Cultural appropriation of food, questions

This was posted on my facebook wall, and is shared here with permission (thanks Joe and Linda!) and I’d like some help answering. Feel free to comment!

“TL;DR – Cultural Appropriation of food.
Hey Tiffany! Linda and I were talking this morning about cultural appropriation as she was wondering where it intersects with cultural foods. A Korean market and Japanese market have opened near to where we live so has helped instigate these thoughts. We couldn’t quite figure out all the nuances and I know posting on your wall often creates the liveliest of debates. Here are some things I was considering:

1) Cultural food is big-commerce in the western world (and anywhere people immigrate, it seems). Many immigrants and even Settler Canadians (thanks for the term, Tiffany) have opened restaurants to serve their cultural foods. However, this trend is arguably helped by challenges to find job or careers in old (white) boys clubs and other high-paying careers that are tied with power in the community. So is eating at these establishments helping those immigrants be successful in a unbalanced system OR is it needlessly supporting that unbalanced system, or both?

2) In the same vein, it may certainly be cultural appropriation if I went to a Japanese restaurant owned and operated by people who are not Japanese. I often favour Japanese owned establishments, but usually the choice is framed as the food will be better, or more authentic, if the owners are Japanese. Either way, it’s rare that I take time to really get to know the owners which might make frequenting the establishments more acceptable as being part of a larger community.

3) Then there is the whole food bastardizations (like Ginger Beef) which are Westernization of cultural food made more “appealing” to the Western palate. And walking that line are the ‘fusion’ cuisines that one could argue is paying homage or taking inspiration from international cuisines, but still irks me when, say, Wendy’s or Earl’s has a Thai chicken wrap.

4) On a more personal level, there is home cooking. Linda and I like to try our hand as making sushi at home. We do it because we like sushi and we tend to buy sushi-grade fish from Asian markets. It doesn’t feel problematic – but being privileged white people, perhaps we can’t see it.

Overall, I see it as a complex issue but I don’t see much discussion about it. I wonder if its due to food we eat not often being considered a social statement? Also, North American culture has access through immigration and shipping networks to such a wide variety of foods and it’s often painted as a great thing and I don’t recall seeing it framed as one of the huge privileges that our society enjoys.

When I try to think of ways to make a similar case like Halloween style cultural appropriation, I imagine the scenario where someone makes culturally significant foods (foods used in cultural rituals). And even worse if they served them at their Western wedding or birthday party. I see that as the worst case, but there is so much grey between that and having a rice course with dinner.

I would love to hear some thoughts on this, especially from people with immigrant relatives who might be closer to this then myself as a third generation Canadian mutt of various European descent and no particular ties to a culture outside of Canadian.”

Crowd-sourcing productivity

I’m struggling (shock shock) with my essays. Writers block, readers block. Just… struggling. A lot. As I have been for months. And because I am blessed with an amazing social network, I posted a call for help this morning and received a lot of great advice. I’m going to share it here, along with some of my responses.

This was my post:

Help! What do you do when you have lost faith in your ability to do something? I’m trying (I’m trying so. hard.) to work on my essays. But I feel strangled by my blank document. I know that I know this stuff… I feel like I was born to be an academic! But I can’t write anything. I can’t pull anything together. It is incredibly frustrating! I can’t stop reading headphone reviews, or looking for books on Amazon, or just starting sadly at my document. How do you bump yourself out of “I can’t do it”?

I know that “I can’t” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy (so says everyone ever), but this current swamp is incredibly hard to get out of. I feel like I’m drowning in my own lack of productivity, my lack of coherence, my lack of ability. One thing I have learned in this last year, which in many ways feels like a year of unravelling, is that vulnerability is worth the effort, and that when I reach out for assistance, my friends (and often people who are not the ones I might have expected) are reaching back.

I recognize that I am teetering on the edge of another tumble down into depression, but I feel that I’ve been on this edge for weeks (months?) now, and I haven’t fallen yet. I attribute that success (which is a success, a massive success) to my social supports (which were not there the last time I walked this path), and to the personal growth I’ve done in the last few years.

