Yes, this meal is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable
January 7, 2020 10:58 AM   Subscribe

 
“You can taste the difference in the milk depending on which side of the Rhône the cow has grazed,” our chef-instructor once told us, most poetically. He had no such musings about Asian cuisine. Once, as I debated with a peer about how to resuscitate a sauce that coincidentally hailed from my birthplace of Shanghai, our instructor sauntered up with advice. “I know what you need.” He left the room and returned with ketchup, an entire metal can of it. I felt the burn of indignation and shame as he began to ladle glop after glop into the sauce, until it was brick red, its purported sweet-and-sour balance forgotten. As if sensing my discomfort, he turned to me and gave his final ruling: “The best Chinese chef I know told me this is the secret to all your food.” Next to him, my classmate scoffed. All that worry over nuance that didn’t even exist.

This is a wonderful and heartbreaking story, hurdy gurdy girl. Thank you so much for sharing it. The part of the article about the author wanting to buy school lunches reminded me of the day when I was in junior high school and my mother wanted me to stay home from school because there wasn’t any food to take for lunch. That’s not true, I told my mom. I can take a chicken-skin sandwich. I love chicken skin, I said.

So that’s what I did. It had never occurred to me to make a sandwich with chicken skin before but I couldn’t take the chicken because that was going to be our dinner. And I couldn’t imagine staying home from school because we were poor. So I didn’t.

School lunches: so many opportunities to feel shame. Amazing article, amazing chef. Thanks again.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:42 AM on January 7 [28 favorites]


This is a great essay, thanks for linking it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:53 AM on January 7 [5 favorites]


wonderful thematic extension to the recent listicle post. Thank you.
posted by mwhybark at 11:54 AM on January 7 [6 favorites]


Still reading this, but the bit about "the ingredients I once frantically dissociated myself from, now gentrified into something clever and expensive" definitely is resonating with me. It's wild how culinarily acceptable various "ethnic" food becomes once gentrification seizes hold of it and converts it into something associated with a desirable novelty, rather than disdainful abnormality.
posted by rather be jorting at 11:55 AM on January 7 [20 favorites]


This is kinda resonating with me for a different reason. My gf and I have just been watching "The Great American Holiday Baking Show". One of the contestants, Alex, is of Japanese descent and used a lot of traditional Japanese flavors in his baking, and that always seemed to leave Paul Hollywood taken completely aback, like, those flavors DO NOT belong in baking... which is made more interesting by Paul's acceptance of classic Indian and Pakistani flavors in baking on Great British Bake Off.
posted by hanov3r at 12:00 PM on January 7 [10 favorites]


School lunches: so many opportunities to feel shame.

I recall the first time a white person turned to me at lunch in elementary school and said, “Ewwww, you eat that, what is that? It looks like poo.”

I went home and became upset at my parents and told them I wanted to start to buy lunch and/or a "normal" lunch item like a sandwich. I don't recall upsetting my mother, but I imagine it hurt to know that the food she had painstakingly made for me in the morning was being rejected in such a way. I feel quite a bit of shame about that.

Thankfully, I outgrew that phase and by the time I hit high school I was beyond giving a fuck about what my friends thought about my food. I ate what I wanted and fuck anyone that says anything about it. This was during the 80s & 90s. One hopes that it's gotten a little bit better and easier to bring diverse foods from around the globe into the N. American school cafeteria. But I won't hold my breath about that.
posted by Fizz at 12:08 PM on January 7 [29 favorites]


My mother taught me that people who ewwww at our awesome food just because they don't know what it is are primitives. I didn't quite know what primitives meant but I hung on to that word in scornful defiance.

I didn't have many friends at school, I can tell you that.

But I did have awesome food.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:21 PM on January 7 [64 favorites]


Enjoyed the article, but I grimaced at:

I see them squirm, reacting to the feeling of being a bystander to their own experience, the same way I did for so many years when I observed my own food culture.

Making people feel uncomfortable so that they become vulnerable is certainly effective, but I don't like it.
posted by dmh at 12:24 PM on January 7 [7 favorites]


But I did have awesome food.
posted by Omnomnom 5 minutes ago [1 favorite +] [!]


Eponysterical.
posted by hanov3r at 12:28 PM on January 7 [20 favorites]


One of the contestants, Alex, is of Japanese descent and used a lot of traditional Japanese flavors in his baking, and that always seemed to leave Paul Hollywood taken completely aback, like, those flavors DO NOT belong in baking...

