feature image via shutterstock.com
Tacos are all the rage nowadays. Yuppies flock to cool taco trucks, hipsters love to discover hole-in-the wall taquerias and foodies can’t get enough of trendy taco restaurants — it’s all so much fun! I’ve seen “upscale” and “gourmet” taco restaurants open up all over Texas that are backed by large corporations and usually benefiting only white people. Hell, the people demanded a taco emoji (granted, a white-centric one) and received it because people love tacos so much.
The American palate is expanding and tasting untasted territory all the time through talented chefs creating and experimenting with new flavor profiles and through cuisines introduced by immigrants from all over the world. It’s really cool that we can try Vietnamese, Dominican, Thai, Peruvian, Ethiopian and a swarm of other “ethnic” foods in most urban cities, but sometimes embracing another culture can blur between appreciation and appropriation. I totally want others to enjoy tacos and buy tacos, especially from Mexican people who make them, because they’re so delicious and an integral part of Mexico’s identity. When it comes down to it, you don’t automatically appreciate Mexican culture by virtue of eating tacos — you have to be down with la raza.
There’s a bad taste in my mouth when white restaurant owners co-opt tacos for profits and white foodies venture for the most “authentic” tacos as a badge to show off their own expansive tastes because in both cases they’re taking parts of a culture they enjoy and commodifying it, all while disregarding the parts they don’t care for. Immigration, low-wage jobs in the food and farm industries and gentrification, just to name a few, are issues that concern Mexicans/Americans, the very people that created the tacos. Do white people eating tacos care for rights of the undocumented worker preparing their next Instagrammable plate? Can the Mexican cooks, waitresses, busboys, dishwashers and staff who work at these restaurants afford to eat the food? When taquerias owned by Mexicans don’t conform to white people’s tastebuds or standards of appearance, will its food be acclaimed?
The interactions between white people and Mexican food has always been fucked. Before it became popularized in the U.S., Mexican food was thought of too exotic, dangerous and spicy to be eaten. Food historian Jeffrey Pilcher points out these ideas have reinforced racist images of Mexicans. “People use food to think about others, and popular views of the taco as cheap, hot, and potentially dangerous have reinforced racist images of Mexico as a land of tequila, migrants, and tourist’s diarrhea.” My family has experienced the impact of these racist ideas. I wrote in the first Taco Tuesday column about how my mom was embarrassed to eat the tacos my grandmother prepared for her school lunch in front of her classmates. Immigrant food has always been scorned for being the other and for not conforming to American culture. It wasn’t till Glenn Bell, the founder of Taco Bell stole the crispy taco recipe from the Mexican American restaurant across the street from his hot dog stand that Americans were open to eating tacos. Ever since the taco was introduced to the American mainstream, the Mexicans behind the taco have been exploited.
Today tacos are ubiquitous, come in a variety of price points, creations and fusions. Now white people aren’t afraid of eating most tacos since Taco Bell got them well acquainted. Some have even graduated to wanting more “authentic” versions. Now in foodie culture, people are obsessed with authenticity of “ethnic” food which can be just as problematic. They want to eat at the taqueria where all the Mexicans eat at because that must mean it’s authentic. They want to be the first ones to report on the crazy fillings they tried at the badass taqueria, like grasshoppers, ant eggs, veal brain or tripe. They get to prove their worldliness when they eat tacos. When I say I love tacos, I’m a Mexican girl cliche but when a white person loves tacos they’re with it, they’re in the know.
Ruth Tam writes in The Washington Post about the “sting” of this kind of cultural appropriation. Growing up, she was ashamed of her family’s Cantonese food but now the same food is touted as the latest trend. The same dishes being hyped up are the ones that were looked down on when cooked by her family in their homes. She points out how immigrant food is treated in the U.S.
“In the United States, immigrant food is often treated like discount tourism — a cheap means for foodies to feel worldly without leaving the comfort of their neighborhood — or high-minded fusion — a stylish way for American chefs to use other cultures’ cuisines to reap profit. The dishes of America’s recent immigrants have become check marks on a cultural scavenger hunt for society’s elite.”
I frequent various taquerias around East and South Dallas, each one of them different and great in their own way. One of them is El Come Taco that serves up tasty traditional D.F. tacos like al pastor and alambre tacos and other street fare like tortas and pambazos. The place is owned by a really nice dude named Luis Villalva, who runs it with his family. You can find his mom in the back cooking meats on the flattop and his sister usually is the one who takes our orders. The tacos at this place are fucking delicious, there’s no doubt about it. The cabeza I usually order is always tender and seasoned just right while the salsas they tailor make to accompany different tacos are full of kick that takes the whole thing to the next level.
This taqueria stands out from the rest not only because of their amazing food but because of their well-designed, bright space and welcoming atmosphere, which is very — as the Dallas Observer puts it — “taqueria chic.” Their hot pink logo is the white outline of a calavera with a big sombrero and mustache which is also branded on their blond tabletops. You can find caged filament bulbs, exposed ductwork, distressed-looking walls and magenta and lime green accented walls throughout the restaurant while a sleek white front counter awaits you when you order. It’s a win-win situation for the gentrifiers in the area, they get great “authentic” food without having to deal with the unwanted brownness of a shitty looking taqueria.
