New Orleans is probably best described as my favourite place. I love the food, the music, the culture and the people. I visit New Orleans practically every year. Recently, I’ve started returning home with a bag full of Cajun and Creole spices.
If you come to my house, I’ll probably cook gumbo for you – once of my favourite New Orleans favourites. I will, however, make it clear that it’s not fully authentic. Even if the cooking classes that I have taken while in New Orleans gave me the expertise, I don’t have access to the full range of ingredients to enable me to make gumbo in true New Orleans style.
The same principle would apply to New Orleans food in general. I was, however, pleasantly surprised when working with an organisation, I went to the staff restaurant and saw that they had New Orleans Jambalaya on the menu. I placed an order with anticipation and a big smile on my face. I couldn’t, however, have been more disappointed when I tasted the bland rice in my plate that neither really looked or tasted like New Orleans’ Jambalaya.
This led to a conversation with the chef in which I expressed my displeasure, I thought it was poor representation of a New Orleans dish. He explained that it didn’t have much spice in it because he didn’t believe that it would be to the taste of people in England. I thought that if it was supposed to be New Orleans Jambalaya it should be reflective of New Orleans – they would get a lovely spicy dish if they went to New Orleans why should it be made different hear and still be called by the traditional name. I upset him by telling him that he should change the name to something else. I did not want New Orleans that is known for its great food to be misrepresented to people who didn’t know what it should really taste like.
I believe it’s a similar frustration that a number of Africans felt when Jamie Oliver created his version of jollof rice. The should I say, confusion when Ikea starting selling white rice and green garden peas and referred to it as rice and peas. Rice and peas that is known as a West Indian dish which is made with rice and kidney beans. This misrepresentation of cultures is one of the reasons why black people often speak of cultural appropriation i.e.“the act of adopting elements of an outside, often minority culture, including knowledge, practices, and symbols, without understanding or respecting the original culture and context.” (Dictionary.com)
There are no doubt a number of other reasons why cultural appropriation is of concern, another being a sense of exploitation when something is taken from black cultures (at times adapted) and sold for a high return which I will venture to say is a reminder of the colonial period when natural resources were taken from the colonies; turned into products in British industries and sold back to countries with the colonies at high prices.
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