Mayo with “Ride the mustache” signs, mocking the people to which these foodways pertain. Leave feedback for managers. Purchase fair-trade products (fairfoodprogram.org). Even Target sells fair-trade labels.
- What else can food decision makers do that’s helpful?
Sponsor, plan or mentor a migrant’s business, send a worker to culinary school or feature migrant cooks in brand stories. A litmus test: Is this something you would say if most patrons were of Mexican or Latinx heritage, or is it having fun at the expense of a culture? Cinco de Mayo has essentially become Mexican St. Patrick’s Day. There are ways to celebrate culture and welcome people, but think about who you’re welcoming.
About the author
Brooke Preston is a lifestyle, culture and comedy writer based in Columbus.