To the person who thinks eating international food is an act of white supremacy.

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When you say that eating food from other countries helps perpetuate white supremacy – that the very act of eating another group’s food oversimplifies and subjugates the “other” as perpetually foreign – you are conveniently ignoring a few simple truths.

If one cannot travel, eating a meal to experience another culture is one of the few visceral ways available to learn about people around the world.

Stovetop travel brings book knowledge to life.

Consider the poor.

The poor do not have the luxury to travel to other countries. Getting a bus ride to work can be a challenge, making the financial burden of crossing the ocean laughable. I grew up poor. My brother and I slept in the living room. My clothes were kept in a dresser in the kitchen. We couldn’t go to other countries for family vacations. We snuck onto empty campsites instead, sleeping in our beat up car whenever we were caught. Many families were and are far worse off than us.

But get this.

My mother used food as a way to help us see beyond our circumstances. Thanks to Mom I learned that there was a beautiful world out there, full of possibility. Putting down the block of welfare cheese to eat 21-layer German Tree Cakes, Irish Soda Bread, and Indian stews as an Italian Hungarian was not an act of subjugation but an act of deliverance.

This much I know:

The entire world can be explored on a stretched dollar – you just need a few spices and a good dose of creativity to begin your journey.

I am puzzled by your assertion:

The outcome [of experiencing other foods] is not only the denial of complexity of those deemed “other,” but also the reassertion of their supposed perpetual foreignness, particularly in relation to a white U.S. national identity, or a white Western identity, more broadly.

Would you rather white people only eat white people food?

And what does that even mean in an era when cultures are blending on a daily basis? Should I only eat Italian Hungarian food – and systematically exclude every other kind of food? Wouldn’t that be an act of white supremacy?

In my experience people typically shun the foods of the groups they dislike/want to feel superior to.

Ever hear the (deplorable) expression “poor people food”?

You seem to claim that no meaningful connection can be made by eating food from other cultures…

…That such a connection is superficial at best. Referring back to my childhood, I’d like to offer one simple question: would you rather we do nothing to get to know the cultures around us? Sit in ignorance and perhaps even defiance of the mosaic that makes up our world?

I might never be Monet, but does that mean I can not learn from him by painting in his style?

I might never write words as sweet as Kahlil Gibran, but does that mean I should never play with the poetry of life the way he does?

I might never make magic so real as Gabriel García Márquez… but shall I not bask in the sparkle?

I might never make a groundnut stew as complex or as rich as the people of Ghana, but isn’t the very act of trying worthy?

Perhaps you would consider me a white supremacist.

After all, I cooked a meal from every country on earth, and then some. But let me explain something to you.

1. Not everyone cooks international food out of a desire for exoticism. My experience was for education – of my self and my family. I wanted to raise my daughter with international perspective and sense of belonging within the global family.

2. I cooked every country in alphabetical order so as to remove myself from the selection process and any inadvertent bias.

3. I spent one week on every country to give them all the same play time. There were a couple of exceptions early on when I combined weeks due to illness or travel but I quickly realized that this was counter to my mission of celebrating all countries equally and vowed to no longer do that.

4. We celebrated the countries you’ve never heard of  – and for most people there’s always a couple unless you have an extraordinary knowledge of geography – as much as the culinary giants (which have, I admit, been lifted up as a result of centuries of geopolitical chess).

In my experience there is good food everywhere.

5. I purposefully did not choose the most shocking recipes (i.e. recipes that would make people gawk instead of invest their time in  meaningful exploration). Instead I created a culinary bridge with culturally relevant recipes that used ingredients most are familiar with. Want a new way to make potatoes that also helps teach you how people eat around the world? I have that. Same for rice. Same for pasta. Veggies. Fruit.

Why didn’t I just travel the world instead of cooking it?

It comes down to finances and time. But I have traveled.

When I was almost 11 another family took me in and raised me. I went from sleeping in the living room to my own bedroom with a walk in closet. I spent my adolescence in France and Luxembourg and saw 12 countries by the age of 19.

During those years I experienced the food first hand. Saw the sights. Met the people. Made friends.

Was it a richer cultural experience than what my mother offered me as a young girl or, even later, when I chose to bring the world to my kitchen?

It certainly was a different experience. While it’s fantastic to be in the real place and experience the real thing, there is real value to what my mother offered.

When money and time don’t allow I’ll take cooking the world (and memories of the attempt) over nothing any day.

If trying food from other countries isn’t an act of white supremacy, what is it?

