Sunday, August 9, 2009

Racial profiling for cooking videos

Recently I've been cruising the various video sites looking at cooking videos that show how to cook various foods from other countries. Other than America, that is. One of the best sites I've found so far has a Thai woman demonstrating how to make Thai food. Imagine that.

Why would I say "imagine that"? Because there are also plenty of videos out there that were made by white Americans, which purport to show how to make "authentic" Thai food. The word "authentic" in the description always makes me suspect it isn't, because to the person who actually grew up with a particular type of cuisine, it's just food. I wouldn't, for example, make a video showing how to make an "authentic American grilled steak dinner." To me, this would seem absurd, though no doubt someone in another country might be interested to see how we do it and what we typically serve with the steak. But they could certainly do so without my adding the word "authentic."

Of course, this doesn't apply only to Thai food. Google any cuisine from outside the United States, and you will find a video by some white guy from within it who claims to show the "authentic" way of making it. Not to say it is only the non-white nations who suffer such treatment. I am sure, for instance, there are also many traditional European and Eastern-European recipes that are cheerfully butchered by well-meaning or know-it-all Americans.

Which brings me to another point. I recently saw a video about how to make authentic (there's that word again) tacos. This one, however, was done by a woman of Mexican descent. Her English bore no trace of a Mexican accent, though, and when she went to her local Mexican market to pick up her ingredients, she spoke only English to the obviously Spanish-speaking people there. When she got home, and broke out the packet of powdered taco seasoning, I stopped watching. Now, I am sure that there are people in Mexico who use packaged taco seasoning. After all, there are lousy cooks everywhere. However, I don't really want to learn to cook traditional cuisine from them. Would you trust a chef who broke out a packet of powdered Alfredo sauce mix to demonstrate how to make Linguine Alfredo? I hope not.

I don't mean to bash my fellow Americans, here, and this is not really about race or color, except as applied to cuisine. I probably wouldn't listen to a Chinese guy who wanted to teach me about sushi, or a French guy who had a video about pizza, either.

Most people who make videos about how to make the food from other countries do so out of a genuine desire to help, and some of them even know what they are talking about. However, for each one who does, there are many who, despite their good intentions, really do not, and if you really want to learn how to do it properly, the odds are much better if you first find a video by someone who is actually from the appropriate country. And I mean from that country, as in they speak with the proper accent.