Culinary culture is now subject to social-justice scrutiny, and basically everything is problematic.
There’s an entire podcast about “race, gender, food and class,” which is called “Racist Sandwich.” Its latest episode, featuring Filipino-American food photographer Celeste Noche, who expounded on how basically everything in food photography is “loaded.”
For instance, magazines, blogs and photographers who portray food in a minimalist style “suggest a kind of privilege,” Noche says.
“People in other socio-economic backgrounds, they’re ‘minimalist’ because they can’t afford more,” Noche said. “This is all they have. So I think food photography can be very classist in that way.”
Also an expression of privilege: making pasta from scratch instead of buying pre-made pasta from the grocery store. It implies that a cook has the time to make it and can afford the ingredients, Noches says, and it also is “romanticizing a process that was laborsome for some people in the past.”
The podcast devotes significant time to discussing the portrayal of “non-white food” like Asian, Indian or African cuisine.
In an interview today with BBC trending, Noches expounded on some of the complaints she discussed in the podcast.
“I think microaggressions in social media are reflective of food media as a whole in that appropriation,” she said. “These microaggressions can be as simple as a lack of research. … Whether it’s taking photos of dishes with chopsticks sticking straight up into rice or noodles (which can be seen as offensive in some Asian cultures) or dramatization in the props used to style ethnic foods (why are Asian dishes so often styled on bamboo mats or banana leaves with chopsticks?).”
In the “Racist Sandwich” podcast, co-host Zahir Janmohamed bemoaned how “ethnic food has to be dressed up, but a bowl of pasta can stand on its own.”
At one point, he complained that Indian food is often depicted colorfully, because that’s stereotyping Indian culture. He suggests that to buck this stereotype, Indian dishes should be photographed in black and white.
The other co-host, Soleil Ho, vented about the “biased” display of chopsticks, saying they were too often perched on the edge of a bowl. Noche brought up one particularly horrifying depiction, where potstickers sat atop the chopsticks.
Ho added that displaying Asian foods on banana leaves suggests that “Asians are monkey people.”
While the podcast comes across as nit-picky, food magazines, blogs and social media are under increased pressure to be more politically correct.
Last fall, prestigious on Appetit faced a firestorm after publishing a video about the Vietnamese dish Pho that featured a white chef. Whole Foods also sparked a social-justice meltdown when it sold an $8 version of the Harlem classic chopped cheese sandwich. Lena Dunham insists that sushi is cultural appropriation, and comedian Rob Schneider attracted international criticism when he made paella in a “disrespectful” inauthentic glass pan.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.