GBBO is often touted as a calm and relaxing show, but I found myself getting more and more agitated with the narrowness of the judges' palate as the series progressed. Then I started watching the Great Australian Bake Off with Matt Moran and Maggie Beer, who are clearly interested in all international flavors, not just a small subset of them. They aren't perfect (I would love it if they'd stop using the word "heritage" to describe someone using non-Western-European flavors), but it's so nice to have pandan and matcha bakes judged based on the merits of the bake and not the judges' ignorance / prejudices about Asian flavors. I'm probably not going to watch GBBO any more, and this is a major reason why.

Making people feel uncomfortable so that they become vulnerable is certainly effective, but I don't like it.

She tells people upfront that the meal might make them uncomfortable. I've gone to movies and plays that have made me feel pretty uncomfortable, and I've appreciated the experience because it's prodded me to think about things in a different way or confront my own biases/privileges. I suspect many of the participants in the meal feel the same way.
posted by creepygirl at 12:33 PM on January 7 [33 favorites]


Powerful essay. I just deleted like three comments before posting because it turns out I have too many feelings.

I get a little annoyed when something I ate as a child becomes trendy ("What is that?" "Wait, what is it called?" "It looks weird."), but if it makes it more difficult for racist professionals to blithely dismiss entire cuisines then it's probably ok. Also I love Ethiopian food, and definitely would never have gotten to try it if it hadn't become trendy, so...
posted by grandiloquiet at 1:12 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]


I did my ticket at a tech in Australia; our chef tutors had been trained classically French, they'd worked their careers doing classically French, the fundamentals they taught were classically French.

But my class was a melting pot, we had people from all continents except Antarctica, and the chef tutors worked with that brilliantly. There was no sneering about different cuisines, it was about what you brought with you. So while we did the basics we detoured off into how people personally used techniques, how grilling get's used in Nigerian food, how steaming gets used in Chilean food, how braising is different in Chinese food. Hell, one of the few white people in the class was an older Bogan woman that told us about the fundamentals of cooking in jail. And then the 68 year old Vietnamese guy that had spent time in a North Vietnamese prison camp compared and contrasted.

When I was doing my ticket I was envious of the more high end culinary schools, the polish they put on their students and the fancy techniques they taught. As I get older I am more and more appreciative of what I learnt in my ticket, especially as I read stories like this.
posted by fido~depravo at 1:35 PM on January 7 [58 favorites]


Discomfort is pretty much the only way forward, so there's that.

There's a series on Netflix called Flavourful Origins which is, despite being propaganda, is also a really wonderful exploration of different ingredients in various regions in China. There's another series called Street Food which showcases everyday street vendor meals from all over.

Excellent way to broaden horizons, for sure.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:47 PM on January 7 [5 favorites]


I made kale salads with pomegranate, charred steaks with au jus

I'm sorry, I hear you, but she is a monster.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:50 PM on January 7 [4 favorites]


My mother taught me that people who ewwww at our awesome food just because they don't know what it is are primitives.
Good for her. I love the overtone of pity overcoming hate, too.

"Caesar: Pardon him. Theodotus. He is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature." - George Bernard Shaw, "Caesar and Cleopatra"
posted by roystgnr at 1:52 PM on January 7 [8 favorites]


I remember a scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where (roughly speaking) a bunch of perfect little blonde girls ask the dark haired young-girl Greek protagonist about the moussaka she's eating for lunch at school. The ringleader screams "MOOSE CACA?!" and everyone dissolves into laughter. I leaned over to my friend in the theater and with no preamble whispered "What was it for you?"

"Eel on rice," she said.
"Kofta kabobs," I nodded.

(Relatedly, I called my mom when we left the theater, and she was bewildered but touched by my vaguely tearful thanks for her unwavering unconditional love through my ungrateful-little-shit years. )
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 1:53 PM on January 7 [27 favorites]


Like Fizz, I've had an American coworker sitting next to me in the lunch room peer at my keema and rice and go "ugh brown food".