So, the responses (some edited):

  • Small tasks with rewards.
  • I like to either come back later, if you have the time for that. But if not I just start writing anyways, even if it’s crappy, once you get into a flow you can clean up the start later.
  • Write something. Anything. Admit that your intro will be terrible and the rewrite that later. I sometimes just have to start, even if for the first page I sound like a 6th grader. Then when you’re done and feeling brilliant you can fix the bad part.
  • do you need a break? do you need to lower the bar? can you work on something else? you are unbelievably intelligent, articulate, intuitive and cute and fun! you dress up in costumes and wear cool t-shirts and are not afraid to be vulnerable. in short, you rock. and you don’t need to prove anything.
  • (me) Ha, I almost drooped into embarrassing tears with your post. I do need a break! But not a ten minute or even a two hour break. I need a real break. (Very seriously I am considering whether this “real break” involved dropping out of University. And also dropping out of fibromyalgia. Who the fuck signed me up for this shit?) But I can’t have it until I do this work! My mind, at this moment, is the definition of “spinning your wheels.” I’m stuck in a ditch. I need a tow-truck! For my brain.
  • I have trouble with this too, and would like to know if you come up with a good strategy to help get work accomplished when you’re feeling like this. I usually just have to force myself to write something, even if it is terrible, as Sacha suggested, but I know even that can be overwhelming sometimes.
  • Personally I like to go and write something different (at least 1 sub-discipline different), and then start the real thing once I’m into writing mode.
  • I find doing something really brainless (netflix, or even walking my dogs) gives me a chance to “step away” and start to brainstorm and make links. Alternatively, making some notes about the structure I want the thing to take to give myself a bit of an outline sometimes helps. Or just writing something, anything even remotely relevant will result in a bit of a brain dump onto the page that I can wrestle into shape or just completely cut out of the end product at least gets me started. Those might all seem like obvious things
  • I have been known to warm up for a 1000 word essay with a 3000 word blog post.
  • This may sound a little intense but, for me, I remind myself that the only things that really matter in my life are the things that I do or not do. I remind myself that I want to be a person that “does” and that this aligns with who I ultimately wish to be in the world. It is “doing” alone that makes me feel like my life is in the growing.
  • Be kinder to yourself than you’d like to be.
    Do something entirely different and preferably, fun. 
    Also: stream of consciousness may be both therapeutic and productive…
  • Tiffany…make your thoughts physical. Get off the technology. Big sheet of paper, lots of big thinking right now…concept maps, post it notes, get it out of your head but don’t worry about the format. Lay key articles around your free flow of ideas. Don’s censor, just create.
  • I don’t know how well it would work, but I suggest just writing ANYTHING. I don’t mean the “just start writing your paper,” but just write, a bunch, freeform. When I was in highschool an activity we did to write a story was to just start writing and whenever we got stuck we just wrote “yesyesyesyesyesyesyes” until we thought of what to write again, to encourage us. This might work well with [the above]’s idea, or could be done on the computer to get used to the idea of thoughts going onto the word processor.
  • This may be horrible advice and not sure if it can be done but if I can’t do it I don’t. I go for a walk, take a bath, do nothing. And then go back to it. This may help you like that post about the ten good habits to quit doing. Maybe you just need to do nothing and something will come to you.
  • (a mostly-paraphrasing of an e-mail):
    • Thematize it (I am so bored/anxious about this essay…)
    • Have a friend be a “bank” for brainstormed ideas – holding them for you and giving them back at specified times
    • Maybe you are thinking about too many projects? Or need to work on a couple of them at a time?
    • Cut and paste fave quotations into a file and write around those.
    • Maybe speaking it out (recording) or putting it into a blog or other format to get the ideas flowing?
    • But if you are feeling overwhelmed, then the task is either to make it bite-sized or to do the self-therapy thing: what are your options? (this works for me really well and I discovered it late)–as in what happens if you don’t get this done? and go for a walk or watch a movie or return to it later? usually, i then figure out how invested i am in finishing it or doing it (how much the deadline matters as opposed to the work itself). important for perfectionists

My friends are wise. And my struggle isn’t unique – that’s one thing that really came through for me. Other people also struggle with this. And other people have chronic illnesses and go through this grieving/growing/shrinking process. In a private message, one friend said that a chronic illness is like having someone sign you up for a very long rollercoaster ride, with the next loop-de-loop still hidden in fog. It’s good to feel not-alone. And these ideas are great.