Don’t get me wrong, I love eating at El Come and I whole-heartedly support this local, Mexican-owned business that is succeeding and making a name for themselves. I just wonder if this restaurant would be so lauded and popular with Dallas’ yuppies, foodies and hipsters if it weren’t for it’s stylish appearance — a sanitized version of a typical taqueria that is comfortable enough for a white person to dine at. The Dallas Observer writes in their review of El Come: “With a slick décor and a warm demeanor El Come updates what can typically be a little rough around the edges, and without losing a shred of character or authenticity.” Yelp reviews of the place echoes the same sentiment: “one of the nicer taco shops in the neighborhood”;”Clean and modern”;”Compared to taco spots a few blocks away, it felt very clean, well designed and with a bit of a hipster feel.” What all these reviews imply is that El Come Taco’s design strips away racist connotations associated with “ethnic food” like uncleanliness that leads to sickness or a rundown shop that in turn caters to low-income folks who are usually brown — but, their tacos are totally legit.
Just to put things in perspective, I also eat at Taqueria Conin and Tacos La Banqueta found in the same area, which serve the same D.F. style street tacos — sans the chic design. Taqueria Conin is tiny and there’s nothing more than the big flat top stove where the taquero is cooking and a bar against a yellow brick wall with only 5 barstools. At Tacos La Banqueta there’s more seating but also is no frills when it comes to the ambiance. The tacos at both these establishments are extremely tasty and keep me coming back for more every time. The way I would rank these three taquerias would be: 1. Tacos La Banqueta 2. El Come Taco 3. Taqueria Conin, to give you an idea of how good they are in relation to each other. The fact is all three of these places serve damn good tacos. But because Conin and Banqueta are unabashedly found in a low-income neighborhood with mostly Latino patrons it is equaled to grungy and dirty, when that’s really not the case. Like reviews about El Come Taco, Yelp reviews for Conin and Banqueta remark on the appearance and location but then weirdly tokenize the “authenticity” of these places. Take a look at the ones for Conin: “Forget the gritty image on the outside, the place was fairly clean on the inside, albeit not exactly pretty…but the Tacos were a thing of beauty!”; “Don’t let the run-down nature of the area/building dissuade you; this place is awesome.” And the ones for Banqueta: “Don’t let the outside of this place detour you. This little East Dallas taqueria is legit.”; “I do have to say, the neighborhood may scare some people off, personally I’ll go anywhere for good food, but be sure to lock your car. Just sayin…”;”It appears family run and there is only one who can barely speak English. But this only adds to the experience and authenticity.” Oh yes, white Yelp reviewers, you’re real troopers for braving the sketchy taco places. Good thing you don’t actually have to live there with all those brown, poor people, you can just eat and then leave. I’m not saying you shouldn’t write Yelp reviews for locally owned Mexican businesses, they need all the help they can get, but focus on what’s important — the food.
Phylisa Wisdom writes in Render magazine about gastrodiplomacy, “using the eating, preparation and study of food to improve cultural understanding and diplomacy” and brings up some really good points and questions when thinking about our interactions with food from another culture.
“We can be lovers of Mexican food and also be responsible gastrodiplomats. They are not mutually exclusive, but it does require selectivity and a code of eating ethics. Each diner must live his or her own code of eating ethics independently, and think critically about what we want to get out of our dining experience. Everyone involved in the buying, selling, production and consumption of food is an active player; how do we want our choices and behaviors to impact their experience along the way? Those of us who are not Mexican or Mexican-American don’t have to sacrifice Mexican food, and in fact we shouldn’t. But, we can challenge ourselves to think critically about the difference between experiencing culture and claiming it. We can acknowledge histories of oppression and colonialization, and make sure that our business transactions in restaurants are fair and equitable.”
In theory, we should strive to think more critically when eating food from another’s culture in order to get an understanding of it. When choosing restaurants, we should question who is staffed at the restaurant, who created the recipes and if the creators were fairly compensated, and gauge a restaurant’s understanding of the culture through the way it presents itself. For ages, white people have been eating scrumptious tacos with abandon, all while exploiting and degrading thousands of Mexican undocumented and documented workers who contribute to making it for them. More than 70 percent of U.S. farm workers are foreign born, mostly Mexican, and half of them are undocumented. An estimated 1.4 million people out of the 12.7 million workers in the restaurant industry are undocumented according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And according to the Pew Hispanic Center about 20 percent of the nearly 2.6 million chefs, head cooks and cooks are undocumented while 28 percent of dishwashers are undocumented. Only 20 percent of restaurant jobs pay a living wage, and women, people of color, and immigrants are often excluded from these living-wage positions. The reality of the Mexican people behind making your fancy ass tacos at a white-owned restaurant / the bomb ass tacos made at a Mexican-owned restaurant are tough for many reasons: low wages, irregular hours, no sick days, paid vacations or paid breaks and if they’re undocumented, they must carry the extra burden of always working hard, so as not to lose their job or be threatened with deportation. Even then there’s a difference between the economic situation of taco restaurants owned by white people and Mexican family-owned taquerias who employ Mexican undocumented workers. Unlike their counterparts, white restaurant proprietors more than likely have the resources and the leverage to pay their workers a living wage — especially when their food is meant for the consumption of other privileged people who can pay more for the food than Latino patrons at Mexican-owned taquerias — but decide not to in order to make even more profits. You could say that the well-being of Mexican workers are not as valued as the tacos they’re selling.
