Decolonise Your Food "Fusion Food" - Exchange or Appropriation?

Fusion Food: Exchange or Appropriation?
Foto (Detail): Paolo Bendandi/Unsplash

Who is chatting?

Anna Felicity Friedman (cultural historian), Ozoz Sokoh (food blogger) and Li Zhang (sociologist) are chatting with you about (post-)colonial structures and forms of cultural appropriation in our food – and what we can learn for the future.

Concept and further authors: Regine Hader, Dr. Elisa Jochum
 
On WhatsApp and Telegram #DecoloniseYourLife ends on 7.12.2019. Here you can continue to follow all chats, and discuss with us.
  • Anna Felicity Friedman Anna Felicity Friedman

    I’m a passionate cook, who loves fusing interesting or novel ingredients from all over the world. The other day, for example, inspired by some Central American guava and Midwestern US perch I found at our local Aldi, I created a grilled fish with Asian-flavoured guava sauce (soy, ginger, mirin) and served it over brown basmati rice. Cooking like this always brings up the question for me: when we eat foods from another culture, or perhaps even more particularly fuse ingredients together that never would have come together were it not for globalisation how can we avoid traps of exoticism, appropriation, a colonial mindset?

  • Ozoz Sokoh Ozoz Sokoh

    Anna, your dish sounds unusual and delicious. We have guavas in Nigeria but I’d never have combined them the way you did! Being able to unleash the imagination, craft new dishes and discover new flavours and textures is the beauty of food to me. Some foods will always be alluring and “exotic” to us because of our heritage and identities.

  • Ozoz Sokoh Ozoz Sokoh

    You ask how we can avoid traps of exoticism, appropriation, a colonial mindset. I say respect – by honouring the ingredients, through the names we give dishes and what claims we lay onto them. So yes, respect, respect, respect. Respect for the history, heritage and journey of food.

  • Dr. Zhang Li Zhang

    Food is essential for human survival, so most people in our history have eaten what they could get access to. Sure, each culture developed its own varieties of crops and animals, and its own cuisine and way of cooking. But “globalisation” is not just a recent phenomenon, and we have been exchanging food and seeds around the world for centuries. Can you imagine “Italian food” without tomatoes from the Americas? It is the same thing in China. Sichuan food could only become spicy with the addition of hot chili peppers from the Americas. We also make lots of traditional dishes with corn, potatoes and other ingredients that were not originally domesticated in China. Importing these varieties centuries ago helped solve a lot of hunger issues in China, as in Europe and elsewhere, too. Most of these exchanges happened because of colonialism, but people’s concern, when it came to food, was basically to survive. This doesn’t mean that Anna’s concern is not valid.

  • Anna Felicity Friedman Anna Felicity Friedman

    What if we don’t know the history? What if the journey of the food is to the “international” aisle of a large supermarket, and I am essentially a tourist unknowingly buying ingredients that may have deep cultural meaning in the place from which they came? I’ll readily admit to browsing that aisle and picking ingredients merely because I’ve never seen them before.

  • Anna Felicity Friedman Anna Felicity Friedman

    Or food-gift subscriptions like Try the World. Are these exoticist/exploitative or an opportunity to share culture in a healthy way?

  • Ozoz Sokoh Ozoz Sokoh

    It’s one way of exploring the world “sans borders”, for example, I’ve enjoyed Indian and North African delights through it. I think it’s a nuanced way of creating awareness of kitchens around the world. In the end, I believe that when you know better, you should do better. @Anna: It’s true, one might not know the history or notions behind ingredients. But when it comes to cooking a dish – which might involve some research, whether that’s looking at recipes or talking to people and being inspired – then paying homage of sorts is important. Do you remember #Jollofgate, an incident in 2014 when Jamie Oliver made Jollof rice with lemon, whole tomatoes and other ingredients, which were foreign to the dish, and called it Jollof. The resulting uproar in West African spaces was unprecedented. There was talk of attempts to colonise plates. If he had described the dish as his spin, his approach, West Africans might have been forgiving but his confident naming provoked an outrage.

  • Ozoz Sokoh Ozoz Sokoh

    Food and cultural identity are linked. For the “tourist”, what do you think a healthy approach is to cooking and fusion?