Here is how I am going to implement them:

  • Breaking my big tasks up into smaller, rewardable tasks. This has worked well for me in the past. Right now I’m not sure how to implement it (the tasks seem huge, and I can’t figure out what kind of reward will work). Since I can’t figure this part out, and since I think assigning myself another task is probably counter-productive, I am going to just fall back on an old stand-by. For everything I accomplish – every article or chapter read, every paragraph written, every idea articulated – I’m going to give myself a sticker. I have a new notebook that was given to me for just this purpose, and a little stack of stickers (my friends are amazing).
  • Mind-mapping/get off the computer/creating rather than censoring. I’m going to mind-map everything I’ve got so far regarding the London paper (which is my first looming deadline). I’m also going to try to write an outline. And tomorrow I’m going to open up a word document, set a timer for 30 minutes, and just write. Then take a short break to meditate or go for a walk (depending on the weather – it’s getting cold out there!) Then write for another 30 minutes. Then I’ll see where I’m at, and if I’ve got anything that could become the beginning of an actual essay.
  • Write something different. I’m going to give myself permission to do some of the other writing that I’ve been neglecting. I am a creative writer at heart, and it’s been months since I spent any time on my own creative work. I’ll see if this feels any different from the “breaks” I’ve been taking to lose myself and drown my anxiety in facebook.
  • Blog. Here, right now. Accountability and traceability and evidence of my effort. The friend who suggested this knows me well.

Okay, so the first place I’m starting is the last on that list. This is what I’ve got so far for the London essay, after the cut: Continue reading

Digressions into other academic areas

Forgive the intrusion of my other classes into this blog, but I am stumped. I am crowd-sourcing assistance with my two remaining term papers.

I will attempt to be brief and concise (though I’m sure any readers have gathered that’s not really what I’m good at).

Two classes:

Early Romantic Literature

In this class, the texts I’m working with are Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women and/or Maria, or The Wrongs of Woman and/or Mary, A Fiction. Biggest challenge? I’ve read Vindication, but years ago. I’m only half-way through Maria and I haven’t read more than a chapter of Mary. (Before you judge me too harshly as a lazy student… things have been crazy in my personal life. Crazy to an extent I can’t even begin to describe. There’s a whole other blog about it, but as much as I’m trying to keep it out of this blog, it definitely hasn’t stayed out of my academics.)

I am in love with Susan Gubar’s “Feminist Misogyny: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Paradox of “It Takes One to Know One”.” I appreciate Gubar’s analysis of the “feminist misogyny” she sees in Wollstonecraft’s work and in later liberal feminisms, and I particularly appreciate that she offers a framework for recognizing these problems but still maintaining a feminist label for myself. (This is an issue I am grappling with in all areas of my life, not just academics: how to reconcile the inconsistencies and ambiguities of various feminisms and come up with an ethical feminism for myself.)

There are two directions I’m considering for this paper:

On the one hand, I have this thought, which I can’t support yet but which keeps nagging at me, that the inconsistencies in Mary Wollstonecraft’s writing – how both Mary and Maria have such strong homosocial bonds, how their passion is a positive trait in the novels, but how she denigrates “too close” female friendships in Vindication and is almost misogynist in her representation of feminine traits (that’s Susan Gubar’s language, but it resonates with me) – that these inconsistencies are part of the tension we’ve seen in other early Romantic authors (Blake, Coleridge) between Enlightenment thought and Romantic passion. But because Wollstonecraft stands at the beginning of liberal feminism, and the male authors stand surrounded by a mass of contemporaries and predecessors, Wollstonecraft’s inconsistencies and ambiguities are sharper and less able to be contextualized. I don’t even know if that makes sense… I’m just looking at the body of critical responses to Wollstonecraft, and how people (like Gubar) latch onto her inconsistencies, and it keeps nagging at me. Like something is going on there, and maybe it has to do with the position she holds as essentially the founder of liberal feminism.

I suspect that this topic might lead to a gigantic paper, bringing in too many different works. I’m a little daunted by it. But it’s the topic that keeps pulling me back. So my question is, is that an interesting question? Is it something that could be researched and written in a week (since I also have a second term paper also woefully unstarted)?

On the other hand, I am interested in Mary Wollstonecraft’s relationship with Fanny Blood, and how that friendship is reflected and reflected on in her novels and in Vindication – Susan Gubar (and others, including Virginia Woolf) talk about Wollstonecraft as being deeply passionate and also deeply rational, unable to reconcile the two states, and exploring her romantic friendships and affairs from different angles in her novels and critical writing. It’s kind of the same question as above, but narrower in focus, and not comparing to Blake or Coleridge, and not bringing in much historical positioning (still some, of course, but not as much).

