I'm a brand new food blogger. There are a lot of topics surrounding baking technique, specialty desserts, and food in general that I'm still learning, and very excited to learn, about. Not to mention all the information about blog and social media maintenance - 100 Instagram impressions a day, photos at least 5x a week, upping the Twitter engagement (confession: I hate, have always hated, will always hate, Twitter). It's a lot to learn and I probably should have thought about that well before I took the leap and started the blog. I'm very lucky that I have an amazing partner who is helping me with a good deal of the work and is just as excited about this project as I am.
What I'm not so brand new at is being a human. I mean, I'm not an Advanced Level Human yet, but I'm at least a Proficient Level Human, definitely not a Novice. So, for example, when I'm beginning work on a new recipe, I look up a lot of different recipes on the internet and in my own baking books. I pull off flavors I like together, I read other blogs. If I don't already know the history and the origins of the food, I look it up. I read about how the food has evolved over time and I read about any controversy that surrounds the food. This comes in part because I fucking love food, so I like reading those articles and knowing that history. But it's also because as a Proficient Level Human, I know if I'm going to blog about a food, I should know about that food, about where it comes from and why the people who made it did. Not only why they made it in the first place, but why they used the ingredients they did. It's part of my responsibility to produce recipes, but a more important part of that job is to produce recipes responsibly.
Here's an innocuous example: When I made pavlova last week, I was under the impression that pavlova is an Australian dessert and was named after the world-famous ballerina, Anna Pavlova. Turns out, there's some disagreement between New Zealand and Australia about where that recipe began, AND an even more recent claim that neither country was the place of origin. All pretty fascinating and fun to know. I wanted to write an essay last week about pavlova. I also wanted to write an essay about babka after making my recipe for chocolate babka (a popular way to do it in America, but not the most traditional). Truthfully, Jewish bakers and historians have done a much better job writing about the decadent bread than I would have. So I was happy to have those resources.
When I brainstorm for my recipes each week, I use a lot of resources. I see what's popular on Instagram. I thumb through food magazines at the bookstore. I sort through Martha Stewart's recipe on her website. I peruse my recipe books to see if there's anything I haven't tried, or an old favorite I've forgotten about. And I check trending foods.
What a disgusting thing.
I don't mean trending food the way kale soared to the top and died. Or blood oranges. Or quinoa. I mean trending food like in the article that I read (and won't link to) that encouraged readers to look out for an uptick in Syrian cuisine due to the Syrian refugee crisis. Or the article that claimed we should all get ready for a year of Filipino cuisine - the new Vietnamese. I wish I didn't have to say why this is offensive. I wish I didn't have to break those sentiments down to "A lot of people are being displaced right now and our government doesn't really care, but at least we'll have new, cool food." Yeah. Doesn't it suck to hear it like that? Doesn't it suck to see someone else's hardship turned into something for someone else (re: someone white) to consume? Good. Because it should suck and we shouldn't be complicit in that.
Food is delicious. Food is exciting. What is not delicious and exciting is labeling an entire nation's food (undercutting the vast differences in diet that exist in one nation, including the United States) as trending. Labeling an entire nationality as a trending food reinforces the idea that white culture is the dominant, or most significant, food culture in the United States. I really can't say it better than Soleil Ho did in her article "Craving the Other." She breaks down the problems with foodie culture and how it diminishes the identities of people of color, then ends the incredible essay with this, "When you divorce a food from its place and time, you can ignore global civil unrest and natural disasters (see: Zagat declaring Pinoy cuisine the “next great Asian food trend” this past fall as deadly floods swept through the Philippines), knowing as you do that the world’s cultural products will always find safe harbor in your precious, precious mouth."
The problem too with labeling a nation or country as "trending cuisine" in the United States is that much of our food culture is dominated by white people. Many kitchens adopting these trending cuisines are run by white chefs. Look at any list of top food bloggers and you'll find the majority of writers are white, like this one from Greatist or this one from Muse. That means that oftentimes the people creating recipes, or menus, or food photography with these "trending" foods are white people who aren't a member of the culture whose food they are preparing. In the article "Beyond Talk: Searching for Real Solutions to Food Appropriation," Brooklyn Delhi owner and food blogger Chitra Agrawal says, "In this day and age there are people who grew up here, who understand the cuisine on this very personal level, and also understand how to communicate that to an audience. The concept [of white chef / blogger / host translating another culture] kind of takes a page from, ‘Let me break down these people’s food because they’re in the back grinding flour in a hut.’" Basically, white people don't need to continue to erase people of color from their own food cultures while appropriating those foods for their own use and pleasure.
Will I be tapping into the "trending" Syrian and Filipino food scene? No, because it's fucked up and I'm a white person and I'm not interested in furthering that seriously messed up narrative. Will I follow chefs and food bloggers of color (Brown Sugar, Chicano Eats, Orange Blossom Water are all blogs I'm currently really excited about) and talking about their own personal ties to these cuisines with the full-force of my passion for food and people? Hell yes I will.