There has been the past few years a push to ban what has been termed cultural appropriation throughout Western society. Much of the hue and cry is without merit and simply not rooted in the history of human beings. In this race and ethnicity conscious time we live in, any attempt to procure, use, mimic, or otherwise engage in behavior associated with one ethnicity by another is deemed cultural appropriation and subsequently ‘called out’, the perpetrator being shamed into an apology of some sort.
This outrage especially aimed at people of European decent when they adopt a non-western food or style of dress, but rarely goes the other way. One such example is a few years ago a food blogger not of Asian decent created a dish similar to the Vietnamese dish Pho, showing a picture and writing about it. She put her own spin on the dish and was soon met with resistance on internet blogs and twitter, accusing her of cultural appropriation. The magazine, Bon Appétit, even issued an apology for publishing her article.
Some of the criticism came from the Asian community itself with representatives saying she was trying to ‘pass it off as pho’ when it was clearly her spin on the dish, the blogger even mentioning in her article the dish was “inspired by pho”, not a replica. The online backlash was swift and severe and the blogger was forced to apologize.
The point is this: human beings have been culturally appropriating everything others have for centuries. This appropriation is what has allowed human beings to improve, diversify, and become better in every respect, and yes, that does include food.
Since before the opening up of the Silk Road from China, the Sea Roads from China to East Africa, and the Sand Road from West Africa to North Africa, not to mention the Columbian Exchange from the Americas to Europe and beyond, people have been exchanging goods, foods, ideas, and technology, using it to improve their lives and the lives of their countrymen. Was it any different when noodles made their way from China to Italy and the Italians appropriated it for spaghetti? How was it any different when the horse, a non-native species of North America (it was once, became extinct, and the Spanish reintroduced it) became part of the culture of the North American native population with the mighty Comanche their greatest benefactors?
The invention of the wheel, the chariot (first used by the mighty Hittites of Asia Minor), as well as the aqueduct were all spread throughout the world as people came in contact with each other. The Germanic tribes which overran the Roman Empire in the 5th century A.D. incorporated Roman culture as well as Roman dress even after bringing the empire to its knees.
It should also be noted the Arabs, as they spread their culture and religion through conquest and trade in the 8th century A.D. were also translators of Greek texts, those teachings of Socrates, Aristotle and Plato, translating their words from Greek to Arabic in order to preserve their wisdom and spread their teachings. Was this not also cultural appropriation in the modern sense?Mansa Musa the king of Mali in West Africa (14th century) adopted Islam, incorporated the Arabic language, clothing and even brought Islamic architects to Mali in order to transform his kingdom into the cultural and religious center of Islam in West Africa.
History is replete with historical examples of civilizations and people appropriating cultural ideals from others for the benefit of their own. The very notion that one culture takes offense at another for doing so, especially in a multi-cultural nation such as the United States is not only wrong, but flies in the face of thousands of years of human evolution. No one culture has the right to claim singular ownership of anything as no culture in the world, save a completely isolated and untouched by other humans, can claim not to be influenced to at least a partial degree by another.
Such are the times we live in, where in increasingly multi-cultural societies throughout the world, we choose to segregate, denigrate, and forget our shared history of borrowing from one culture to improve ours. It would seem rather than embrace humanity for humanity’s sake there are those who would seek to continue driving a wedge between people and nations, furthering the divide that currently exists if, for nothing else, to line their own pocket books, create dissent, and provide for themselves a platform by which to continue to foster a narrative that has no basis in history.
The sad part is the same people who preach cultural appropriation as a justification for their exclusion or claims of ownership are, themselves, the beneficiaries of such appropriation in their own past…they just refuse to acknowledge it for to do so impinges on their very credibility which had little to base itself on in the first place. Outrage culture has replaced reasoned approach, and for that we are all lesser.