I'm sincerely tired of the American gaze and how it has come to dominate the internet in its attempts to normalize the rest of the planet into carbon copies through high school clique techniques like dismissal and putdowns.
posted by Mrs Potato at 1:56 PM on January 7 [19 favorites]


At least some kids these days are more embracing of foreign foods. Earlier this year our son, who's in SK, said that his friend had "duck" and he wanted that too. My wife asked the friend's mom what she gave for lunch that day and she said it was tteok (Korean rice cakes). So less "eww what is that?" and more "that looks good, I want that too".

I suppose I could put that to the test by giving him natto in his lunchbox but I would consider that cruel and unusual punishment to all the kids who had to sit beside him.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:02 PM on January 7


Making people feel uncomfortable so that they become vulnerable is certainly effective, but I don't like it.

I like people being uncomfortable to the point that they become vulnerable enough to be self-reflective about what exactly made them uncomfortable. I hope that some people were that uncomfortable at the meal. Plus, when the author says:
I see them squirm, reacting to the feeling of being a bystander to their own experience, the same way I did for so many years when I observed my own food culture.
It's important to note that the author has the experience of feeling uncomfortable for YEARS over how people react to the food from her culture, and she's only asking people to sit with a Curated Version Of That Same Discomfort for like a couple hours maybe.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:05 PM on January 7 [10 favorites]


I suppose I could put that to the test by giving him natto in his lunchbox but I would consider that cruel and unusual punishment to all the kids who had to sit beside him.

Why?
posted by anem0ne at 2:07 PM on January 7 [13 favorites]


Making people feel uncomfortable so that they become vulnerable is certainly effective, but I don't like it.

The whole article, and so many comments in the thread, are about how people who aren't part of the dominant culture have felt so uncomfortable and vulnerable for being the Other. Doesn't seem like they liked it either, but many have also commented on how they grew.
posted by anem0ne at 2:09 PM on January 7 [5 favorites]


Making people feel uncomfortable so that they become vulnerable is certainly effective, but I don't like it.

It sounds like the attendees at the supper club probably knew what they were getting into or at least were open to the experience, right? Which is a world of difference from going to a restaurant expecting to just enjoy good food and being Taught A Lesson. So I'm not sure what there is to not like about her supper club.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:15 PM on January 7 [6 favorites]


I'm honestly shocked her culinary school instructors were that ignorant about Chinese food in... 2012 (according to the author's LinkedIn). Like, maybe back when the only Chinese food you could get in the US was Americanized, but 2012?! In NYC?! WTF?! Did this guy time travel from the 80s?!

(Side note, when traveling, my parents always note that other cuisines seem to have a lot less variety than Chinese cuisine. And then I point out that each province in China has roughly the population of like 10 European countries put together, so you have to evaluate culinary diversity on a different scale in the rest of the world. Sometimes I fantasize about opening an Eataly-style supermarket for Chinese ingredients.)
posted by airmail at 2:16 PM on January 7 [11 favorites]


I suppose I could put that to the test by giving him natto in his lunchbox but I would consider that cruel and unusual punishment to all the kids who had to sit beside him.

Why?


It has a strong smell that persists which I find unpleasant. He eats blue cheese at home but I wouldn't put that in his lunch box for much the same reason.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:22 PM on January 7


[Quick PSA: in general, please think twice before saying that a given food not-of-your-culture is gross/smelly/etc, even if you intend that in a positive or familiar/appreciative kind of way. The site has had a bunch of recent discussions about how that specific kind of description really hits a lot of people in a sore spot, for the exact reasons this article talks about. It's something we're asking folks to be more mindful of, to avoid those harms.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:26 PM on January 7 [16 favorites]


Sorry about that, the natto comment was unnecessary and given the subject of the post extremely insensitive.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:40 PM on January 7 [5 favorites]


Was with au jus also meant to make me feel uncomfortable?

On preview, thanks for fighting the good fight, Joe in Australia.
posted by emelenjr at 2:42 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]


Fizz: I recall the first time a white person turned to me at lunch in elementary school and said, “Ewwww, you eat that, what is that? It looks like poo.”

Back in college, we had a friends' dinner once a week. Our Afghani friend made an eggplant korma dish (here's a recipe with cauliflower and potato, which includes a good picture). One of our other friends looked at it and said "eww, vomitous."