So why is all this relevant to your taco eating? Phylisa Wisdom articulates it the best: “The diplomatic food lover understands that in order to be in solidarity with the people preparing food, creating recipes, and providing a ‘cultural experience,’ we must pay them fairly and prioritize their human rights.” At the heart of it all, we need to just be decent humans. We need to treat people and their cultures with respect and not just take the parts that benefit us while still being prejudice toward the people it came from. If you love tacos, support the people making them for you, especially from Mexican-owned taquerias. If you’re a foodie seeking the most authentic tacos out there, don’t pretend like you have a deeper understanding of Mexican culture or think you’re more cultured for being “adventurous”(aka out of your privileged comfort zone) in your taco or restaurant choices. After all, Mexicans can’t divide their brownness when eating a taco and white people won’t ever experience all the implications that come with that brownness. If you really do love the gift of tacos my people gave you, every last delicious morsel of them, the least you can do is to challenge yourselves to think critically between experiencing culture and claiming it and avoid co-opting our food and traditions.
Brilliant article. I feel the same way about a lot of things whites appropriate but I could never word it this well. I feel white people are encouraged and welcomed to try everything and anything they like. While showing not even basic respect to the cultures they take things from. Yet traditional white art for example is treated with the highest of respect. For example try being a non white person at a rock gig. I went to see Arctic Monkeys in a diverse city but was treated like a freak by the 99% white crowd. It’s the same with travelling in western nations as a non white person whereas white tourists are welcomed with open arms in every corner of the world. Thank you for this.
I really appreciate getting to read your thoughts on this, Yvonne. Thank you!
I think the bottom line is this: If you’re white and like something from another culture, that good! But ask yourself: do you respect the culture it’s coming from? Do you love tacos and sombreros, BUT hate latinx people and support Donald Trump? If so, rethink ;)
I like this column a lot, and this week was very good.
It’s not just here in the states that they are all the rage, but in the U.K. too. I was in Liverpool a few years ago, and went to whitewashed Mexican restaurant owned by a Hispanic dude from Texas-Arizona background. It was his first week open when we(a friend and I) went there so it felt really catered to making the food look catered to the Brits. I guess the owner/chef found out that two native SoCal residents were there and legit came to ask us what we thought. My friend is half Israeli and half Nicaraguan, said it felt too themed restaurant, than an authentic shop. He, said he had to make it this way or else the people who live in Liverpool wouldn’t come.
When does it become hipster and not just an appreciation for Mexican food? I ask because based on the definition given here I and many people(some who happen to be POC) like to do that.
It’s not racism. And you’re taking away from true racism. Every culture has some sort of “bread” type food with fillings. Wether it’s a taco, sub, falafel, gyro, wrap, whatever. It’s just food. Eat what tastes good to you. Calling it white washing because people like different toppings or fillings is ridiculous. We have access to many more foods than our ancestors did because food is now easily transported all over the world. It makes sense that the classic way food was eaten has changed. We have options are ancestors didn’t have. There are no rules. Someone enjoying tacos, doesn’t make them responsible for all of Mexico.
This has got me thinking a lot about Taco Culture as a thing, especially in Austin, where gentrification and rentjacking is driving out locally owned, Latino establishments in favor of boutique brunch places and whatnot. Thank you for sharing this with us, Yvonne! I’m very glad to read it.
Yeah, Austin got me thinking about a lot of the things I mentioned in the article. I could never really put my finger on why it bothered me so much when so many white people talked about breakfast tacos all the time and ate them from all the locally owned, hip brunch places and also from the Mexican family-owned business like Joe’s Bakery. I still can’t fully articulate all the things at play but I hope the article at least illuminates a little bit of why it feels so weird to me.
I get your point that Latinxs have been mistreated in the US but… tacos? Really? I sometimes wonder if some of these articles are trolling, just to see how far fetched an argument you can make about calling something “racism. Oh my goodness, people like tasty food in a nice setting. SHOCKING!!! RACISTS!!!! Like, seriously….
And btw it’s entirely possible and reasonable to like a certain foods but dislike a culture they came from. Most cultures have interesting foods but many also have horrifying customs and deep seated prejudices prevalent among its representatives. You don’t have to accept and respect those to appreciate, say, pilaf.
If reading comprehension isn’t your strong point why do you bother reading or commenting? No one is interested in your white girl blues, especially on a column written by a non white woman. Also nice racism there by saying you like certain foods but not the icky non whites who create it. Why don’t you eat the food of your people, mayo sandwiches and not subject yourself to those terrible cultures at all? Do all us non whites a favour too by sparing us your nasally voice in our restaurants mispronouncing every word on the menu and talking loudly about your allergies.
But if all some one reads is the title, is it really even count as reading comprehension?
Nonna seems like the type who wants pats on the back for doing the bare minimum as a human being. So let’s high five her for reading the title.
Funny how quickly the comments you make devolve into personal attacks. In fact, that’s where they started from the beginning. A pretty low bar you set for yourself, dude.
What really angers me here is not your petty little personal attacks, but the fact that you demand that everyone empathizes with your “righteous outrage” about the whities eating tacos in such a racist way, yet feeling outrage about the disgusting practices of many cultures around the world — about the way those cultures treat people like you and me — is considered inappropriate. I guess a woman always counts for less, even on a lesbian site. The irony.
Thanks for displaying your ignorance and ridiculous assumptions, JV. You have no idea what my background is, and let me assure you, mayo sandwiches is not exactly the food of choice in the land I come from.