I believe exploring international food builds bridges. My daughter is now 6 years old and understands that we are all connected. She knows that food doesn’t just appear on the table out of thin air, but that every recipe has a story and cultural ties. She regularly refers to the map hanging by our dinner table, making a point to ask about what part of the world inspires our meals.

Maybe there are people who eat food from other countries to assert their white supremacy.

But I’m not one of them. And I have yet to meet someone who is.

There are real benefits to exploring the world from our kitchens…

Let’s not lose sight of the good we can do with a pot and a spoon.

Speaking of which, I’d be happy to talk this over over dinner sometime.

We can make it a potluck.

53 Comments

  1. Oh Sasha, I’m 100% and more with you on that point! What should we call the Asians who are discovering European food and wines, and really like what they taste? Labelling people is the problem here. Why should we put negative labels on people who are experiencing life outside from their corner of the world? It seems to me that the ones who shun those trying to see the wonders of the world (because food is a real wonder!!!) are the “supremacists” here. Don’t do that, “keep the status quo”. Sad. Your post is a perfect answer to this way of thinking. Go girl!

  2. Molly Hyde-Caroom says

    I have been a traveler in the real world and an explorer from home for a very long time. I have never considered it anything but an education for our family. In our house, the approach is to conclude with the very opposite of white supremacy! We strive to have open and loving minds, and a worldly knowledge about how people live in different cultures. The goal is to broaden our minds, not close them. I was thrilled to find your book and to find a like minded soul who had the same goal.

    I find it difficult to understand where this opinion is coming from but I am always willing to learn, if you have dinner, I would love to join you!

    • Sasha Martin says

      Yes – cooking with an open and loving heart is key here. Thanks Molly.

  3. Sasha,

    As someone who is 2/3 the way through the same journey — I started while you were on yours, unaware others were doing the same thing — I applaud you vigorously. I was startled to get lambasted this very way myself at one point. And, similarly, by people who made gross assumptions about my ethnicity, background and intentions.

    Signed,

    An Admirer

    • Sasha Martin says

      First bravo to you on making it so far on your journey… I know this is no easy challenge and I applaud YOU! And to that point: Why would a marathoner run a marathon unless they loved running? Why would an author write a book if they didn’t care about the craft of writing? Why would I cook the world if I didn’t CARE about the world. These things take time and energy and LOVE. We generally spend our time on the things we care about.

  4. Beautifully reasoned and articulate response, Sasha, and what’s more it was written in plain English.
    I come from an Ashkenazi Jewish background. Should I restrict my diet to bagels and chicken soup?
    What about my daughter, who is biracial: Perhaps she should eat “white” and Asian food on alternate days?
    Good god, give me strength.

  5. Jean says

    Wow! I don’t know what to say! I certainly do not understand why cooking food from another country, and learning something about the people and their lives, is somehow an act of white supremacy. I have always felt that (generally speaking) the more you get to know a person, the better you can understand them and like them, and are more tolerant of their idiosyncrasies that might have irritated you before you made that effort, and that’s just about people you interact with every day. Getting to know about people and other lands broadens your perspective and makes you a more understanding person. I hope that the person who wrote this to you does more thinking on the subject.

    I had preordered your book & I have read it. I loved it. I cried and I laughed and I applaud you for coming through it all with such a wonderful outlook on life. Your daughter is certainly a lucky girl to have such a mother.

    Keep up the good work!

  6. Of course I don’t know who made the comment you’ve blogged about… but they are an absolute idiot.

  7. Penelope says

    I find it hard to believe that anyone could argue that eating food from different countries is merely an act of white supremacy. After reading the article you linked to try and make some sense of this idea, I’ve come to the think that there is a problem in its reasoning. You can never compare eating foreign food to Orientalism, except if you’re eating fast food that doesn’t resemble the original thing at all. What I mean is, it can be insulting is you reduce Turkish food to kebaps, but only as much as saying that McDonalds is what there is to American food. Maybe at some point it resembled an actual dish, but nowadays it has nothing to do with what is cooked at home, because the recipe has been changed over and over to adapt to the preferences of new clients. However, when you try real food from other countries you are making an exercise of open-mindedness, because you have to somehow force yourself out of your comfort zone. You have to conciously decide to try new flavours, cooking methods, ingredients… You should always try new things, because you never know if you’ll love it (and, even if you don’t, it’s as simple as not having it again).