The question there is, since so many other people have asked and answered that question, is it still interesting or relevant? I’m not sure what I have to add to the existing body of work, and I’m worried that this would be just a regurgitation of existing engagement with her work. It’s not exactly novel to look at Wollstonecraft’s representations of friendship in her novels and in Vindication, so is it worth doing? It interests me, but I’m worried that it’s choosing too easy a topic.

So, that’s one class. Onward to…

City of The Mind: Imagining London

Here, my texts are Downriver by Iain Sinclair (which is a fucking miserable slog of a book, and if I’d realized how difficult it would be to read I would never have chosen it when I wrote my research proposal, but I did, and now I’m stuck with it) and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I am thanking everything positive in the world for having added Neverwhere into my research proposal. I’ve read a chapter and a half of Downriver and have read Neverwhere multiple times, years ago.

In my research proposal, I suggested looking at representations of the occult in both books, and examining whether these representations of the occult are gendered, and looking at whether that gendering of the occult (if it happens) relates to a gendering of power in general in the texts. And I also talked about time, and the location of London as having “pockets of old time,” which both Sinclair and Gaiman state in their novels.

Obviously, that’s about five different, pretty much unrelated papers and that’s why I got a terrible grade on that research proposal.

I’ve made approximately no progress on refining my topic, and am still floundering miserably.

Time is the topic that I keep coming back to as perhaps being the most interesting. Maybe time and narrative? How time influences the narrative? Time and invisibility? Time and … gender? That’s a stretch. Also, I can’t find any evidence of female characters in Downriver, though like I said, I’m only a chapter and a bit into it. And the chapter I’ve read is the last one… so…


I’m stuck, and I’m panicking just a tiny (HUGE) amount, and I’ve got less than two weeks to write both of these papers. Oh, and also a 10 minute presentation on my porn analysis (I’m not super worried about that one).

I need to decide on topics, so that I can speed-read and know what to focus on. That’s not how I like to do academic work, but that’s just a fact of this semester.

Tangentially, thinking about academics in general, it really bothers me to end up in this position. I am paying a lot of money for each of these courses, and I only take courses that interest me. I’m not interested in easy As, and I’d much rather tackle a challenging paper that will expand my awareness of issues that are important to me and my activism than write something quick that I will forget in a month. Producing work for the sake of producing work seems like a phenomenal waste of time and effort. I wish that I could just defer these papers for a few weeks, so that I could get things in my personal life sorted enough that I can focus, and then spend some decent time with all of my primary sources and come up with my own ideas about what’s going on and write some good papers that are relevant to my interests. But I don’t think I can do that, I have no idea how to even begin asking and since nobody has actually died I don’t think a deferral request would go through.

Which leaves me here, drowning in secondary sources and without a single good idea of my own to cling to, and two 10-12 page papers looming.


Language and crowd-sourcing

I’ve started work on the actual writing of the actual project and right now it feels like all I’m doing is poking around the edges  to see where the entrance is.

Before I got past my first paragraph, I ran into a language issue. I am arguing for the use of porn worker (and other sex industry worker) voices as secondary texts on equal footing with academic secondary texts. (Secondary because I will be using them to help me understand my primary texts, which are the two porn films I’m writing about.) I am not comfortable calling these texts “non-academic” because of the way that sets academic as the default and implies that the other texts are somehow lesser. Less rigorous in their thought, less informed, less impartial, etc. As one of my commenters said, “”Academic” is too often a word privileged by its own meaning, though- it is intended to convey (often specialized) learning and a great deal of study, which has the effect of lending it gravitas, deserved or not.”

That quote is a result of bringing the issue to my facebook wall, where I ended up with a 37-comment thread that gave me a lot of think about (and the brilliant term “community emergent”).

I’ve included some of the quotes, with my expanded thoughts on the suggestions, their supports, and what it means for the language I might use (any critique of the suggestions is not a critique of the suggester – the help yesterday was invaluable):

First, the wording of my question – “I need a word that means “writing by people who are not academics” that does not have the problems inherent in “non-academic” (which I see as problematic because it makes academic writing the default and therefore privileges it). Alternatively, I need to be convinced that “non-academic” is not as problematic as I think it is. Help???”

