Washington Post food critic Tim Carman, a middle-aged white man, displays a curious ambivalence about the the movement in Portland, Oregon, to target white restaurateurs who proffer foods derived from other cultures. In an article titled, "Should White Chefs Sell Burritos?" published in the Post on Monday, Carman rants against the white patriarchy, but as a white chef himself, tries to defend white chefs from accusations of cultural appropriation.
Carman starts by referencing the now-infamous incident in which two white women were slammed for selling burritos, forcing them to shut down their thriving business.
Carman notes, "One writer has stated, flat out, that 'Portland has an appropriation problem,' going on to explain (the boldface emphasis is the writer’s)":
Because of Portland’s underlying racism, the people who rightly own these traditions and cultures that exist are already treated poorly. These appropriating businesses are erasing and exploiting their already marginalized identities for the purpose of profit and praise.
Carman points out that a Google doc has been created listing white-owned restaurants that have appropriated cuisines outside their own culture. Then he offers politically correct pablum revolving around the white patriarchy: 'Who can’t identify with a campaign to support the people whose voices are muffled in a culture still dominated by white males?"
Now that Carman has proven his politically-correct bona fides, he can defend white chefs, presumably including himself, from the charge that they have no right to serve food from other cultures:
Some immigrants might take this the wrong way coming from a white guy from the Midwest, who works at a mainstream newspaper, no less. Yet, I must confess that I have trouble accepting this all-or-nothing mission to pry white chefs’ fingers from any dish not of their own culture. Part of it has to do with the country we share, a land of immigrants, whose food is available to anyone with even a tiny sense of curiosity. A white diner is bound to fall in love with some of it.
Ah, so he's defending white chefs. Social justice warriors arise!
Wait! He's reversing course again: "The problem, of course, is not that a white diner falls in love with an immigrant cuisine. It’s that a white person profits from the cuisine or, more troublesome for many, becomes the leading authority on it, rather than a chef born into the culture "
You social justice warriors can calm down again. It's okay for white chefs to serve other cultures' food; it's just not okay for them to profit from it or pose as experts on it.
Carmen names some names: "I’m thinking specifically about chefs and/or authors such as Rick Bayless (with Mexican cuisine), Andy Ricker (with Thai food) and Fuchsia Dunlop (with Sichuan cooking). Bayless, a James Beard Award winner multiple times over, has faced the question of cultural appropriation so often, he once wondered aloud if it’s a matter of reverse racism."
Wait, you warriors, arise again! Carman is defending the chefs again: "Accusations of cultural appropriation are often grounded in an underlying assumption: that privileged white folks contribute nothing to the culture from which they steal. ... But on a macro scale, the involvement of white chefs and restaurateurs with foreign cuisines can benefit all." He even concludes, " ... like it or not, as Francis Lam noted several years ago for the New York Times, U.S.-born chefs and restaurateurs have easier access to the media than their foreign-born counterparts. They have, in other words, the ability to sing the praises of Mexican, Thai, Sichuan or whatever cuisine they love. There is power in that, which should not be dismissed out of hand by those quick to decry cultural appropriation at every turn."
Okay, we get it. White males are evil; white chefs are okay as long as they don't get rich or pose as experts.
All of this seems rather self-serving on Carman's part. But hey, he can serve whatever the heck he likes as long as he doesn't pose as an expert.
But if he's not an expert, why should anyone listen to what he has to say?