    • Sasha Martin says

      “You should always try new things, because you never know if you’ll love it” I tell my daughter this ALL the time 🙂

  8. Arni says

    I can’t think of anything more opposite “white supremacy” than leaning to cook and enjoy foods from other cultures. I guess the person who said that would suggest one only eat at McDonalds or KFC while in China or Paris. No thanks, I will continue to enjoy international recipes without guilt. It is the bombs and economic weapons that promote white supremacy. No I am going back to attempting Nepali Momos.

  9. Heather says

    Beautifully said. I’m stunned that you even had to write this response. The world is full of people with very different ideas I guess. It is clear you act and speak with a heart full of love and respect. I wish we lived geographically closer because I would so enjoy the chance to have a cup of tea with you. Take care.

  10. Sasha well done. 100% behind you. I am strongly of the opinion white man food has caused more disease than the foods from all other countries combined. When Columbus set sail to discover the new World he was searching for gold, pearls, precious stones and spices especially Cinnamon. Besides there is no such thing as white man food. Even so called white man food has all the spices that comes from the east. Sasha what you are doing is not only building bridges to understand other cultures and build peace and harmony but also helping our collective health.

  11. Celeste A says

    This “supremacy” accusation is a shock? Such a thought has never entered my mind. I have followed your blog since Ava was an infant. God made all of the people of the World different and gave us different foods. I just figure He gave us curiosity so that we could enjoy it all! I like my theory!

    • Sasha Martin says

      Maybe I took the shock bait, but I felt I had to respond … btw I believe curiosity is the heartbeat of the spirit. And thank you for following for so long!

  12. Sasha,
    Did someone actually make this comment to you???
    If so, can you share the context in which it was made?
    Scary!

  13. Sasha, you are doing a tremendous job in sharing the wonderful world at our kitchen tables! I am good at profiling due to education/experience and I could detail the person who wrote the comment, but I would be making assumptions. Perhaps the commentator is coming from another perspective which you could share over lunch; such a good idea! Keep up uniting the world one meal at a time.

    • Sasha Martin says

      That’s right – compassion and connection at times like these remains the most powerful way to come to an understanding. There’s an amazing quote by Ram Dass I love: “When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You’re too this, or I’m too this.’ That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”

  14. David says

    The only real implication of his response is that white people in flyover country could never do anything goof for the represses masses and we shouldn’t even try.

  15. Bonnie says

    Do not let whoever made those accusations bother you for a nano second. I see such acts as desperate attempts for attention, and they are best dealt with by ignoring them. I am an American who has lived in many “foreign” (to me) countries. Food was always the way to get to know the people AND the culture. People are VERY PROUD of their cuisines and would laugh at anyone who ate only “white people” food. I know; I’ve seen it.

    • Sasha Martin says

      In fact, refusing food from a host is typically seen as an insult… I can’t tell you how many emails I get from readers around the world THANKING me for highlighting food from their countries… you are right… there is immense pride. It’s beautiful.

  16. Mary in Hickville USA says

    I am absolutely amazed that someone would think that. Amazed. I see it as a great way to educate yourself and your family about the world; how is that bad??

    • Sasha Martin says

      What’s crazy is whenever I saw the post I read it three times (to try and understand clearly) in panic – it made me doubt myself until I understood there were too many holes in the argument to hold water. And, as one person mentioned to me the very argument makes a mockery of the real problems of race and white supremacy.

  17. Greg says

    Sasha, thanks for the great article and kudos on the Gabo shout-out! That article you are responding to is non-nonsensical. Thank you for responding with such eloquence.

  18. I actually think the white supremacy note makes a lot of sense. It seems to me that both opinions could hold some truth. Anglo nations absolutely DO have a heightened affinity for cultural voyerism, including food, in which they explore the cultures without fully accepting the people. It’s a pretty basic concept of white supremacy. This is the “othering” she speaks of.

    • Sasha Martin says

      Point taken… Though my time overseas shows this goes both ways – I saw equal enthusiasm for western food – so someone eating McDonald’s in France or India might not necessarily have a full concept of Americans, no more than I might by going to the French or Indian restaurant down the street. Perhaps it is stronger here and the difference would seem to point to access – to both the number of international restaurants and variety. But I see access continuing to grow over the next 50 years.