To see racism in my words is ridiculous. I don’t have a problem with “non-whites”, I see a problem with certain cultures (including the culture of my place of origin), and when I express a strong dislike of those cultures it’s precisely because I care about the “icky non-whites” who are the most vulnerable victims of the bad stuff that goes on in those cultures.
Finally for someone who is “not interested” in my opinion, you wrote a surprisingly long reply.
Going to order me some Chinese now from those icky Orientals. Because I can, mua ha ha.
I kinda get what your saying. As Bra brought up, apple pie. Or for example, I have a fellow student who cooks foods from his culture in the middle east and I enjoy the taste. However I don’t like the fact that it’s okay, culturally, for this same guy to call his own mother a “bitch” and make degrading comments about women in general (he especially makes comments about black women or white women for essentially not being submissive enough).
Yes, mayo sandwiches are definitely the only food from white cultures. Not Italian food, Mediterranean food, German food, American bbq or any of a wide variety of flavorful cuisines. Just mayo.
Also her response has nothing to do with poor reading comprehension; it’s simply her opinion that a well maintained restaurant is preferable. I’m sure she feels that way regardless of the proprietors’ race.
I like the way you disregarded the bit where she claimed white cultures was superior to all. But that would deviate from your she isn’t a racist argument so I understand why you need to defend your sister in arms.
I fucking love apple pie, basketball and Bruce Willis but I hate the white supremacist culture where it comes from.
Something like that right? Because yeah, I get it.
“Horrifying customs and deep-seated prejudices?” Like…white America?
No culture is immune from this kind of bullshit. Certainly not white America. There is plenty of garbage in white American culture. However, at least the proclaimed values of white America are in principle decent. That’s more than what you can say about many other cultures.
What proclaimed values? Like arresting 14 year old black Muslim boys for building clocks? Shooting dead mentally ill black women? American soldiers raping Muslim women then calling all Muslim men rapists? If you don’t want personal attacks try not making racist attacks. You may want to put white women feelings at the top of your list of priorities but that doesn’t mean everyone here feels the same.
I was gonna make a broader reply along the lines of “blind capitalism raging war against other countries and the planet we live on for the glory of economic growth” …
But yeah yours works too
If “horrifying customs and deep seated prejudices” cause you to write off an entire culture, you should maybe think about joining that Mars colonization mission, because pretty much all cultures here on Earth (white Western culture being one of the worst offenders) have elements of both.
#notallwhiteculture because Bruce Willis.
Don’t think that thought hadn’t occurred to me. But see above. The Western culture at least allegedly strives for better values. Most other cultures don’t even go as far.
“Most other cultures don’t even go as far”? Comment award for the most unsubstantiated assertion of the day?
White is right in nonnas sad little world. She sounds like one of those tumblr rad female who believes all non white men are inherently evil and to call a white woman out on racism is misogyny.
Even if it were true that no other cultures go as far as “allegedly striving for better values” (which it isn’t), all this really says is that Western culture is better at hypocrisy. Uh, yay?
But this is all getting away from the main point, which is that white people who enjoy tacos should maybe try to make sure they’re buying them from establishments that positively contribute to the welfare of Mexican people, whether that means they’re owned by said people, or they pay said people fair wages, etc. What does that even have to do with “liking other cultures”?
“White western culture being one of the worst”
Last time I checked women aren’t getting acid thrown in their faces and people aren’t being stoned to death in public but ok
Please don’t tell me you think misogynistic violence isn’t a world wide phenomenon, it just happens in “unenlightened” cultures and places.
Stoning isn’t common in the Western world, nor is getting acid thrown in your face, but there are many ways to do violence to a woman who doesn’t “get with the program” and do or be something a man or society wants them to be.
Look at a list of all the murdered transwomen in just this year,if I was talking to you face to I’d say look at the scar on my cheek. Hear the strange rasp in my voice when I try to sing certain notes and ranges where there use to be bell-clarity.
I’m not surprised by some of the colonist/imperialist attitude being slung around on this thread, but it doesn’t make me feel any less sickened and concerned.
The one of the points I reckon Yvonne was trying to get through was the cognitive dissonance of people flocking to exotic and interesting foods and treating immigrants and the peoples those foods come from as “others” as a danger or as invader. Never mind the food is not food, it’s an exotic acquisition.
Watch someone love the hell out of mexican food but talk about how there should be an electrified fence around the border to keep the illegals out. It’s trip lemme tell ya.
And another thing Americans we want things so cheap and affordable and when ever we want them, but that doesn’t really happen without someone getting exploited.
Our existence is build on blood and sweat of other people that don’t get treated as full people.
How is that “better”? Is because the violence is behind closed doors so to speak?
Last time you checked what, your Facebook news feed? Because your awareness of the issues seems to stop right about at surface-skimming level.
I find that (a lot) white people who appropriate do so out of curiosity, fighting white mediocrity and straight up Manifest Destiny bullshit. It’s interesting because like @J.V recalls their experience at a rock concert I had something similar happen to me in rock venues, comic cons, and other spaces where the “culture” is populated by cis white hetero (people) men.