At a meal. Among friends. As college-aged adults. My other friend took it in stride, but our jerk friend was really missing out. His loss - more for us!
posted by filthy light thief at 2:47 PM on January 7 [8 favorites]


So many feels. In elementary school I was the class runt, a situation exacerbated by my appreciation of Limburger cheese with slices of raw red onion, which my teacher eventually had to ask my mom to not pack for me. On the other hand, as much as I loved that in my early years, I was embarrassed by my (hippy survivalist) mom's attempts at baking bread, which somehow always ended up dense and crumbly and nothing at all like the bread other people ate, into my early 20s.

Of course, that same hippy survivalist mom gave me an appreciation for natto, which means that once or twice I have won the "let's see what the white guy will eat" game before it even started.

I'm intrigued: I both want to try all the things, because hell yes new experiences, and yet if I don't have to politely chew several different types of intestines again any time soon, I'm okay with that, because "let's see what the white guy will eat" is fun and all, but there are some things I feel privileged to not have had to develop an appreciation for.

Meanwhile, as an adult, I've been trying to figure out if my mom's bread always turned out like it did because she didn't know to make the dough as wet as possible, or if having kids helping meant that we didn't like kneading sticky masses and packed as much flour into that bread as we could...
posted by straw at 3:12 PM on January 7


When I was in college, one of my friends went to a mutual friend's for a home-cooked dinner. The next day, I asked how the dinner went. She went off: "So, he said he'd make me chicken pot pie but it was super-gross. There was no gravy or crust and it was just... BOILED CHICKEN and BOILED POTATOES and HUGE FLOPPY BOILED NOODLES ALL IN ONE POT. It was horrible!!"

If you go in expecting a thing with a top and a bottom crust and gravy and mixed vegetables and such, slippery noodle pot pie is at the very least confusing. (We don't ourselves call it "slippery noodle pot pie" because of course that's the kind it is. We don't make the other kind. It's just pot pie. D'oh.)

Anyway, I guess even among mutt white folks (parents and grandparents born in the US, no single ethnic heritage they claim), we can't eat each other's cooking without judgment and going all "Ewww, that looks icky!" the moment it's not what we expected to see.
posted by which_chick at 3:43 PM on January 7


Anyway, I guess even among mutt white folks (parents and grandparents born in the US, no single ethnic heritage they claim), we can't eat each other's cooking without judgment and going all "Ewww, that looks icky!" the moment it's not what we expected to see.

Hmmm, did your friend say "Ewww that looks icky" in the moment though? It sounds like your friend waited until the next day to share their opinion of the meal, and then they shared it with you (instead of the people who were about to eat the chicken pot pie), which is quite a bit different from having someone tell you that the food you're about to eat looks like poop (or similar).
posted by 23skidoo at 4:11 PM on January 7 [6 favorites]


This dredged up unwanted memories from university. My parents’ first visit, packed to the gills with all my Filipino comfort food. My roommate making a barfing face when my mother offered her dried squid to eat with hot sticky rice. My parents shamed and flinging the windows open. My roommate realising her rudeness, put her other foot in it by complementing my parents on their English. My parents are physicians and, by then, owned their own practices. They never brought food again, even after I transferred university.

My parents carefully only brought American food when visiting me as an adult until many years later when Sara, best flatmate in the world, convinced them to bring real home cooking. Sara ate everything Mama made and then fell asleep on our couch. I’d never seen the lazy Susan spin so fast. After that, Filipino food went into my repertoire permanently.

Mr. Icing now craves Mama’s longanisa so much she taught me how to make it.

On second reading, this beautiful article has loosened a little knot inside. Perhaps the opportunity will arise that when I’m in NYC again, I’ll attend one of Jenny Dorsey’s events. Thanks for posting.
posted by lemon_icing at 4:23 PM on January 7 [29 favorites]


Anyway, I guess even among mutt white folks (parents and grandparents born in the US, no single ethnic heritage they claim), we can't eat each other's cooking without judgment and going all "Ewww, that looks icky!" the moment it's not what we expected to see.

I think what you are missing here is that when you are a "mutt white folk" judgements about your cooking don't reinforce societal judgement about your worth as a human and the worth of your culture.
posted by mcduff at 4:55 PM on January 7 [25 favorites]


This sounds like a horrible experience to me. Not the food, but the experience of the meal. I wouldn't get through this:
written proclamations of their biggest failures, job insecurities and societal frustrations immortalized in front of them
The article itself is good. But I don't understand the appeal of going to a dinner that has a theme of "radical honesty" and "emotional vulnerability".
posted by demiurge at 4:58 PM on January 7


Fair enough. It seems I totally missed the point of the article despite reading it. I am sorry.
posted by which_chick at 5:06 PM on January 7


The courses she describes sound really good to me; I'd love to have the opportunity to try her cooking sometime. The vulnerability stuff doesn't sound like it would be totally up my alley, but I'd be ok trying that, too.

