Opinion

Save us from the insane ‘cultural appropriation’ complaints about … food


Culinary-correct food journalism sounded a new depth of ­ideological lunacy last week. 

Eater.com, the well-regarded restaurant site that increasingly indulges sociopolitical malarkey at the expense of the innocent ­enchilada, carried a lengthy essay by reporter Erika Adams under the headline: “Shake Shack ­Responds to Criticism Over ­‘Korean-Style’ Fried Chicken Menu Debut.” 

It seems the Danny Meyer-owned burger chain trespassed — in the eyes of a handful of Twitter gripers — in using that description for what Adams called a “loose interpretation” of the genuine Korean article. Well, what other kind of interpretation do you expect from a global fast-food restaurant chain?

A few online posts predictably assailed Shake Shack for “cultural appropriation.” 

“Yes, slap some gochujang on something, and it’s Korean,” Giaae Kwon, a New York City-based writer, tweeted. Eater also cited ­comedian Dash Kwiatkowski, who fumed, “It feels like white people slapping together a bunch of things because they perceive it as Korean and then profiting off of those things.”

But the entire “cultural-appropriation” shtick as applied to food is the stuff of comedy. The question isn’t why a handful of cranks believe in it, but why the media — including Eater.com, the single most comprehensive and influential culinary site devoted to industry news, culinary trends and smartly crafted restaurant criticism — devote so much attention to a few Twitter whiners.

The Eater story quotes a feeble, defensive response by Shake Shack’s culinary director, Mark Rosati. He said that the company had after all consulted with Korean chefs, sourced knowledge of Korean cuisine from prominent writers and influencers and visited restaurants in Seoul with employees of SPC Group, a major South Korean food company.

But that isn’t enough in today’s unforgiving cultural kangaroo court. No innocent explanation is ever enough. Rosati allowed, “I can definitely see how someone might think this here.”

His proper response should have been: Eat this! If Shake Shack is guilty of culinary “appropriation,” then so is a place in Seoul called Brooklyn the Burger Joint, which is described on Yelp! as “like stepping into an old, small-town America joint.”

There, they not only appropriated Yankee Doodle cuisine, but our architecture as well.

It’s surprising that the culinary cancel culture hasn’t yet targeted Applebee’s’ “Tuscan Garden” and “Oriental” chicken salads — which aren’t cultural appropriations so much as desecrations. 

It’s a big world out there, and if an Italian-American restaurant chef wants to “steal” a recipe from Thailand, or a Turkish-American chef deigns to reinterpret a Greek dish, it isn’t a “cultural” atrocity in the league of Nazi Germany’s art looting.

Some “ethnic” (a now-forbidden word) American chefs and writers fly into orbit because many chefs who are not themselves Asian or Mexican or Palestinian profit by cooking and selling their native cuisines. They regard this sort of exchange as plundering their culture the way Picasso “stole” from African sculpture.

Grumbling is understandable, if not quite justified when, say, a Mexican-born chef struggles to earn a living, while non-Mexican chef Rick Bayless is hailed as the best “Mexican” chef in the United States for his great Topolobampo in Chicago, one of President Barack Obama’s favorite places. 

But much of the media-accelerated resentment reflects an underlying grudge against Western civilization, period.

From now on, let’s call out any diner that serves “Italian,” “Greek” or “Mexican” omelettes — and hope we get the same respectful consideration.


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