Fresh Talks at the National Museum of Women in the Arts
Last week, I was invited by Washington D.C.'s National Museum of Women in the Arts to talk about culinary justice & what that means to me. In my speech, I wanted to highlight the ways we are socialized to assume a variety of arbitrary ideas about food. (You can watch the full clip above.)
The most overt one our industry is (finally) addressing is how white American / W. European interpretations of food & food culture are seen as the starting point for contextualizing food, rendering non-white foods a digression from “normal” instead of independent entities with their own texture, meaning, and history. For example, eating with chopsticks, or hands, or a spoon & fork, instead of a fork & knife is not just a difference in utensil choice, but an expression of how foods have adapted and evolved within & alongside the culture & people of the region.
When whiteness is the standard rubric by which we evaluate food, BIPOC foods & foodways become categorized as “other”. This ideological split is ironic when you consider the fact race is a social construct that requires multiple parties to exist. Why is it we allow one white man’s interpretation of Japanese Americans as the “model minority” to impact generations of Asian Americans, but my dish that critiques this myth is derided as something too “niche” for white America to partake in? This separation — cleverly guised as “diversity” — is not accidental; it is how our industry ensures BIPOC foods (and people) never threaten the foundational idea of whiteness as the center point of our food systems.
The narrative of "realness" underpins this delineation. When BIPOC make foods of their backgrounds, when their excavation of family stories & recipes are done in relation to white America’s idea of their “real” home, that is celebrated. But what of foods built from very real, but non-white, American experiences not rooted in "cultural heritage"? If the dishes I create can never be American, but aren't classically Chinese, or even Asian...what are they? What am I?