5 votes

What did ‘authenticity’ in food mean in 2019?

13 comments

  1. patience_limited
    Link
    On a personal level, I can respect any cook who's trying to make food that tastes good, looks appetizing, and is served in a welcoming environment. Innovation is a bonus, not an essential feature....

    The Twitter debate was a bit of a tweetstorm in a teacup, with each side consisting of smart people who care deeply about how their culture’s cuisines are interpreted by a white supremacist society. And the core of what they were arguing about is authenticity — what it is and who gets to define it, as well as what counts as a taint on a cuisine and what has been lovingly adopted into the traditions. Lucky Peach’s book 101 Easy Asian Recipes cheekily billed itself as “100% inauthentic,” putting okonomiyaki in the same book as “Mall Chicken.” New restaurants like Call Your Mother and Nightshade ditch verisimilitude for a more open-minded approach to their cuisines, with Call Your Mother advertising itself as “Jew-ish.” The authenticity is not the sell, and in fact, it sounds a lot like “fusion.” It’s clear that something about the conversation on authenticity has changed, broadening into a debate about innovation, interpretation, and change and recognizing that no cuisine, or culture, is static. Welcome to Authenticity 2.0.

    The question of which cuisines can be “elevated,” and by whom, drives much of the authenticity debate. Eater’s Jenny Zhang wrote about how that dynamic was depicted in the Netflix film Always Be My Maybe, in which Sasha Tran (played by Ali Wong) plays a hot-shot chef who runs a number of fusion restaurants. The viewer is “meant to side-eye” her career, writes Zhang, until her childhood sweetheart reminds her “Asian food isn’t supposed to be ‘elevated,’ it’s supposed to be authentic” — homey, traditional, and not subject to innovation through Western ingredients or new techniques. As white chefs face outrage for cooking cuisine that isn’t their own, nonwhite chefs are saddled with guilt or confusion for straying from tradition. Both situations are driven by the notion that European food is upscale and innovative, while basically everything else is inherently cheap, casual, and stagnant.

    On a personal level, I can respect any cook who's trying to make food that tastes good, looks appetizing, and is served in a welcoming environment. Innovation is a bonus, not an essential feature.

    Elaborate stories about cultural authenticity, tradition, personal history, ethnic signifiers, etc. shouldn't be necessary to ensure that they can earn a reasonable livelihood, but it's part of the theatre, salespersonship, and marketing of running a restaurant and not just a kitchen.

    The dining world is as subject to culture wars as everything else, but this is a diversion from the fact that every kitchen is an independent craft workshop, dedicated to manufacturing maximally serviceable products, given the locally available and affordable materials and labor. Regardless of who is nominated as a premier spokes(man, usually) for the trade or cuisine, searching for "authentic" food culture expressions is as ridiculous as searching for "authentic" snowflakes.

    2 votes
  2. [6]
    skybrian
    (edited )
    Link
    I think people do want to learn about different cultures sometimes. Instead of "authenticity" maybe we should be asking whether you learn anything about food from other parts of the world by going...

    I think people do want to learn about different cultures sometimes. Instead of "authenticity" maybe we should be asking whether you learn anything about food from other parts of the world by going to a restaurant?

    A restaurant seems like an odd place to learn stuff, though. It's sort of like learning about different parts of the world by going to Epcot Center. You might learn a little, but the main purpose of the business is entertaining and pleasing its customers. Making the customers happy is going to be more important than trying to teach them anything.

    2 votes
    1. [5]
      thundergolfer
      Link Parent
      This is a pet peeve of mine. You'll learn more about other parts of the world in a book than 99% of the food and travel experiences people buy. They should drop the pretense.

      learn anything about food from other parts of the world by going to a restaurant?

      This is a pet peeve of mine. You'll learn more about other parts of the world in a book than 99% of the food and travel experiences people buy. They should drop the pretense.

      2 votes
      1. [5]
        Comment deleted by author
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        1. [4]
          thundergolfer
          Link Parent
          No not really the epicurean stuff, the sights and the smells. More the politics, history, culture, geography. Speaking specifically about food, there's heaps you can learn about a place's food in...

          No not really the epicurean stuff, the sights and the smells. More the politics, history, culture, geography.

          Speaking specifically about food, there's heaps you can learn about a place's food in a book that you cannot learn by just going there and eating food, which is what most people do.

          2 votes
          1. [4]
            Comment deleted by author
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            1. [3]
              thundergolfer
              Link Parent
              People often express that they travel "to learn about the world". This sentiment is a pet-peeve of mine because this is almost always untrue when said. The learning I'm talking about I wouldn't...

              People often express that they travel "to learn about the world". This sentiment is a pet-peeve of mine because this is almost always untrue when said.

              The learning I'm talking about I wouldn't describe as "book-facts". That sounds dismissive, and what you learn from books aren't just facts. With books and other rich media you can learn theories and models of the world that are far more informative and important than basic travel experiences.

              Just as you see strangeness in the restaurant as a place for learning about the world, I see vacation travel (what 95% of people do) in kind. People travel to relax, be entertained, and experience pleasure, but in society it gets dressed up as something noble.

              2 votes
              1. [3]
                Comment deleted by author
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                1. [2]
                  thundergolfer
                  Link Parent
                  I appreciate that we definitely see this differently. I’ve never had a life-changing moment during travelling in unfamiliar places but multiple during formal and informal education. I very much...

                  I appreciate that we definitely see this differently. I’ve never had a life-changing moment during travelling in unfamiliar places but multiple during formal and informal education.

                  I very much love what exploring the unfamiliar provides, but I am definitely anti travel for learning reasons, as it’s too expensive and costly for what it offers in terms of learning and personal development.