I love tacos, holy shit, I loooove tacos, I could cry if I continue talking about my love for tacos (and have mind you). I respect the culture where they come from and I’m not an ass about it like making something called “white girl salsa,” which is bad salsa to appease a bland-ass palate. Another thing I like to do if I enjoy something from a culture that is not my own is to engage in ~*~*~cultural exchange~*~*~*!! Cultural exchange is amazing because not only you take something that not yours culturally, YOU SHARE something from your culture. Cultural exchange is the equivalent of kittens being combined with unicorns, glitter and gluten-free baked goods, it’s magical.
When I went to London to travel I met up with my maternal aunts, uncles and cousins who were second generation Nigerian-English and it was interesting to see the deviations of practices and food preparation of popular Nigerian dishes, or maybe people are very competitive on how they make jelof rice, lol. Another example is my childhood friend who is Cambodian-American would cook and I would cook some dishes and if we found that our dishes had common ingredients, we would experiment to great success and sometimes it would be a hot ass mess.
The history of the trans Atlantic slave trade a lot of West African food shares similar ingredients from Mexican, Central American and South American dishes, food culture is real and it ties us to our roots and who we are.
Whiteness and white culture in the U.S. I have have trouble pin-pointing what aspects of “White American” culture to exchange without thinking apple pie, Levi jeans and capitalism, which is interesting because when I ask white people to critically describe “white American” culture there is defensiveness and uncomfortable “umm-ing.” And yet, there is a melting of different food cultures that mix into interesting ideas (tortilla chips , kimchi tacos *cries*) and abominations (Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza).
It’s good to appreciate and I feel what’s missing is the sharing because it becomes taking-appropriation, Western colonization takes and the consequences of that are being seen now and it makes people cranky and confused. Like if you love salsa but find it “too spicy” ask for mild, don’t go out making something called ‘white girl salsa,” it’s embarrassing and I will never come over to your dinner parties and you’ll miss out on some delicious West African food. To bring is back to tacos, once I used my mom’s stewed chicken (West African style) shredded it and used it as the protein when I made tacos, it was so good. I wanted to share but didn’t because only made enough for myself but would have if I had more (probably not).
Great writing Yvonne, you have helped me unleash a lot of taco-food feelings on this fine Friday evening. I’m going to make some fucking tacos.
Also and importantly: FOR EVERY CHIPOLTE, GUACAMOLE MADE WITH PEAS, BLAND-ASS SALSA, I’M GOING TO NEED LIKE 5 MOVIES/TV SHOWS ABOUT FEATURING LATINX NARRATIVES.
Guacamole made with peas? People do that? My step-grandfather is Mexican, so the thought of making guacamole with peas just weirds me out….
Yeah the NYT published a recipe earlier this year for guacamole with peas in it and it was a huge internet scandal. People were pissed – and rightfully so! How could you do that to perfectly good guacamole?
This is an excellent comment.
Thanks so much for your comment, bra! Yes, I totally endorse cultural exchange! I didn’t really touch on that aspect in my article, because this topic is so vast and multifaceted. I agree, it’s so important to share cultures to appreciate each other and learn more about each other. There’s some great fusion tacos happening out there and I think it’s all because of that cultural exchange and I really don’t think it’s appropriation when that happens. Oh man those tacos you described with your mom’s stewed chicken sounds amazing!
I think that one of the problems when white folks are asked about their culture is that a lot of them are disconnected from where their people came from. I mean, if you ask Southside Irish (Chicago) or Cincinnati Germans about their culture, they can probably tell you about their community’s traditions or cook you food from their culture. Coming from Appalachian culture, I could cook you cornbread and soup beans, blackberry cobbler, fried tomatoes, etc.
The idea of “white culture” is problematic because it isn’t a thing? It’s many things. It’s varied, but so many whites are disconnected from their past. Maybe that’s one reason they glom onto other cultures the way they do.
Very informative, thank you! I’m wondering what actionable things can be done in these scenarios. I live in an area where I know that at least the tacos made by latin@ people who made their restaurant “presentable” but I’m not sure beyond that. How does one really investigate what is going on in their local restaurants in terms of labor and ownership?
Hmm that’s a good question! I think you can just ask at the counter who owns the place. If you want to go further in terms of fair labor practices you can talk to your local central labor council or worker center and find out what restaurants aren’t paying their workers fairly, use abusive labor practices etc. There’s some work being down for restaurant workers but not a lot so there’s definitely more we can do as consumers to support their efforts.
yvonne, this is so, so awesome. i learned a lot today. thank you.
weee! thanks abby
I appreciate Mexican food and I am white. So white I practically glow in the sun (and sometimes appear to in pictures haha). I grew up in San Diego so my family ate Mexican food at least 1-3 times a week whether bought out or made at home. I no longer live in San Diego but my diet still consists of chips/guacamole, salsa, quesadillas etc made at home and I buy food from a nearby taco truck about once a week. I sometimes feel strangely guilty about my love for Mexican food being as white as I am so I usually make a joke out of it or mention that I’m from San diego. I do admit that i can be one of those people who says “but this doesn’t taste authentic ” at a particular restaurant. I know I don’t know what’s truly authentic but I just think I do because San Diego tends to have more authentic places than northern CA. I don’t feel like I am disrespectful to the culture. also, I love buying food from the taco truck nearby because not only is it amazing but I know it’s run by a family and I walk by their house on the way to school all the time. Anyway, this is just a comment on my experiences . I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with the article.i know I have a ton of privilege being white but I hate feeling guilty for liking things from another culture.
