Everyone needs to take it easy when it comes to food and cultural appropriation. I was reading an article the other day about how the latest trend about poke (pronounced po-kay) is a form of cultural appropriation and how, once again, another piece of some other’s culture has been stolen and vilified. As soon as I read that article, I got up, walked to the other room in my house, and let out the most passive aggressive sigh my little lungs could let out. In this time of social justice warriors and political correctness, I need to take a stand against the supposed cultural appropriation of different foods. I’ve worked in the food and beverage industry for the past four years of my life and I can assure you myself that when some restaurant down the street decides to sell a poke special on a bed of lettuce, more power to them. Shoot, I’ll go down there myself and buy two big bowls of it! While it may not be the same poke that I had from my family from Hawaii, it’s still poke (more or less).
Here is the reason why it’s so important though for these american restaurants to be selling these different cultural foods to the masses yearning for something new: it is a foot in the door. That’s right, it gives people who would have never had another chance to try something “exotic” a chance to try it. For example, take sushi and its immense popularity with the American populous. In the 1960’s sushi in the US began its wild climb to become one of the most popular food items sold in gas stations to this day. At first, how many people would willingly eat a piece of raw fish over a slab of sticky rice? Now, we have numerous sushi restaurants opening up all over the states and even professional sushi chefs are catering to guests at your local grocery store. Yes, there are moments when someone takes reinventing the sushi roll too far (like the this-is-so-wrong-but-I-don’t-care Philadelphia roll filled to the brim with cream cheese) but you know what? That is okay. Same goes with Poke. I had a poke taco the other day at a Dallas taco shop and it was literally poke, which tasted fine, wrapped in a piece of lettuce. It was fresh, succulent, and tasted like how poke should. Some would argue that it’s not the same thing as the real thing, which I do agree with, but not everyone can take a flight to Hawaii and order a bowl of fresh poke. It’s not a case of cultural appropriation but rather cultural appreciation. Food is not meant to be study on race and the stealing of culture, it is meant to be shared and enjoyed with friends, family, and strangers.
It’s also not about the food itself that makes it good, it’s the memory that is associated with it. The goal of making and serving food is for people to enjoy it and associate their good times with whatever item they are eating. Anyone can cook a good steak but it’s the memory of eating that steak with people you care about that makes it so good. Anyone can make a good bowl of soup, but it’s the memory of your mom making the bowl of soup from scratch because you were sick as a dog that made it so good. When someone orders a bowl of poke from a restaurant chain, I let them order it without a word of judgement. Once they start eating, I look at them and say, “it gets better” and make plans to get poke from a restaurant that focuses on it. It’s not the poke itself that makes it a good time but the act of making plans to get better poke with a new friend that makes it so good. Just enjoy your food, keep trying something new, and life will be good. Oh and stop taking five minutes to take a photo of your food. Just enjoy the damn thing.