Last weekend, I made Haitian pork griot, a really delicious dish with spicy marinated pork, which is traditionally fried, served with pickled vegetables called pikliz. It was fantastic, but don’t take my word for it. Cooking food from cultures that are not my own is a complicated endeavor. There is a tendency among white writers and cooks to take traditional, incredible dishes from other cultures, particularly those of people of color, and “elevate” or “discover” them. This is wrong.
As someone who loves to cook dishes from a variety of traditions, how can I reconcile this? If I were to cook only from my own culture (Jersey Girl/Central Pennsylvanian), it would be all disco fries and Pennsylvania Dutch style chicken pot-pie… not exactly the healthiest or most flavorful of diets.
One way I approach this conflict is to prioritize cooking recipes written by people from that culture. If you want to cook Indian food, don’t go to Mark Bittman for a recipe. Here are a few resources I’ve found for learning to cook foods from cultures that are not my own. Some are cookbooks, which leads to another point: support people of color with your wallets.
Afrolems Food Blog (Nigerian and other African food)
Pilar Hernandez - En Mi Cocina Hoy (Chilean food)
And finally, perhaps my most important point today, don’t cook or eat food invented by people of color if you’re a racist. Think Haiti is a “sh*thole country”? You don’t get to have griot. Think Mexico is full of “rapists and murderers”? Your Taco Tuesday is cancelled. You don’t get to steal time-honored recipes while simultaneously denying the rights and humanity of those who created them. Also, beyond simply not holding racist attitudes about these cultures--actively support them and work to dismantle the institutional racism that holds them back. Donate to organizations run by and for them, and their immigrant communities in the US. Eat at their restaurants (not those run by white Americans “elevating” their cuisine). Buy their cookbooks.
For further reading and listening about why your food choices are political, I recommend Civil Eats and Racist Sandwich. I'll be revisiting this topic as my understanding of it progresses, but I couldn't miss the opportunity to say something in this moment.