On Crooks & Cooks: It’s Not ‘Just Food’, It’s Blood

Source: Linh Pham, Unsplash

I’m sure by now y’all have heard of the kooky clusterfuck that went down in Portland, Oregon — the nation’s whitest, shining city on a hill.

In an incident that’s all too familiar, two young white women — who were hip to the jazz, as the kids like to say — decided to get in on that sweet, sweet handmade tortilla & Mexican cuisine action because: delish.

They gleefully bragging about how they lied and thieved their way through their vacation while being profiled about how they turn a profit on their shit-tacular behavior. Specifically: by filling the tums tums of folx who need actual Tums to get through a meal with anything spicier than mayonnaise with their “authentic” recipe(s).

No gratitude, consideration, nor dues were paid to the impact of their shenanigans or decisions on those from whom they stole or the impact on their current community, either.

In the subsequent days since the story broke, POC activists and Portland residents took to social media to voice their opposition and to demanded accountability for aforementioned behavior. While a handful of bad eggs (probably white allies being goose — especially cishet white guys jonesing for a reason to be misogynistic trolls) did contribute violent threats into the melee, the overall tone and tenor was a firm, “NO.”

One of the manifest results of this ubiquitous ‘NO’ was a database of White-owned restaurants in Portland being appropriative — with government data and other resources explaining why this is problematic, and offering alternatives in the form of POC-owned establishments.

Inevitably, some White folx in my vicinity decided to step forward and ask brave questions like, “Where is the line?” and “What does ‘no’ mean, again?” when I and associates shared the story and the database.

I’m here to answer that questions so we can hopefully put this sucker to bed.

“But Alexis! It’s not like they stole the recipe, moved to Mexico illegally, and opened a tortilla stand right next to the women to put ’em outta house and business, the way Capitalist Jesus intended.”

But they did steal the recipes, sooooo…strike one.

Strike two: their decision to go this route does, inevitably, have the impact of putting POC owners out of business.

As the database mentions in its resources, White folx in Portland (probably holds true for the rest of the nation) are 50% more likely to have the means to open a restaurant or similar food-based business. That, in tandem with gentrification, makes these white-owned businesses a significant threat and a possible vehicle of systemic oppression.

When you consider that it’s through food that many immigrant families create a life for themselves and their children —the political and economic privileges afforded to White business owners already put them at a significant advantage.

Stealing cultural artifacts doesn’t even have to come into play — but it certainly makes it worse.

“Well OBVIOUSLY that doesn’t matter. I’m a Devil’s Advocate, so I’d like to argue an equally fallacious point to prove my case. Someone taught Michael Phelps how to swim — so by your logic, he’s totally obligated to pay his first swim instructor after receiving multi-million dollar sponsorship contracts, right? Because that’s what it sounds like. Behold the mighty power of my logic.”

This example is what we like to call a strawman.

But to indulge you: no.

Nopeity nope no no.

The swim instructor was already compensated for their time and labor.

The skill of swimming is not a cultural artifact, nor something that whole communities have been persecuted, abused, and oppressed for cherishing or participating in.

Unless I missed a memo about freakishly tall white men being used as a slave labor for river trading during the 1400s-1800s.

Something something Irish slavery, amirite?

“But wait! Giada DeLaurentis likes to bake and I made one of her cookie recipes to sell for this theoretical thought experiment. Do I owe her a portion of my sales? ’cause it sounds like you think I do.”

Funnily enough, random White person, under intellectual property laws you theoretically could! Gotcha, bish!

An adjacent example of that is with the use of patterns from craft books being turned into purchasable product. You don’t own a license to sell those items — so in theory, yes, someone could drag your ass to court and sue you for using their recipes for a profit, since the recipe constitutes intellectual property. In cookbook form, it would technically be licensed for private use only. But this is getting into abstract ridiculousness.

Setting all of that legalese jargon & intellectual masturbation aside:

Giada is white.

We can surely bet that her chocolate chip cookie recipe or her brownies aren’t cultural artifacts that people have been abused, marginalized, and oppressed over. Nor mocked and blockaded from ‘mainstream’ culture for participating in baking them and embracing eating them.

“Well, I hate to break it to you, little lady. But nothing’s original — everything’s a copy. We’re all just pirating each other in our collective metaverse, adapting these things for our own purposes. What do you have to say about that?”


Yes. And no.

But mostly no.

Just because it’s been done before doesn’t mean you’re automatically entitled to raid it for yourself.

It doesn’t mean that it loses its historical context, or political significance.

People still retain the right to exercise the word ‘no.’

Here’s the thing about your defensive reactions to the database, the backlash against the kooky kleptos, and being told ‘no’:

White folx aren’t used to being held fully and vocally accountable by the people they’ve marginalized, oppressed, and actively harmed.

You’re not used to having to confront the abuse and the impact of that abuse and violence head-on.

Any time you feel yourself tensing to go, “Not all white people!” or exclaim “But…!” followed by a long string of unrelated, illogical arguments in response to being told ‘no’, ‘that’s hurtful’, or ‘fuck you, that’s oppressive bullshit’ to your behavior — you’re experiencing the same emotion of colliding into a steadily held boundary.

To be more specific: it’s the sensation of splitting your skull open because you ran, head first and at full speed, at a brick wall guarding someone else’s most treasured possessions. It’s tempting to blame the person who put up the wall. But no.

You were the one who ran at the damn wall.

It’s on you, boo.

That’s the thing about Whiteness, though, both as a political concept but also as a cultural imposition.

Whiteness is essentially cultural rape and domination — ceaseless, mindless, a void of bloodthirsty viciousness and perpetual victimization.

White Europeans and their descendants have always run up on other cultures and force fed their mores, cultural accoutrements, religion, and packaging onto them — at the end of the sword, the lash, the gun.

There was little to no ‘organic’ cultural exchange.

It was assimilate or die.

Setting aside the conquest of Al Andalus and the port of Mazara by the Moors, there are virtually no examples of people of color violently imposing culture onto White people. To that end, the Moorish conquest of the Iberian Peninsula is far more culturally complex, and not marked by the same viciousness and antagonism of colonial/imperialist conquest by White Europeans in other parts of the world.

This is why something as ~seemingly innocuous~ as two white girls from Portland peddling ill-begotten tortillas isn’t a case of questionable morals in isolation. And why it’s not just, “Oh, some well-meaning white chef loves sushi! Leave them alone!”

These are microcosmic reflections of cultural, economic, and political macrocosmic structures. Those structures are designed to perpetuate violence, forced assimilation, erasure of identity, and cultural extinction of anyone who resists or does not fit the mould.

A sushi joint owned by a white guy in Portland doesn’t exist in a cultural vacuum, independent of and immune from relationship with the power dynamics that preceded it.

Because when we look back at how Whiteness has engaged with cultures of color, we have active destruction (missionaries in South & Central America as well as Africa destroying archaeological and historical artifacts), torture and abuse (Native/Indigenous/First Nations children being brutalized for speaking their native language; African slaves being tortured and murdered for worshipping their gods), and other systemic forms of discrimination and isolation meant to hinder access to resources or security due to a lack of compliance with Whiteness’ demands.

Cultural exchange — without recognition of this legacy — cannot exist, because there is no respect nor recognition of mutual humanity.

That’s what many White folx are missing in this discussion.

And it’s not about the food — it’s about the blood.