  19. Ashley Archuleta says

    Your reply is perfect and makes so much sense as to make the original argument sound completely ridiculous. In giving that original opinion the benefit of the doubt, I THINK I can see where they are coming from. As Chantilly mentions, there are people (the typical “Ugly American” persona) that get Chinese (or any other global) food and make racist-leaning comments and accept what they’re eating as the only thing remarkable about Chinese people and their culture and don’t know the difference between Chinese, Japanese, Thai, or Vietnamese food. The difference here is the approach: do we approach global food with a perspective of respect and education and eagerness to love and discover, or do we approach it close-mindedly without any attempt to understand or learn or find joy outside ourselves? You, Sasha, are absolutely the former. The point is not to stop because there are close-minded people; the point is to help those close-minded people find openness and respect in their global perspective as we continually reach outside our little water-bound country. Thank you for all you do!

    • Sasha Martin says

      I remember an old boyfriend’s dad once telling me “I didn’t like Italians until I met you” – (I’m part Italian). I was horrified by the comment but also somehow glad to have created that bridge. I suppose that’s what this site is all about. Understanding that, sometimes, we need to build bridges to bring everyone to understand that we’re a global family… that we’re all worth liking.

  20. Tina Nettles says

    I think as long as we aren’t going to other cultures and barging into their houses and literally consuming THEIR food, because it should belong to we, the Rightful Owners of all good things on the earth, the Westerners, or the Americans, or God-forbid the Supreme Whites (good heavens), their argument on that blog is just a bunch of progressive gobbledygook. True culinary travelers honor others and applaud them for their creativity and their spirit, the things that make their cultures fascinating, including what they share around their tables.

  21. I have been fortunate enough to live in San Francisco and NYC for years and I love that I can connect with other cultures through the communal engagement of sharing a meal that I am unfamiliar with. This white supremacy argument is deeply flawed and and it saddens me to think of someone attacking one of the most very basic things we all have in common. I don’t want to oversimplify the idea of exploring other cultures but if you are introduced to a cultural staple and you find something you like about it, then hopefully that will inspire you and your curiosity to find more things about other cultures that you enjoy, things that enlighten and things that promote understanding and by extension, empathy. I have many good friends from all over the world and I have learned so much from them all. I will never stop trying to learn about other foods and the reasons behind how they were developed by the native people that enjoy them. Hopefully, one day I will be lucky enough to visit all the places and people represented by this wonderful site. Thank you!!!

    • Sasha Martin says

      “I have many good friends from all over the world and I have learned so much from them all. I will never stop trying to learn about other foods and the reasons behind how they were developed by the native people that enjoy them. Hopefully, one day I will be lucky enough to visit all the places and people represented by this wonderful site.” << Love this, Mike!!

  22. Janet Goodell says

    How utterly whackadoodle! My teenage son has experienced new flavors and food he never would have, is engaged, and has only occasionally stated he prefers it when I cook “normal” food on Sunday. I have learned to enjoy coconut and have also attempted so many new techniques that I have become a more confident and skilled cook in just two years. I am 58 and already knew my way around the kitchen, but now I know I can make cheese and use those hot peppers I am growing. On the other Han, a family member informed me he did not want to eat any Muslim food (whatever that is). Now that is some kind of supremacy!

    • Sasha Martin says

      That person’s comment is scary, Janet! Sorry to hear it. As for the coconut – this adventure helped me learn to love it, too. Funny 🙂 Sounds like your son is really gaining a lot from your Sundays!

  23. Susan says

    I am new to your blog, but it is on my favorites toolbar already. What an introduction this subject is! I won’t comment on it because I believe it has already gotten more than its fair share of attention. What nonsense! I was just searching for a recipe that would put good use to the ground hazelnuts I have in my freezer.

    One thing I would like to comment on is “poor people’s food.” I lived the first half of my life in Detroit, and ate a lot of it. Our Russian-Jewish heritage included lots of good cheap food, including meats that were cheap and required long cooking, plenty of root vegetables, home made pickles made assembly-line fashion by the whole family, and visits to the pick-it-yourself fruit farms every summer. Cooking it ourselves from great grandma’s recipes guaranteed delicious results and the comfort of the familiar. Our food was delicious and nourishing, but not by any means extravagant. Later, my African- and Native-American friends shared what they ate, which was also poor people’s food. Then I moved to Honolulu. I spent thirty years eating the foods of the Lao country people I worked with, Koreans I made friends with, and the local Hawaiians, part Hawaiians, Portuguese, Japanese, Pacific islanders, and Filipinos. Everyone is a minority in Hawaii, including white Europeans. Sharing cultures, especially food, is a way of life there.

    I guess I am just wondering what it is, this poor people’s food. Is it food that is inadequate for survival? I know that there are people around the world who have eaten grass trying to stave off starvation. Is it having a single starchy staple with the occasional bit of protein? Or a diet based on a nomadic herding lifestyle? Are the traditions that my grandparents brought from the old country and improved on in their new world still poor people’s food?

