(Photo at left of riz au gras, from Tropical Foodies.)
Yes, you guessed right. This week’s column is going to be a rant, one related to food: I think that makes it more palatable.
I attended an international food event in NYC last week, and out of the many categories of cookbooks, covering topics such as the best cut of meats (a couple of tables), cookies (three to four tables), there was one section dedicated to “international food,” including Japanese, Korean, Brazilian, Ghanaian, and mo
re. This got me to thinking:
1. What is “ethnic food” to person A is plain, every day fare to person B. We all claim to live in a global world, but yet our perspectives, vocabulary, and labels very much carry a local perspective. Kachumbari is as “ethnic” to Kenyans as croissants are to French people. So, what is ethnic?
2. If you hear someone describe food as ethnic, they are not talking about any particular food at all—they are just ascribing some kind of “exotic” flavor to an idea of food. Basically, to a lot of folks, ethnic mean anything you eat that is not part of a traditional Western diet, so anything except pasta, potatoes, hamburgers, and food of that ilk. Thai, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Cuban, Ghanaian, are all lumped together in one big meaningless, tasteless idealistic pot, which is quite disrespectful to these rich cultures.
3. Now since this is Africa.com, let’s focus on African cuisine. Africans would do a great service to themselves, their cultures and the whole world, if they started referring to their food using the real names of dishes and countries. Most people outside of Africa think that the continent is constantly in food flux, and when they don’t, they automatically lump the diverse, rich, flavorful cuisines in the “ethnic” category, without bothering to find out more. So let’s stop using the word ethnic: Ivorian, Angolan, and Congolese would do just fine.
4. I suppose the word “ethnic” would only be acceptable if by the term, people referred to delicious food versus that which is not delicious. The term happens to be used in those conversations at times, but
5. And while we are at it, can we just ban the term “ethnic” altogether? “Ethnic” prints, music, whatever it is: we can’t keep feeding the stereotypes people hold on to of the monolithic bloc that is Africa in their minds.
Linda Dempah co-founded and writes for Tropical Foodies (www.tropicalfoodies.com) a blog dedicated to dishes using tropical ingredients. She is living a passionate, lifelong love story with plantains and is sharing her enthusiasm for all the other tropical ingredients on her blog. Follow her on Twitter and like the blog on Facebook.