Are you a food racist?

The guilty taco.

Are you a food racist?

Now, I admit this is a term I’ve never run into before, not until I read an article by Ruben Navarrette (CNN.com) who suggests, that although we shouldn’t be overly sensitive to such accusations nor be overly worried, it is food for thought. (My pun not his.)

My knee jerk reaction was come on now, is this for real? Apparently it is.

Navarette sets a scale for bigotry and racism from one to ten. In fact, I’ll use his words here:

“But if you ranked a bunch of racist acts from 1 to 10, with 1 being the most harmless and 10 being the worst, Sheriff Joe Arpaio rounding up Mexicans in Arizona might be a nine. What you hear from cable demagogues could be an eight. The New Mexico innkeeper who fired workers for not anglicizing their names would be a seven.”

Then, certain events in the sports world as of late are rated according to this scale. Apparently ESPN broadcaster Griese, when asked where Juan Pablo Montoya, a Nascar driver was to be found, answered words to the effect, he was probably out having a taco.

This, Navarette suggests, would deserve a 4 rating on his racism-o-meter. So now, you get the drift of his system.

He also mentions, but does not rate an incident relating to Tiger Woods, and a comment made by another golfer about the menu for the big Championship Dinner – apparently. the previous year’s winner picks the menu -- where this other golfer suggested that Woods should be told not to serve fried chicken and collard greens. To which Navarette says:

“Fried chicken and collard greens, huh? Now that's what I call food racism.”

Gosh, I’m sure glad I read this article before I suggested to Maria, my Mexican neighbor that we might go out for a taco (although my personal preference is for tamales.) I’d sure hate to be a food racist. Does this mean come Sunday, when Angie and her daughter come over for supper, seeing as they are African Americans, it would be in bad taste to serve fried chicken and collard greens? Because that sounds like good food to me. Tacky? Questionable?

And by this same token, if Mr. Griese had suggested a white, male, Anglo-type, American race car driver was probably out having a Big Mac, would that also rate a four on this scale?

I really need your help here because as a newcomer to this country, I’d hate to insult someone, however inadvertently.

Now, granted I believe that Mr. Navarrette must have had his tongue firmly in his cheek while writing some of this, or at least I hope so. And I agree with him that Hilary Clinton was ill advised to use the analogy , "We treat these problems as if one is guacamole and one is chips, when ... they both go together," while campaigning to a Latino audience -- to say the least.

But food racism?

Maybe my own ethnic background is what holds me back from taking this seriously. I think I’m jealous. Yes, jealous of those whose ethnic cuisine is interesting enough to become synonymous with their race. I’m English and Scottish – and if these two cultures are renowned for anything gastronomical, it is in the sheer stolid blandness of their national dishes. I was served porridge (read oatmeal) every morning for breakfast, and meat, always well done and never seasoned, mashed potatoes (and don’t even think of adding cheese, or roasted garlic, or browned onions) and some vegetable -- boiled peas, carrots with no butter or (gag) pureed turnip – each night. Sunday was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding night. Salt was acceptable and used liberally, but pepper was suspect, one tiny shake. My dad, and only my dad, put horseradish on his beef, but I was told I wouldn’t like it and not allowed any. But then Dad had travelled the world and become accustomed to food with taste.

When I grew older and liberated myself from our Anglo Saxon diet, my first foray was into the prairie-small-town version of Chinese food, brilliant red sugary sauces and bilious yellow sugary sauces on nicely diced crispy vegetables (not soggy boiled ones – that alone was a treat), and bits of meat, with rice and crispy noodles. It wasn’t great by my standards today, but back then, it was the discovery of a sparkling new world. And when I mentioned to my school-chum, Lily Wong, how much I’d enjoyed it, she sneered. “That’s the stuff we cook for you people, not what we eat at all.” I hinted around for a dinner invite so I could try the real thing, but she said I wouldn’t like it. “You people want everything sweet.” Maybe she was a food racist.

My next exotic food experience was with the tongue-tingling dishes of India. An Indian family moved in to the house four doors down, and they had a daughter, Shalissa, about my age, and this time I succeeded in getting that invite. Imagine, if you will, the sheer excitement the first time my virgin taste buds met succulent tender chicken smothered in Mrs. Nadoo’s homemade curry sauce. The heat and spice of it brought tears to my eyes. Mr. Nadoo kindly bade me eat a mouthful of diced cucumber, in yoghurt and mint leaves – delicous – to calm my palate, and on the side, a delightful bowl of steamed spinach with chunks of creamy cheese – nirvana. The memory of that meal stays with me to this day. As does the memory from some years later, when the property manager whose books I balanced complained, “I don’t like renting to those curry-eaters; the smell takes forever to get out of the walls.” Maybe he was a food racist.

Then I discovered the rich, vibrant cuisines of Italy, and I don’t mean pizza. I could write several hubs on my love affair with Italian food. Eggplant breaded in fine crumbs and dried herbs, driggled with olive oil, topped with shaved cheese and baked; rigatoni with diced veal, tomatoes, onion, fresh herbs, with ricotta cheese; fish in fresh lemon and herbs, brushed in olive oil; chicken ... Oh, sorry. I was drifting off, dreaming about all that good food. I loved it so much I went to a cooking school, run by one Mrs. DeLucca and learned how to make it all myself. A few years later, on a second date with an Italian-Canadian man, I offered to cook a meal, rather than go out to a restaurant. “No thanks,” he said. “You Anglos never get it right. It’s always too much or too little of everything.” Maybe he was a food racist.