I was embarrassed by my (hippy survivalist) mom's attempts at baking bread, which somehow always ended up dense and crumbly and nothing at all like the bread other people ate, into my early 20s.

My mother's bread was very, very good, but I was still embarrassed by it at lunch -- kids, at least back then (I hope things are at least somewhat better now), would seize on even small differences and were extremely cruel about it. And that was for the most minor kind of difference (we were all having sandwiches with the same sorts of fillings, it was just the store-bought bread vs visibly homemade), never mind actual cultural differences.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:16 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]


Is that cruelty about difference acculturated into children? Does anyplace not have it, or acculturate against it?
posted by clew at 6:20 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


I will elaborate a little on my earlier comment. I understand that the guests / participants / eaters are okay with being uncomfortable & I readily accept that discomfort is an effective way of cultivating a sort of connection through vulnerability. By the author's account people enjoyed the experience & judging from the comments here a lot of people are enthusiastic about the concept. Which, all that I think is wonderful & fine. De gustibus non disputandum.

But for me personally, the concept stings for two reasons. Firstly, because the motivation is, apparently, to make others suffer like the author has suffered. That, I think, is just a terrible motivation in general, never mind how powerful or justified it may be in some cases. "HELLO MY NAME IS DISGUSTING" seems gratuitously nasty for a dish that appears to be quite tasty. I understand the sticker is meant to evoke the nasty remarks Dorsey had to endure as a child. But I don't see how bullying at school (involuntary, confused/confusing, ostracizing) relates to participation in this dinner (voluntary, deliberate, bonding) at all, except as a way to "get back" at the people who hurt her. But the people who hurt Dorsey are not the people enjoying the dinner.

Which brings me to the second objection, which is the way the concept panders to & centers white guilt. The dismissive, insulting presentation of the dishes works because it leverages existing (shameful) stereotypes & prejudices. It assumes (& I think thereby reinforces) white dominance even while challenging it. This is expressed perhaps best in the way the performance trades on very Western/White/bourgeouis notions of the how one is supposed to behave as An Audience in the presence of An Auteur. Certainly in my experience it's the epitome of a particular strain of Whiteness to sit in an open-beamed warehouse to meekly submit to gentrified takes on exotic foods that insult you. The discomfort signals authenticity, which the non-white person has to perform (perhaps not unlike the FPP on the black dominatrix posted here a couple of days ago).

There is nothing wrong with any of that. But I think that while it's fine to make white people feel uncomfortable and earn some approval (because you're giving them authenticity), I personally think it's better to make them feel comfortable & just take their money. I don't like performing my grief.
posted by dmh at 6:29 PM on January 7 [9 favorites]


Oof this strikes a chord with me. I thought I had left the part of my life where I was surrounded by white people judging my Chinese food, and then I started my master's in nutrition. It started all over again.

The world of nutrition and dietetics is absolutely fraught with white supremacy tones when it comes to how healthy other cultures' foods are deemed, and it is absolutely detrimental to people's health. This is a whole other can of worms though...
posted by astapasta24 at 6:39 PM on January 7 [12 favorites]


Firstly, because the motivation is, apparently, to make others suffer like the author has suffered.

The author's suffering is related to her experiences where she felt her own culture's cuisine was disrespected- I don't think the diners are supposed to walk away from the experience feeling like their own culture's cuisine has been disrespected.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:59 PM on January 7 [4 favorites]


dmh, I get where you're coming from on the second point. There's a way American food culture likes to center the most "exotic" parts of Asian cuisines. Authenticity is often measured in spiciness (which is literally how painful something is to eat!) But there's actually a lot of Asian food (even unamericanized) that involves nothing unusual or difficult to eat by white American standards. It just doesn't get the same play because charitably, it's not as exciting, and uncharitably, because it doesn't reinforce Asian=Other.

