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‘Wokies’ are stewing a little bit too much about culinary appropriation
Dennis Wyatt new mug
Dennis Wyatt

In case you don’t have too much time on your hands, that’s the growing rage on social media.

It references someone of a “dominate culture” taking “another culture’s” take on cuisine and giving it a twist that reflects “their culture”.

Most of the time it is a “white” individual taking a dish of a so-called “minority” population and making it their own.

Think Taco Bell.

With all due respect to Yummy Brands, that is not my idea of Mexican food though there are those that would beg to differ.

Growing up in an ethnically diverse small town — at least it was at the time — where more than a third of the population had Hispanic bloodlines and most were second or third generation Americans that could speak better English than me — I had homemade tamales on Friday nights for the better part of 7 years.

They were made from scratch by Sophia Ruiz.

Believe me, Nalleys canned tamales were pure garbage in comparison. They tasted nothing like the real thing.

Sophia was an immigrant from Mexico who worked with my mom. Her son and my brother were best friends.

Occasionally, she would treat us to homemade enchiladas. Don’t get me wrong. Her tamales were great but her enchiladas were incredible.

Yet Sophia — as well as myself and others — couldn’t wait until either the Placer County Holy Ghost Celebration in May or Christmas.

That’s when Elsie Silva, our next door neighbor, would whip up her take on enchiladas with a distinct Portuguese twist.

They were much spicier and greasier. And despite what that combination can do to you, they were so good you could eat them the next day as well stone cold from the refrigerator.

In today’s woke world such a take on a Mexican dish sparks indignant outrage on social media platforms like TikTok.

Assuming Elsie, if she were alive, would still have the sensibilities of a devout Catholic immigrant from the Azores with a stringent work ethnic who loved America and its simmering stew of ethnicities and cultures, I doubt she’d waste much time with TikTok and such.

She be too busy taking care of her family, helping immigrants from Spain and Portugal learn English, and making sure those in need didn’t go without.

Elsie would give the shirt off her back to help struggling families in the neighborhood that ran the gamut from  those who fled to California from Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, immigrants from Mexico, and a couple — he was a low-paid blue collar worker and his wife who was seriously ill — struggling to raise four boys.

She was thrilled when neighbors joined in traditional Portuguese celebrations. Elsie was also proud when others incorporated bits and pieces of her native cuisine.

It was barely Portuguese lite, but they were adaptions she inspired.

I admit to the high woke crime of culinary appropriation as well.

There was a time —a good 10 years or so — where I used tortillas like bread.

I went through a couple dozen flour tortillas — store bought of course — a week.

I used them to wrap slices of cheese. I dipped them in soup. I ate them plain. I smothered them with butter. And I smeared them with catsup and rolled them up to eat.

I offer no apologizes.

That’s because I’m proud to live where I do in California that is arguably the most diverse state in the most diverse nation mankind has ever known.

I have no qualms being in a state where 39 percent of the population identifies as Latino followed by 35 percent white, 15 percent Asian American or Pacific Islander, 5 percent Black and 1 percent Native Americans or Alaska natives.

I get to savor much of the world in terms of culture and cuisine without straying from California.

One might also add, California — when it comes to food — is the undisputed leader in cultural appropriation.

Virtually all of the 400 plus vegetables, fruits, and nuts grown here were brought to California from other cultures. The same goes for livestock such as dairy cows, beef cattle, pigs, chickens, and sheep.

We are so good at appropriation that we are the world’s top producer of a number of crops from other cultures including the almond that heralded from parts of today’s western Asia and China and not the original 13 colonies.

If instead of blending we stayed true to our “primary” cultural roots my diet today would be heavy in fatty meat products and for all practical purposes devoid of fruits, vegetables and nuts. That’s assuming my ancestral tree is correct and my roots are deepish in the Scottish culture.

My diet is the exact opposite and then some. I do not eat any type of meat. As for fruits, vegetables and nuts they make up 40 percent of the calories I consume in a day.

The entire rage about cuisine appropriation is much ado about nothing.

Archeologists, for example, have zeroed in on domesticated rice and its use in cuisine originating in China in the Yangtze River basin.

Does that mean rice we are served in a Mexican restaurant is a flagrant  culinary appropriation that the owners and cooks should be ashamed and apologetic for serving?

And speaking of culinary appropriation, does that mean a Mexican restaurant I ate at on Clement Street  in San Francisco in the 1980s where the cook was Chinese, the owner Italian, and the waitress an immigrant from The Philippines would be targeted today for crimes against other cultures?

For the record, Taco Bell was arguably a notch above the Clement Street restaurant in terms of how the food tasted.

But what could be more American than the eclectic group of people running that Mexican restaurant?

America — at its best — is a massive melting pot.

It’s a stew we keep adding to starting with the basic water and tossing in ingredients from all over the globe.

The dish we call the United States of America is made by weaving cultures together. The more we cross weave whether its is customs, faith, values, and cuisine the stronger the fabric becomes.

As for the social media rage about culinary appropriation, we clearly have too much time on our hands.