“Spicy, but not too much. Speak up, but not too much.”

I recently read a Civil Eats article titled “Why We Can’t Talk About Race in Food,” a conversation by people of color about how we are silenced for daring to speaking out about “the way race and food intersect.”

When Bonnie Tsui wrote an article for the New York Times called “Why is Asian Salad Still on the Menu?”, she faced severe online backlash. Tsui writes:

The message this dismissive trolling sends: We’re not allowed to talk. We’re not allowed to make critical observations about the language we use for food, or see it as telling of our wider perceptions of the world and the people in it. It’s hard not to see a larger resonance to this. There are many perceptive, thoughtfully written stories about race and food, but from the trolling in the comments sections and on Twitter—all blunt instrument and ham-fisted vitriol, often not responding at all to what the original writings say—you’d think that subtlety and balance did not exist. They do.

Shakirah Simley, co-founder of Nourish, details the double standards people of color in the food industry face:

People of color in food maintain a triple burden: They must be equally eloquent on the roots and recipes of their specific food culture, while remaining skeptical of grossly appropriative and derivative versions of said food and culture (hello weirdly racist Asian chicken salad, fried chicken joints in blackface, and straight up stolen Mexican recipes). All the while, dealing with the interpersonal and structural racism that limits their full potential within kitchens, dining rooms, fields, or editing rooms.

In the face of all this, we persist. We honor unsung food heroes. We open our dream restaurants, which pay homage to our ancestors. We have to show why we matter—bringing forth the stories, the flavors, the issues, the ingredients. We tell our own stories, because we must. And then we get told why we shouldn’t. Because blander, muted, and inappropriately seasoned versions of our food and ourselves is what sells covers—on magazines and in dining rooms.

Spicy, but not too much. Speak up, but not too much.

I urge anyone who’s interested to read the conversation in its entirety.

1 Comment

  1. Some great conversations happening that you tapped into. As you can see, food writing can go many angles. A lot of journalists too–Arellano is a journalist, for example. Some of the recent foodways stuff has been about dinner conversations about race, but there is still a lot of stuff to consider in terms of intersections of race, gender, and labor–and related to this, citizenship. But these complexities are exactly what we’re getting at in this course, understanding the cultural dynamics around Mexican food in the US and across the globe.


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