                  I’m also biased by both my personal experience of affluent young people pretending their travel is anything but luxury consumption for entertainment and signalling, and also the current environmental costs of travel.

                  2 votes
                  1. [2]
                    Comment deleted by author
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                    1. thundergolfer
                      Link Parent
                      Thanks for sharing. It sounds like that person is actively trying to leave their country, and so yeah their situation is world's away from the common case that I've experienced. If you were...

                      Thanks for sharing. It sounds like that person is actively trying to leave their country, and so yeah their situation is world's away from the common case that I've experienced. If you were seriously thinking of moving to a place, then doing a "reconnaissance mission" there sounds like a great idea, if you haven't been there already.

                      My pet peeve is squarely with people dressing up their conspicuous consumption (vacation travel) as enriching and noble, when it's really hedonistic and vacuous. I live in Australia, and the middle and upper middle classes travel a lot, and those of the 18-30 age group seem to regularly do the 'dressing up' of their motivations. Here's some numbers on Australian overseas travel. 31 percent of Aussies going overseas every year with 57% doing it for a holiday. That's a lot carbon emissions.

                      1 vote
  3. [6]
    AugustusFerdinand
    Link
    Authenticity doesn't exist. Period, end of story. No culture, country, religion, food, tradition, or trait has existed wholly in a vacuum. Every single thing has picked up something else from an...

    Authenticity doesn't exist.

    Period, end of story.

    No culture, country, religion, food, tradition, or trait has existed wholly in a vacuum. Every single thing has picked up something else from an outsider to its origin.

    5 votes
    1. [5]
      ThatFanficGuy
      Link Parent
      That is an outrageously-sweeping statement. The person looking at you in the mirror is still you, regardless of how granularly you want to apply the Ship of Theseus. Just because you learned a...

      That is an outrageously-sweeping statement. The person looking at you in the mirror is still you, regardless of how granularly you want to apply the Ship of Theseus. Just because you learned a thing or two from your friends doesn't mean there's no border or self-definition between the people involved.

      Granted, the question in the article is nonsense, but engaging in epistemological nihilism doesn't shift it anywhere more meaningful.

      2 votes
      1. [4]
        AugustusFerdinand
        Link Parent
        There is no mere "a thing or two" it is everything; you are the environment you exist within and was raised under along with all of those everyone you've interacted with has as well. You have...

        There is no mere "a thing or two" it is everything; you are the environment you exist within and was raised under along with all of those everyone you've interacted with has as well. You have responses to interaction with your father that were ingrained by interactions that your father had with his father, that were ingrained by interactions that he had with his father, that were ingrained by interactions that he had with his father...

        If we were able to go back and view the past I can guarantee that there's some way you respond today that is linked to an interaction one of your peasant ancestors received from their lord. You are a social creature that craves acceptance from others, you've changed your actions based on the forced smile of a barista at Starbucks after you told a joke you thought was clever, but the barista had heard a thousand times for every other customer that thought they were clever. You change every single day through the interaction with others that have seen the world through different eyes and had their own interactions with exponentially increasing branches down the tree. You aren't you, you are the culmination of every interaction you and everyone you've interacted with has ever had back to the beginnings of time. So is everyone else. Welcome to the melting pot, cultural mutt.

        1. [3]
          ThatFanficGuy
          Link Parent
          There's a line beyond which further philosophizing becomes pointless. When you say there's no point to claiming authenticity because of causal determinism between now and a thousand years ago, I'm...

          There's a line beyond which further philosophizing becomes pointless.

          When you say there's no point to claiming authenticity because of causal determinism between now and a thousand years ago, I'm pretty sure you've crossed that line.

          It's the same mistake people make when they despair over the cosmological meaninglessness of their living. Sure, there's no true meaning beyond one's subjective view, but that doesn't mean there's no meaning, period. Sometimes, meaning comes from values we accept as meaningful. In following these values, we find fulfillment and satisfaction.

          So, if there's no true source of an ideal beyond one's subjective view, what are we left with?

          I'm not claiming that notions aren't fragile and subjective a lot of the time. I'm saying there's a direction issue with your argument. You're saying long-extended causality brings forth less meaning, when reality goes out to prove, time and time again, that it's the other way around. Mexican food is Mexican because it arose from the traditions of Mexico a long time ago.

          There's also a scope issue with your argument. Claiming no authenticity is possible implies that there may never be a true categorization of anything, since everything is derived and, thus, has no characteristics of its own. Which... makes my brain overheat a little and rub against my skull more than usual. Know why? 'cause it's a lot of items to consider separately.

          I'm not saying lumping stuff together is always productive – but it is often necessary, because our brains don't do breadth really well. They do width, they do depth, but three-dimensional thinking about even a single roughly-defined cuisine would incapacitate you after even a half-assed attempt because of the sheer volume of information you have to consider.

          Whether you consider any of these arguments meaningful is up to you. At some point, even intellectual endeavors become tiresome. If you wanna keep it up, you'll be dancing solo after this. I will, however, say this:

          Don't ever call me a fuckin' mutt again.

          1. [2]
            AugustusFerdinand
            Link Parent
            The Mexican food you ate yesterday was the way it was because the cook had a plate sent back the week before and adjusted. It's called Mexican because of region, but it's still not authentic....

            The Mexican food you ate yesterday was the way it was because the cook had a plate sent back the week before and adjusted. It's called Mexican because of region, but it's still not authentic.

            Either way we're both bored with this for various reasons, so have a good day and lighten up champ.

            1. [2]
              Comment deleted by author
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              1. AugustusFerdinand
                Link Parent
                Normally I'd agree, but based on his/her history, the evidence points to the contrary.

                Helps to make sure you're talking with someone rather than at someone.

                Normally I'd agree, but based on his/her history, the evidence points to the contrary.