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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.