No one is asking you to feel guilty. Really. If all you can take away from this is ‘I feel bad for being white’ then you really haven’t got the point of the article. Your white guilt solves nothing and adds nothing to the conversation. Imagine if you were trying to teach a straight woman about homophobia and she replied with ‘you are making me feel guilty for writing johnlock fan fic!’ Would that solve anything?
Also if the biggest worry in your life is feeling bad for eating Mexican food then I really envy you.
Right?! I made tacos for dinner I feel fantastic!
She never said it was?
Seeing as she whined about her white guilt about eating Mexican food on an article that really didn’t warrant white tears maybe it is?
I did not whine about it. I did not complain about the article or express criticism. I did not say the author made me feel guilty. I just said that I felt guilty for being white sometimes. Especially considering i live in a college town and drunk students run around in sombreros on ceasar chavez day without even knowing who he was.my last sentence was not the entire point of my comment. I was talking about how as someone who is white I know I don’t belong to that culture but I did grow up really appreciating that food. I was surrounded by mexican food and some aspects of the culture. I dont claim to understand it.It’s not fair of you to say that that is my biggest worry in life or I’m crying white tears. You and misread me. It’s for reasons like this that I have only commented 2-3 times on online articles. Sure I didn’t add some enlightened comment but I didn’t think my comment warranted this. This is my last comment.
Why are white women on this site so weak? Honestly. If the worst you have to face is commenters calling you out on your shit on a WEBSITE you have it easy. I wish it was this easy to make unnecessary white feminist opinions go away in real life.
Here’s a better question, why are you so eager to attack every commenter who’s making a perfectly innocuous statement? You’re probably one of those people who create the stereotype of the “angry lesbian”
You’re making a lot of unsubstantiated assertions. She never said it was the worst she had to face. Pretty much all she said was that she feels bad about enjoying Mexican food because people (like you) get so up in arms over it
I couldn’t care less what a white supremacist like you or what your bff Lauren thinks. And lmao at stereotype of angry lesbian. I’d rather be an angry lesbian than an ignorant white woman like you. Racism isn’t innocuous btw but I don’t expect someone like you to understand that.
Indeed! The fact that you’ve only commented a dozen times or so here shows just how little you care, yeah? Obviously, if you cared, you’d have made like twenty comments or something. XD
I gotta say, if the biggest worry in your life is people on a WEBSITE saying crap you don’t agree with, then you must have it easy! I envy you.
Lol, there you go again with the unsubstantiated assertions. Nowhere in any of my comments did I say that white people are superior. I was just pointing out the hypocrisy of you calling out someone for “poor reading comprehension” when you’ve misinterpreted every comment you’ve replied to.
Why don’t you and your two burner accounts go onto a white feminist website and cry about how mean the ethnics are?
Also poor reading comprehension is what you and your fellow white lady crybabies have. No where in the article did the author say don’t eat tacos, just think about the ethics of food appropriation sometimes. That’s all. It’s not my fault you, Lauren, nonna and sunset are too inbred too read properly.
Nowhere in any of my comments did I say any of the things you accused me of, including that I think the author was telling white people not to eat tacos. I said that it’s not racist to prefer eating at restaurants that aren’t run down and I stand by that.
Aw, look at you throwing a temper tantrum. How adorable! You remind me of my 5-year-old niece when she hasn’t had her nap.
Do you also have a nasal voice in real life while complaining loudly about your allergies?
Whine whine whine whine whine whine whine. Go and cry on slyfoxes racist shoulder.
That’s understandable! Growing up with Mexican food is part of your regional identity so you shouldn’t feel guilty about liking it. I think what you already do is great, you’re respecting Mexican culture, acknowledging the fact that it’s not your culture to claim and you support locally owned businesses.
I love this column, Yvonne. I am learning so much and you’re challenging me to think about things I’ve been (embarrassingly) obtuse about for my whole life. Thank you for doing so much research and also for bringing your own personal experience into this column. I look forward to having my brain and heart expanded every time!
thanks heather <3
I’m fascinated by the history of food and colonization, so I’ve really enjoyed reading this modern analysis despite my, um, lack of culinary dedication to tacos? I probably last ate a taco at my aunt’s house two years ago (she has a limited repertoire of gluten-free entrees). However, I do use corn tortillas (just what you get in packages off the shelf, don’t think I could even buy fresh ones where I live if I wanted to) often so it’s been interesting contemplating “corn tortillas” in lieu of “tacos”. I know mine are just like, funding Goya, but I couldn’t tell you anything about how they source commodities or labor. This is in contrast to my milk and my apples, and even my rice. (The frozen vegetables, nope.)
On the other hand, cuisines have developed and evolved through migration and adoption, whether it was respectful sharing of ideas and trading or disrespectful, forced by resource deprivation, forced by literal arms, encouraged by propagation of (misguided) social norms (history of the Settlement Cookbook, anyone?), or just developed from plain economic need and home cook ingenuity. I’m happy cuisines developed, although the history can be literally bloody and racist. I hope the exchanges continue in positive ways without the blood and racism, particularly thinking about the increased migration from the Middle East to Europe. (The reviews of restaurants, oh god, now I know why I never read yelp.)
What exchanges are you talking about? The bastardisation of ethnic cusines? I saw Israelis on tumblr claiming Israeli Jews invented biryani. Which was invented by Hyderabadi Muslims in India years before Israel was even forcibly created. Is this the kind of exchange you are talking about?