(To be clear, I'm not saying Dorsey shouldn't be doing this dinner, because there are many valid ways to express racial trauma. I'm just not the target audience.)
posted by airmail at 8:05 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]


I'm thinking more of the "Disgusting" lunchbox, and Dorsey's description of it as evoking "the feeling of being a bystander to their own experience, the same way I did for so many years when I observed my own food culture". Personally, as someone who grew up eating Chinese food, seeing this presentation makes me feel alienated because I'm seeing familiar ingredients presented in a strange, purposely unappetizing way (it's served under a "sharp white light"). Which, I think, is how Dorsey feels about it. But I'm not sure what a white person with a typical American diet would make of it, because the ingredients were never familiar to them in the first place.
posted by airmail at 8:17 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]


Oh God, this reminds me how I had the world's most disgusting lunches for years on end. Slimy baloney cold-cuts between cheap brown bread and mayonnaise. UGH.

I ended up having to make my own lunches by junior high: I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for 3 years, non stop. I did not have much imagination. I feel that during most of my childhood and adolescence, food was something to be endured, rather than something to enjoy. Anyway, it took me YEARS to shake off this attitude.

My mother didn't like Chinese food. Or Mexican food. Or anything ethnic. I discovered Lebanese food in high school: it was like the most amazing spice explosion in my mouth. My father and I discovered Indian food in my late teens, and I fell in love with Mexican food: I had to move to LA in the late '90s to discover the cornucopia of awesomeness that was the Chinese restaurant scene in the San Gabriel Valley. OYSTER BEEF. Heaven, I tell you.

Man, I wish I had a mother who'd hand cook amazing lunches for me, but what can you do. It sucks that being lunch-shamed is an experience that a lot of kids have had to deal with.

Anyway, thanks for sharing: this is a fascinating essay!
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 9:49 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]


Firstly, because the motivation is, apparently, to make others suffer like the author has suffered....But I don't see how bullying at school (involuntary, confused/confusing, ostracizing) relates to participation in this dinner (voluntary, deliberate, bonding) at all, except as a way to "get back" at the people who hurt her. But the people who hurt Dorsey are not the people enjoying the dinner.

See, for me these sorts of meals aren't a friendly bonding sort of affair, they're more akin to performance art. Everyone involved knows that there's an element of generating specific emotional responses around the food, and that it won't always be comfortable.

This is a voluntary trip to an experience. The experience itself doesn't have to be solely uplifting any more than a movie, painting, song or other artwork should be solely uplifting. You can use food to evoke multiple feelings the same way you would a visceral spray of paint or a discomforting chord.

This is a painting about being ostracized, just done in food, not paint.
posted by Jilder at 12:53 AM on January 8 [14 favorites]


longanisa

I love MetaFilter because I'm constantly being introduced to new and awesome things.

"Longanisa are usually fresh or smoked sausages, typically made with varying ratios of lean meat and fat, along with garlic, black pepper, salt (usually coarse sea salt), saltpeter, muscovado or brown sugar, and vinegar".

It's a very good thing I've just now had lunch, because otherwise I would be flying to your town immediately to demand that you put some of these in my face forthwith. They sound delicious.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:01 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]


The title of the later Q&A with Jenny Dorsey is A Chef Who Fuses Food and Performance Art to Challenge Bias.

I mean, the suppers aren't just supper, they are indeed Performance and ticketed and sold as such. Making people feel uncomfortable so that they become vulnerable is kinda the whole methodology of some kinds of Performance.

Which is why a lot of the public - civilians - hate & despise Performance as a genre
posted by glasseyes at 7:26 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


I don't understand the appeal of going to a dinner that has a theme of "radical honesty" and "emotional vulnerability".

The suppers are a shared practical and visceral experience, and in a way celebration, of cultural identity where it butts up against cultural difference. They are deliberately intimate in a way that reiterates the intimacy of how people experience attacks and slights against their own cultural norms - food, family, appearance, language, smells. They are celebratory in that an invitee will be viscerally reminded of all this and yet also experience the comforting reassurance of having a yummy meal and being looked after.
posted by glasseyes at 7:34 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


I don't understand the appeal of going to a dinner that has a theme of "radical honesty" and "emotional vulnerability".

That meal is called 'Thanksgiving' in my household.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:46 AM on January 8 [8 favorites]



Is that cruelty about difference acculturated into children? Does anyplace not have it, or acculturate against it?