The responses – “Some people use “professional” as it implies expertise without assuming academic standards/rigors.” – This was really interesting, because it separates expertise from standards/rigors, and says that expertise can exist anywhere (true) and that academic writing is held to a specific standard (theoretically true). Similar to this was the suggestion of “non-scholarly” and “non-peer reviewed.”

In both instances academic writing is assumed to be held to a different standard. And this is true – the worker writing I want to include is not peer-reviewed, it often does not use a recognized citation format, etc. But I balked at both of these suggestions, because although they do not actually indicate that the standards are met and the peers doing the reviewing are impartial, I think that is implied (though later commenters disagreed).

This issue of language is fairly emotional for me – I have a visceral negative reaction to the idea that academic writing has more value, is more informed, etc. I think that emotional response was actually getting in my way yesterday, because I was reading into suggestions such as these a hierarchy of writing which still favoured academic writing. This emotional reaction is relevant to my research process and to my writing process, because I would like to keep in mind that my readers may also have an emotional reaction and I’d like to be as clear as possible in my writing to help mitigate that.

“Layman’s terms” was suggested, but feels, to me, like a phrase that refers to the language/word choice of the writers I want to cite, rather than to the type of writing itself (some of which is as full of jargon and insider-speak as any academic work, it’s just a different regional dialect).

Then, “I think that forcing one vague term instead of writing out the actual specific terms is problematic.” Bam! Of course, my goal of finding a specific word rather than articulating the reasoning behind that word choice is problematic! It is problematic precisely because of the reactions I had to the first few suggestions – without clearly articulating the meanings of the specific terms, the reader is left to interpret and may, as I did, bring their emotional responses into the interpretation. That obscures my meaning, and runs the risk of setting up other linguistic hierarchies accidentally.

Immediately following that comment, “I think simple is better always. Make what you’re saying easy to understand and more people will grasp it and not zonk out.”

Similarly, “I agree that “simple” can work extremely well in many different settings. Simple doesn’t have to mean simplistic. It can enhance clarity and it can pair well with brevity and judicious use of jargon.”

I tried to synthesize those two points and came up with – “… writing by workers involved in the sex and pornography industry and writing by academics observing the industry”

“Book smarts vs Street Smarts” was suggested, and I found it really interesting. When I hear “book smarts” it calls up the flip-side of the “rigorous academic standard” image – here the academic is ensconced in the ivory tower, nose in a book. The hierarchy of ways of knowing is flipped, here. I loved this suggestion, though not for my project since I am hoping to flatten the hierarchy rather than invert it.

Similar to the suggestion to keep it simple, “I personally see no problem with ‘non-academic’. I don’t see it as creating privileged status. I consider myself ‘non-violent’ which doesn’t mean violent is the default. Ya know? I understand who you’re talking about when you say non-academic.” This is the comment that made me realize how strong my emotional attachment to the issue and the language was/is, and how that emotional attachment would not be true for all (or even most?) of my readers. My facebook is full of insight!

The idea of “non-academic” being a word that does not privilege academic writing was supported by other commenters, “I don’t see “non academic” as priviledging “academic,” esp with the quality of writing one can find online in blogs etc these days, both by people who have never been through academia and by people who teach/write in academia and either write more “popularly” in blogs or online “magazines” for lack of a better word (b/c I’m having word-finding problems today) or who have made their academic writing available online and have had that writing dovetail into various lines of discussion, both academic and non-academic, simply due to subject matter and interesting, sometimes new, points being made.”

Following those points, “I’d probably define it in the list you constructed then put non academic in brackets. Then use non academic subsequently.” Basically, remove the hierarchy through the use of specific definitions, then use the simple and easily-understood term (now removed from the hierarchy) throughout. Smart!

Then – “Community emergent?” This thrilled me, not only because I love the way it allows for the sex work industry to be a community (with the positive connotations that word has for me) but because it creates a framework that allows me to discuss the writers who are both academic and industry workers. It breaks down the binary that I hadn’t even realized I was constructing. And that is always a good thing!

Other people felt similarly, “community emergent sounds good- it very precisely defines the material without being overly wordy (and, hence, can be used repeatedly in text), and without depending on other writing for its definition via counterpoint.” The last point, regarding a definition that doesn’t depend on other writing, really resonated with me.

“Experience-based” and “experiential” were also suggested, and both are good.

At the end of the thread, I felt like I had a much better understanding not only of my own emotional response to the issue but also of the potential language available to me. Crowd-sourced academics. I love it!