*hope for positive exchanges*, not saying that all contact is positive. I’m talking about my landlady teaching me to make her great Lebanese tabbouleh (which firefox wants to spell this way but isn’t the way I would spell it, hmmm), or a friend passing on her grandmother’s Austrian nutcake recipe. I’m talking about nutrition educators incorporating culturally competent food practices into the way they serve clientele, and grocery stores carrying a variety of foods that meet their communities’ desires. I’m talking about getting a kindergartner to talk to his classmates about what his grandparents eat in another country (they’re 5. keep it simple). I’m talking about long term care and school lunches and senior feeding programs beginning to serve more than meat, potato, and veg (because really, our US communities have more complex eating patterns than that and they will only become more complex).
Do you think we should all eat the way our ancestors ate at some point? If you go back far enough, Italy would not have tomatoes, corn, potatoes, eggplant (not as far); Japan would not have soy sauce (quite a ways); Zimbabwe would not have maize; South Asia didn’t have chili peppers (or even rice, if you go back far enough), and so forth. Cuisine staples were not always the staples. Has this process been “bloody and racist” at times*? Unquestionably often. But to claim “truth” of cuisine is also somewhat false. What do you pick as your point of purity? There will most likely be history behind how any dish evolved (was it made with another grain, or a different combination of flavors, or a different type of pot, or heat, or… is it all in the name?).
*Food historians, jump in on the percentage estimate?
I think my comment indicated that contact and exchange are not inherently positive but the evolution of cuisines is very interesting regardless. They are dynamic, reacting to things a minor as a temporary egg shortage to those as major as a decade long war or a millennia of climate change. If this didn’t come across, I’m sorry. I often write comments here at the end of my day as this is my bedtime reading.
And… I love thinking about food. It shows love and history and hope and destruction and reveals how communities work or fail. This is excessively long but I’m not going to edit it.
It really is fascinating how food came to be and all the adaptions it has gone through to be what we know it today. “I hope the exchanges continue in positive ways without the blood and racism” – yup, me too!
I love this column.
TACO TUESDAY!! Not only does this further solidify my love of the taco but it is super duper informative. TACOTACOTACO
Reading this article reminded me of a time my father was pissed off at the sight of a white man complaining about Mexican immigrants stealing American jobs while eating a taco. When my father said he wanted to stab that white man with his spork, I can’t blame him.
That being said, I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable when it comes to accusing light skinned people of appropriation. I’m mixed race, and it can suck when you get accused of appropriating your own culture. I’m filipina and my best friend is half filipino, but because I appear Mexican/Native American and he appears white we tend to get odd looks shopping at Filipino food stores, and a lot of times I feel a bit excluded from Asian spaces.
I enjoyed reading this a lot. Like a lot, a lot.
Love this series!
To me food and your relationship towards it has a lot to do with what you ate at home growing up, memories, identity.
I am curious about food I don’t know, but curiosity is a quality I think can be very respectful if one acknowledges privilege one has and is respectful to the other cultures. I am interested when certain food is eaten, I am curious on the ingredients and history behind them. When I don’t like taste of something, I try not to “yuck your yum” because I don’t like when this is done to me.
What I have gotten from this article is not that it is not OK to like tacos if you are white. It is that the food you like or consume is very linked to the culture and people making it, it is not ok for white people to claim knowledge/ownership on it or being disrespectful talking about the places/people who do this food.
Totally, I want white people to eat tacos! And yes what you said “it is not ok for white people to claim knowledge/ownership on it or being disrespectful talking about the places/people who do this food.”
Cultural appropriation of food is complicated and is not unidirectional. “Mexican” tacos are the result of Mexican appropriation of Native corn dishes and cooking techniques of Lebanese immigrants. In turn, people in the US and people in Mexico have influenced Mexican food reciprocally. Of course people who make food should be respected and paid, and people shouldn’t be rude to people in the neighborhood they are eating in, but I think this article’s assumptions are a bit too simplistic.
I have to say I hav similar feelings. As a fellow Latina and an advocate for immigrant rights, I applaud Yvonne for urging us to think critically about the wages and working conditions of the people who prepare our food. That’s just common human decent, and we should have th same concerns for all people working in the service industry. Tacos don’t belong exclusively to brown people. And while people who eat tacos should respect our Mexican culture, I don’t want them to check their white privilege every time they eat a taco.
I get that. Tacos have been evolving since the very beginning and have been influenced by migrations and various other cultures. I agree with you that that this is a way more complicated topic and is multifaceted. I don’t think there’s a cut and dry “cultural appropriation” of tacos. I’m presenting one aspect on the topic based on my own observations, experiences and what i’ve read, and making my own arguments and points. Also, I really don’t think Mexicans “appropriated” indigenous people’s native corn dishes because when you say Mexicans we’re talking about mestizos who are both of indigenous and Spanish descent. The taco was an evolution. It’s always belonged to the people of the region we know as Mexico.
As a person of colour, I think that this article touches on some important ideas – we should be paying all people who work in restaurants a living wage, not just a small white percentage of them – we should avoid food-shaming, so that people do not have Ruth Tam’s experience of having their traditional food mocked as a child only to be embraced and co-opted by the same people later.