From nursery school onwards my parent peer group would have expected teachers to intervene if kids were being mean about each other's food. That's going back 30 odd years! It's the sort of thing we ALL would have gone to have a word with the school about if it had happened. I'm a bit flabbergasted by some of the anecdotes here; and also, think my family has been very, very lucky. This is with a bunch of very ordinary schools but in definitely multi-cultural ares.

Also really shocked by the attitudes the writer came up against in culinary school.
posted by glasseyes at 7:49 AM on January 8 [5 favorites]


“my parent peer group would have expected teachers to intervene if kids were being mean about each other's food. That's going back 30 odd years! It's the sort of thing we ALL would have gone to have a word with the school about if it had happened”

The trick with much (most?) social bullying is that it’s done in a way that teachers don’t notice. Victims are encouraged to feel shamed, that the problem is with them and not the bullies, and even if the victim does feel indignant instead there is often a strong social culture against “tattling”.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:06 AM on January 8 [9 favorites]


I'm not surprised -- I'm always shocked whenever someone actually SAYS something disparaging about another person's FOOD, that they may have prepared with time and money, and are about to EAT, because the way I was raised that was one of the rudest things you could possibly do. But I've heard it enough that I'm not surprised by it any longer.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:41 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


clew: Is that cruelty about difference acculturated into children? Does anyplace not have it, or acculturate against it?

It's easy to attack things that are different from what one experiences as the norm; see: kids bullying outsiders who for all intents and purposes appear to be like them - the poor kids, the awkward kids, kids who like something other than what the bullies like, who are otherwise in their same cultural community.

With regards to food, kids are very visual eaters (and some of that persists into adulthood). Last night, we had saag tofu (Simply Recipes -- it lacks in seasoning, but it's a good start), but our kids balked at the mushy spinach, and reacted in ways that would be really hurtful to their friends if it were something their friends were eating or offered them. So we discussed how best to respond to food that you try but don't like. It's a process.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:43 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


So not really on topic, but astapasta24's comment about going getting her Master's in Nutrition reminded me of a weird moment in my life. When I was pregnant, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and one of the specialists I saw for that offered me one of those print-outs with the "eat this not that in such-and-such amounts". I'd already heard it all before, and because she was a specialist, I asked if I could have the printouts for other food cultures. And she just...stared at me. So I had to explain that since making sure pregnant women ate well, and it was such a diverse area, surely they had printouts with more than just the Standard American Fare. She left. Came back like 15 minutes later with two other freshly printed handouts, of which one was geared towards the Latina population, and the other was...Cambodian, I think? It definitely wasn't in English, and she apologized, but it had pictures, so I assured her it was OK.

I left feeling almost embarrassed? Like, should I have not asked? But thinking about it since then I just get mad. What the hell do women in my situation do, if you were brought up almost entirely in another food culture, or are a recent immigrant? They are just as in need of solid medical nutrition advice, and probably aren't getting it here. Just unhelpful info that makes them feel ashamed or worried or UGH.
posted by sharp pointy objects at 11:46 AM on January 8 [16 favorites]


I'm a bit flabbergasted by some of the anecdotes here

This isn't directed at the commenter - I do want everyone to know that it's a very very very common anecdote amongst POC or immigrants to have had this experience.

I talked about it two years ago, two months ago. Here's a comic that basically illustrates what it's like (h/t to anem0ne)

Racist Sandwich is a great podcast that deals with this directly.
posted by suedehead at 11:59 AM on January 8 [9 favorites]


I am so sad that she attended a culinary school -- in New York city, of all places! -- where they still push the French line.

I work at a university with a strong culinary program, and, because it's also tied to hospitality training, there's still coverage of the traditional system. But students come from all over American and all over the world, so the chef-instructors in every speciality have overhauled their menus and techniques and enthusiasms to reflect this reality. They know they would be idiots to deny the validity of any food culture in the abstract, much less to the person who loves it who's standing right in front of them.

A good ten years ago my .edu department was used as the audience (i.e., we ate everything not nailed down) for a class of culinary students who were learning about...basically cocktail party food. Each student had a table with several selections they had chosen from their own food background: there was seafood from Japan, desserts from New Mexico (a sweet cactus jelly still stands out), and more. The students were there to talk about their stuff, and I had great conversations with young people who were so proud to show off what they had selected and made that it was obvious they felt validated by that vulnerability.