I went east to study and graduated from the University of Montreal. I enjoyed every moment of my years in that hedonistic city, where some of the finest restaurants in the world can be found, as well as communities representing every ethnic group from anywhere. I travelled on an international scale by using my Metro pass.

Later, I travelled for work all over the place – Europe, the then Soviet Union, South America, West Africa, the U.S. and Canada. I ate well wherever I went. I shared meals with wonderful people, sometimes in their homes and others at their favorite restaurants. And everywhere I went, I met some people who make assumptions based on your race or ethnic background.

Often I struggled to hold a polite smile while being lectured on the problems with or -- even more insutling -- lack of American culture. I’d long given up on informing them I was Canadian. Most of them wouldn’t know the difference or care. Many even informed me there was no difference. America (including Canada) has no culture, no real cuisine. We all eat nothing but junk, and we’re all overweight. Where is that American? Oh probably over there stuffing her face with something that ends in ‘itos. Maybe they were food racists.

You know, maybe Mr. Navarrette has a point; though I doubt even he sees it. He says Latinos are insulted when we lump them all together and assume they all came from Mexico. We should know the difference and recognize the cultural and ethnic variations of Columbians, Venezuelans, Peruvians and Puerto Ricans. They don’t, he infers, all eat tacos. That’s food racism.

Well, Mr. Navarrette, that works both ways. Not all of us gringos eat the same stuff, think the same way, have the same ethnic background, the same prejudices, the same ideologies. (Though I was once told we all look alike.) I think we should put a stop to food racism by forgetting all about it. We have bigger problems to worry about.

And speaking of tacos, I have to say that during all the aggregate months I worked in Mexico City, I never once saw anyone eating a taco.

Tacos are American – like eggrolls.

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Comments 17 comments

Beata Stasak profile image

Beata Stasak 6 years ago from Western Australia

Great my Immartin, I laughed a lot reading your article and yes, you can not stop 'food racism' up THERE, especially in Europe /no counting England/, the food preparation is something they are very proud of and believe that English/Americans/Canadians/Australians...can not learn how to do properly even after spending on it whole lifetime. I don't believe it, I live in Australia and there are so many great chefs and food cultures from all around the world.


Nan Mynatt profile image

Nan Mynatt 6 years ago from Illinois

Food is something that each nationality prides in being unique. In the south both black and white eat fried chicken and collard greens(smile). My father was Scotish-Irish, from England, and I ate only bland food. I can't eat spicy foods, those with pepper, they don't agree with my stomach! I use to go with my kids and deceased husband, to Canada every summer, Manotoba, and Quebec, the French quarters in Quebec, to fish. I never fished just read books!


GusTheRedneck 6 years ago

lmmartin - The only good food is dead food. :-)))


papajack 6 years ago

I, on the other hand, loved to cross over to Juarez and have tacos from a street vender. I don't know what was in them for sure, but they were the best I've ever eaten. My family is from west Texas and Mexican food is a staple. Are we food racists?


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Thanks for all your kind comments. Oh how I love the world we live in -- so much to laugh at. I sent Mr. Navarrette a copy of this along with an invitation to leave a comment and I hope he does, but don't think he will.

Bon appetite.


kartika damon profile image

kartika damon 6 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

My mother's father came here from England and her mother's parents came from England - my mother was the worst cook on the planet - everything was boiled to death, bland, and white! I was thrilled to get spaghetti once a week and in later life "ethnic" cuisine was a godsend! When I had the opportunity to eat Chinese food I though I'd discovered heaven! A typical American diet has degenerated into a gastric nightmare of overly processed and genetically engineered make believe food! I love Indian food the best! Am I a food racist? Kartika


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

No Kartika, My mother was the worst cook on the planet. At least you got spaghetti once a week -- if I got it, it was canned. Are you a food racist -- no, like all of us raised with that boiled, bland stuff, you just developed taste buds and moved into more interesting ethnic food. The whole thing just struck me as a bit on the funny side.


retellect profile image

retellect 6 years ago from United Kingdom

I'm no food racist! I love trying food from other countries, race poses no issue in my life whatsoever. I agree that British and Scottish food (not much difference) is very bland, most of the dishes are boiled with added salt!


kartika damon profile image

kartika damon 6 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

lol! immartin, one thing all my Anglo friends whose mom's cooked English style agree on is we had lots of bland food to complain about! I was actually thrilled when she started serving T.V. dinners occasionally!


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

Immartin - great hub, funny, yet you gave us something to think about. If I ever invite you over for dinner, I'll make sure not to serve you porridge.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

I surely would appreciate that.


Jody Rodger 6 years ago

I love Italian food, Mexican food, Chinese food, Indian food, a little seafood, I will try almost anything once. I like spicy food, which doesn't always agree with me. My mom was an excellent cook, I loved her food, though sometimes she went a little to heavy on salt.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Lucky you to have Mom prepare delicous dinners for you. Isn't that one of the wonderful things about North American life -- we integrate the cuisine of all nationalities and call it our own. Thanks for the comment. Bon appetite.


nifty@50 profile image

nifty@50 6 years ago

To say all those groups eat tacos is ignorant and bigoted but Racist....No! Look up the word ! The belief of the inherent(by virtue of birth)superiority of your race over another one and because of that superiority you are entitled to dominate or rule over that race. Racism is one of the most misused and over used terms to the point that it no longer has any significance.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Okay and thanks for clearing that up. Lynda


YOsh 4 years ago

This is the stuff of satire articles and comedy bits. Good material here. Absolutely Hilarious!


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 4 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Thank you.

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