However, I think that using appropriation as an argument in this case is coming at the issue back-to-front. If I see white people enjoying a blanded-up version of Chinese food while talking about how the Chinese are stealing all the land, I don’t think the moral is that they should not be allowed to enjoy the food – even if it’s a bland version or a fusion version – the moral is that they should realise that the culture they are denigrating has value that goes beyond ‘good food’.
The hipsterisation of food is not just something that is a culturally-specific action. It is basically taking a food that is considered “low culture”: fish and chips, tacos, cereal, donuts, Chinese food, popcorn etc. and making it “high culture” (gourmet versions that are five times the price). Is this appropriative? Is it problematic? Possibly. However, it’s also pretty tasty? I mean, I’d probably be rolling my eyes if some hipsters made their own fusion version of Sichuan pork and claimed that was authentic, but as long as no claim is made that this thing is authentic Chinese food, I’d be cool with it. Fusion cuisine is how mixed race people like me cook.
“Fusion cuisine is how mixed race people cook.” Excellent point! Same could be said for those of us who are not from the country of our ancestry. For example, as an American born-and-raised Latina, I honesty couldn’t make my grandma’s traditional recipes just like they do in in the “old country.” For example, when I made Gallo pinto I used canned beans instead of boiling beans from scratch. I don’t think this means I’m appropriating Nicaraguan cuisine. Although a friend from Central America was quite appalled that I’d choose canned beans over fresh!
This was the same case for my family as well, which is why I try to cut some people slack before making appropriation accusations. My mother is filipina, but was adopted and raised in Cali. She often made a modified pancit or a version of halo-halo without the beans lol. I’ve noticed a lot of cultural appropriation arguments tend to not take into account mixed race or adoption cases.
For example, in the case of my father, my grandfather was mexican. My father makes a lot of traditional Mexican cuisines entirely from scratch and uses recipies he aquired from my grandfather. My father happens to be white with green eyes, so to the average person it probably appears to be appropriation even though a lot of the family members on my father’s side came from Mexico.
This was super interesting to read, particularly fresh from a dinner of tacos. One of my challenges is that I’m vegetarian which equates to certain food better than other. The spiciness and use of seasoning in tacos can make for great veggie ones, but since they are traditionally made with meat, I tend to only find vegetarian ones in very hipster, very white place. It just kind of adds an interesting dynamic in that I like my vegetarianism as a small way to help the environment, but I feel uncomfortable as a white patron trying to demand changes to traditional cuisine. Particularly because of how often these changes are made by white restaurant owners.
I agree with this article in most points. But I do think that it’s the market itself which is largely to be blamed for any form of appropriation – including the appropriation of food – rather than individual consumption.
The drive to profit on products and to turn cultures into products for profit is what it all is about.
Does anyone in the UK know of any Mexican-owned places to get Mexican food?
Thank you, Yvonne!
I continue to look forward to new articles this column. :) I enjoy reading your perspective, and also that you challenge us to think more critically about the (tasty) food that we’re eating.
Some of the content in this one was also very timely, as I was in Dallas for the first time this week (only a few days, for work, and short-notice at that), so I made sure to make it to Tacos la Banqueta for dinner last night, which was just as delicious as promised! I initially ordered 4 tacos… and then had to go back up to order 4 more. May even go back tonight for round 2… yum. :)
I totally agree, this article was well thought out, and explains a common trend within “white” America/foodies. However, the arguement proposed is flawed and swings to one side of the spectrum unjustly… Just because your Mexican doesn’t make you the Mexican Cuisine authority, bitch get off your high horse.is this anti-trump or for tacos ? Trump sucks a fat one but please keep food and politics separate. It’s a secular topic. Will you talk about borders and burritos next ?
So I guess we can’t have a pizza bite because then we’re disrespecting the Italian culture or a California roll because then “white” people are “racist” against Japanese people. If you put ice in your wine are your disrespecting the French? Please don’t eat Tostitos or Tomb Stone – those tortilla chips shaped in the form of a cup are “really” far from authentic Mexican. Don’t get me started on Taco Bell owned by “white” wealthy people.
My opinion is the argument implied in this article is a stretch and fails to acknowledge that America is made up of many beautiful cultures – a melting pot – or is that racist to the Swedish people? And it is our nature – human nature to build on what others have done before.
It’s ok to be inspired by something and create something new. It’s ok if you want a fish taco with avocado and ketchup. Your not racist. Your not a bad person. You don’t hate people of color. You just like your tacos on a Tuesday and that’s ok.
This portion of your comment has been removed as it is in violation of Autostraddle’s Comment Policy. The rest of your comment was left as-is because, though misguided and willfully ignorant, it doesn’t manage to violate our comment policy, and I — Laneia Jones, Director of Operations — wanted to let your statement stand as an enduring example of being wrong on the internet and then belligerently accusing people of censorship. This is an 8 year old article and everything you’ve said here has been said a million times by a million other wrong people who are just as dedicated to missing the point. Your thoughts aren’t original and they challenge nothing of substance. I hope you manage to keep reading things that challenge your myopic worldview, and let it crack you open to the rich possibilities of listening to the people who actually have something to lose through the course of cultural appropriation while you’ve spent your life clinging to the act of it as your birthright, thinking only of yourself and the unknown discomfort of even a modicum of accountability. Anyway, repeat or egregious offenders will be banned. :)
Go ahead. Attack me – call me a Trumper (he’s a tool) or anything else. I’m just someone with a different opinion – doesn’t make me wrong or a racist.