    • Sasha Martin says

      Hi Susan – I’m glad your search for hazelnuts brought you here!

      Like you, I don’t know what “poor people’s food” even is but it’s a comment that I’ve heard over the years. Drives me crazy. It’s just people shunning one type of food for being more “low class” than another type… no heart the statement whatsoever.

  24. Jesann says

    I tried to read through that discussion and can’t finish it. I get wary of any discussion that claims a basic part of life is actually a racist act while trying to make its point using overly academic language. It makes me think the person making the claim is deliberately obscuring the argument so that people can’t contradict it without sounding ignorant.

    Switching the subject a bit and speaking of “poor people’s food,” have you read this: http://www.oxfordamerican.org/magazine/item/550-trash-food

    An interesting look at class and food.

  25. Rileysmom says

    Hi Sasha!
    I’ve been thinking about this post before I answered. I must applaud your reason and diplomacy in your response to the most absurd accusation! If some one accused me or my friend who does international Dinners, as we call them, I think I’d give them a knee to the nether parts! What a whack job! Who also has no life and nothing better to do!
    Thank you for your culinary inspiration!
    You’re welcome to join us should you happen to find yourself in Montana!

  26. Pat Cotter says

    Just discovered you and am going to try some of your recipes. I think its a wonderful experience and maybe even more so for children! I can’t even fathom people who call it anything negative, especially not in the wonderful way you present the food and the culture. I’ve traveled and love food everywhere. The white supremacists (or at least unadventurous people) are the ones who travel and WON’T try the food…

  27. Hi Sasha, I am a new reader here and I love your blog. Your reply is eloquent and respectful. There was no way for me to read through the original discussion because the site is closed temporarily so I’m going to make a statent without some background info (so forgive me).

    I’m just wondering why it seems there’s an assumption that the writer is a person of color, ie. NOT WHITE(?)
    I figure the person could just be an ignorant anybody or a race-baiter.

    Oh, also just thinking about the time I was told that there’s no such thing as Jamaican cuisine (as I sat with non-Jamaican friends eating Jamaican food…).

    I asked the person what be considered “cuisine” and his reply…French, Italian & so on. Sometimes I think it’s not so much just trying new foods but it’s our ideas about people and cultural practices that apply. Just my 2 cents.

  28. There seems to be an apologist trend out there now that refers to “cultural appropriation” as a method whereby wealthy white Americans try to put a dominant stamp on other cultures, just as you describe here.
    As you state, this is absurd, and another way to separate and divide, while most of us are trying to meld and understand and include.
    This attitude is also addressed in the tattoo communities when someone finds a symbol of beauty or meaning from another culture’s history or mythos, and incorporates it into their own meaningful body art.
    The food, the body art, the fashion, the decorations, these are all ways to join together as a community of humans.
    Is there not just a hint of irony in the idea that a specific portion of humanity (the Caucasion population in the West) should be excluded from sharing the human heritage?

    And really, it’s just yummy.

  29. Christa H. says

    Hey, I just found this post, and just wanted to say how it resonates with me. I myself am from a low-income family; we live in an old two-bedroom fixer-upper double-wide manufactured home in the middle of nowhere, all nine of us. While I dream of travelling internationally someday, right now even a trip to town is a big event. But I want to understand more of the world, and international food is part of that. How is it white supremacy or cultural appropriation to consider that the cuisine from other countries is worthwhile; just as much as our own (what is Pacific-northwestern American cuisine, anyway)? How is it perpetuating foreignness to become familiar with what once was foreign?

    I also enjoy learning languages, and again, it’s not for some kind of “cultural voyeurism”, it’s to gain more connection to people from other cultures, such that their language is no longer a “foreign language” to me, and their food is no longer “foreign cuisine”. We are all fellow humans, and no group is superior or inferior to any other. So why should I try to confine myself to some cultural box, when there is so much more to life, to humanity?

    Just my thoughts 🙂

  30. White people enjoy eating other races food but I’ve noticed the same is not true of all the other races as they only seem to eat their own food & there for limit what they can have , Indians only cook & eat Indian food Asians only cook & eat Asian food etc I’ve seen it time & time again at all you can eat restaurants they go straight to their own races food & never even try or look at other cuisines on off but I do see white people choosing many different foods on offer also on cooking shows they always just cook their own food ???? Don’t limit yourself as you are missing out on new tastes & new dishes.

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