Cultural appropriation is hard to figure out. The rules appear to be a patchwork of here-and-there don’ts.
For example, from what I’ve gathered, a white person cannot wear a kimono, because it originated in Asia. However, an Asian person can wear blue jeans, even though those were invented by a Californian born in Russia and co-patented by a Bavarian German immigrant in San Francisco.
And everyone who complains about cultural appropriation is allowed to do it in…wait for it, and pay close attention to the reference contained in the term: English.
So it’s quite the inconsistent set of dictates.
But Asian ain’t CaucAsian: Arielle Haspel recently found herself on the wrong side of the rules, so her restaurant is #Canceled.
As reported by NBC News, Arielle — who’s not only a chef but a career nutritionist — tried to offer New Yorkers a healthy version of Chinese food.
I give you the sad tale of Lucky Lee’s:
The establishment, which was opened in April…had been marred by accusations of racism and cultural appropriation from the Asian American community. It initially described its cuisine as “clean Chinese food,” comparing its meals to the “icky” dishes at traditional Chinese American joints.
Just as the word “hate” looks to now denote “disagreement,” it seems “racist” — rather than “judging someone solely on race” — now means “related to race.” Or, in this case, “related to nationality.”
Despite the evolution, one word that still means exactly the same is “closed.” And that’s what Lucky Lee’s is, as of Friday.
I covered a bit of Arielle’s plight back in April, when she was spotlighted by The New York Times.
This is what the paper had to say:
[A] stream of food writers posted about how Ms. Haspel’s decision to brand her Chinese food as “clean” was dredging up stereotypes that were hurtful to Chinese-Americans, not to mention tone-deaf.
[S]he was portrayed by critics on social media as the latest in a string of white restaurateurs who have promoted their Asian cuisine by labeling it as superior to food made by actual Asians.
Arielle apologized at the time:
“We are so sorry. We were never trying to do something against the Chinese community. We thought we were complementing an incredibly important cuisine, in a way that would cater to people that had certain dietary requirement.”
She even shamed herself (there are, evidently, complex rules for shame, too):
“Shame on us for not being smarter about cultural sensitivities.”
Guess it was too little to late.
As per NBC, an early social media ad for Lucky Lee’s went thusly:
“We heard you’re obsessed with lo mein but rarely eat it. You said it makes you feel bloated and icky the next day? Well, wait until you slurp up our HIGH lo mein. Not too oily. Or salty.”
It didn’t go over well.
I enjoy some southern cooking; would a restaurant owned by Spaniards offering a less greasy version face the same uproar?
If it was a lighter alternative?
It is with a heavy heart that we are shutting down our woks and ovens tonight. We have truly loved feeding and entertaining you and your families. We are very proud of our food and the space we created, but a lot needs to come together to make a restaurant work in New York City and we wish it could have succeeded as we hoped.
So there ya go.
And if this article’s made you hanker for some Kung Pao, just remember to not be a culturally-insensitive jerk and spare the MSG — as noted by NBC, that whole hoopla was racist, too:
The restaurant also touted its MSG-less dishes as another healthy aspect to its cuisine. However, there is little evidence that actually links the food additive to negative health effects — rather, racism and biases are largely to blame for its bad rap.
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