I wish Jenny Dorsey had instructors who hasn't wasted her time in school. Heck, any "teacher" who's that incurious is automatically branding themselves as irrelevant.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:02 PM on January 8 [8 favorites]


suedehead, I'm Nigerian, and was bringing up bi-racial kids in England. That's why I'm flabbergasted, because our experience 30 whole years ago was heck of a lot more diverse and inclusive and also, there just wasn't some huge overarching bland whiteness kids felt pressured to conform to. There just wasn't. Like I said, I think we were very very lucky in our neighbourhood and in our schools where parents were on board with this and teachers took it as their job to 1/ sit down and eat with little children and encourage them into kind manners with each other; and 2/ pick up on racism and received ideas expressed by kids and talk them through and give them another perspective. There were mostly English, South Asian, Caribbean, and some African children growing up together, so a fair amount of competing prejudices sometimes, and anti-racism had been deliberate and overt in schools in my area since teachers first started formulating policies in the 70s? Well before my kids got to school.

I'm not saying it was a perfect, racism-free paradise, because it wasn't. There is always structural racism and the wider society and its power structures. But I'm forever grateful for the atmosphere my kids grew up in, and the local politics that enabled it. And I will forever look back to that time fondly whenever people talk about 'multi-culturalism', now I believe something of a dirty word?

Since then on moving to a more white area I've had occasion to ask at a school 'What exactly is your anti-racism policy?' only to be met with blank looks.
posted by glasseyes at 2:49 PM on January 8 [8 favorites]


I remember being on the bus some years ago at school's-over time (3.30: always irritating and rowdy) and a man was tutting to himself ('why are these black kids always so noisy?') over the children who were no more than a little boisterous and talkative. On his way off the bus a mixed-race lad of about 12 challenged the guy. He paused at the top of the steps and said, Excuse me, why are you being racist towards me? He then told the man why racism is ignorant, perfectly politely. Then he got off the bus.

I was thinking, This is really progress. That the child had such confidence in himself, and had the language to make his point, and that he wouldn't accept a grumbling background racism and that he could do this perfectly logically and coolly, and that his ego and confidence was intact and undented. He was quite sure he was in the right. That moved me: that the child knew his worth, recognised the workings of racism and didn't accept the position racism would consign him too. And you know that is very different to how racialised public interactions would have gone in the 70s.

It's hard not to feel we've gone backwards since then with b*****, johnston, fucking tories et al I can't even talk about it. I've sworn off the beeb and news generally, I can't sleep, etc. We have gone backwards, and shadows and monsters have come crawling out of corners that I never expected nor could have predicted. I remain grateful to have experienced something quite different and know it will be a part of my kids and grandkids psychological makeup indefinitely.
posted by glasseyes at 3:17 PM on January 8 [12 favorites]


What the hell do women in my situation do, if you were brought up almost entirely in another food culture, or are a recent immigrant? They are just as in need of solid medical nutrition advice, and probably aren't getting it here.

Short answer is they don't get the care they need because many practitioners are ignorant at best. Then, of course, they come in for a follow up without much, if any, improvement, and they get labeled as a non-compliant patient and are written off as unwilling/not motivated/too dim to better their health.

I wish I could say I never saw this happen in my short time in the field.
posted by astapasta24 at 9:30 AM on January 9 [3 favorites]


This is a painting about being ostracized, just done in food, not paint.

That's very well put. My response highlights aspects that resonate with me but I'm not blind to the fact that the experience contains multitudes. For example I also think the meal (project? performance? installation?) is funny and culinarily masterful. It's just that the humor & skill as such are not what stood out to me.
posted by dmh at 10:11 PM on January 9


glasseyes, this is a belated comment - thank you so much for sharing more! I really hear what you're saying in regards to being lucky.

And I also really hear you in thinking that the kids will be all right. I'm only in my early 30s, but I am still blown away by how much more thoughtful, obvious, and easier(?) talking about racism and sexism, and transphobia seems to be amongst the late teens/Gen Z people that I meet. It's brilliant and heartening.

I'm really curious to see what it's like for the next generation in 20 years. And then realize that I'm a bit jealous to see a generation of IBPOC kids, for whom talking about race and whiteness seems so much more in the open and so natural.
posted by suedehead at 3:52 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Agreed suedehead, that's a really nice comment.
posted by glasseyes at 9:54 AM on January 27


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