  • Anna Felicity Friedman Anna Felicity Friedman

    I guess I am always of the mind that one should try to be a traveller not a tourist, if at all possible. But the desire to just acquire something new without research or asking for local information is sometimes too hard to resist, especially when food items have become commercial products on display for ready purchase. For me, when I impulse-purchase a foreign ingredient, I then go home and do my research (the internet now makes that much easier, although library cookbook sections are great, too, and I personally own a 100-plus global cookbook collection).

  • Anna Felicity Friedman Anna Felicity Friedman

    Matzoh Photo (detail): Godong © www.relivision.com

    I don’t think I have ever come across an ingredient that had a particular sacred meaning itself, but I wonder what to do if ever there were a situation like that – where some food supplier ended up selling a product that really wasn’t intended for use by outsiders. Do those even exist in the world of food? @Readers: Do you know ingredients that are inherently endowed with a sacred meaning? I’m half Jewish. I wonder if it’s okay for people to buy matzoh as crackers, for example? (But I readily buy matzoh meal instead of breadcrumbs because it adds an extra dimension of flavour to breading.) Am I allowed to do that because I am half Jewish or can anyone readily do that with no understanding of the history of matzoh?

  • Ozoz Sokoh Ozoz Sokoh

    Anna, I believe that we, as stakeholders in the respective food cultures we’re connected to, don’t have exclusive rights to ingredients, so, yes, anyone can buy matzoh and use it how they want without understanding its history. But, if they delved deeper to make matzoh ball soup, for instance, I’d hope that they would reference the origins and that, if they went down new paths, they would acknowledge the source. This is ideal and of course doesn’t happen all the time.

  • Anna Felicity Friedman Anna Felicity Friedman

    @Ozoz: I find this idea quite interesting: of food ingredients as, basically, raw materials that no one has “rights” to. Then, it is the recipes – the ways the ingredients are brought together and named as a dish – where the problems can come in. So it becomes problematic, perhaps, for me to call my soy/ginger guava sauce “Asian-influenced”? Better to create a name that just references the ingredients.

  • Dr. Zhang Li Zhang

    I also agree that no group has exclusive rights to foods or ingredients, and also that we should fight to protect our foods.

  • Dr. Zhang Li Zhang

    What matters is not mainly our cultural identity or (dis-)respectful attitude, but the political and economic relationships behind that. We have to think more deeply about who can afford to buy fancy foods from all over the world, and who can only afford to eat the cheapest thing that gets dumped on them. Who can maintain their local foods and culture, and whose foods and cultures have been pushed off the land and squeezed out of the market?

  • Anna Felicity Friedman Anna Felicity Friedman

    Yes, I think this brings up an important point: exoticism in food is not just an issue of intercultural exchange (or appropriation) but also of class/economics.

  • Dr. Zhang Li Zhang

    The ironic thing is that wealthy, cosmopolitan people in global cities like Shanghai, LA and Berlin can enjoy healthy, organic, “peasant” (as in traditional) food from any place, while the poor peasants who produce that food are now forced to sell it at a premium. Meanwhile, they themselves only get access to cheap, processed foods, most of it dumped from the global North. The documentary Seed: The Untold Story shows this quite well! www.seedthemovie.com

  • Anna Felicity Friedman Anna Felicity Friedman

    Is there something different now re: food exchange via extreme capitalism compared to historical food exchange via older forms of trade/commoditisation? Or is today’s manifestation just part of the same spectrum?

  • Dr. Zhang Li Zhang

    That’s a good but difficult question, Anna. My sense is that there are important differences. First, when different foods and varieties were exchanged in the past, the process occurred relatively slowly, and the new foods became gradually incorporated into local production practices and cuisines. They became part of food culture, produced locally according to their use value for those who grew it. But, nowadays, international food trade is taking place much faster, and these foods don’t become part of local production practices. They are grown all over the world, often by people who don’t eat them but just grow them for the global market.

  • Ozoz Sokoh Ozoz Sokoh

    My desire is for people, who are in certain positions, to understand that food has multiple dimensions beyond mere function. I would like them to apply this knowledge to uphold and defend traditions and attempt to solve the problems in the intricate web of food systems. Everything about life is on the plate – journeys of history, economics, politics, culture, identity and more all blend together and depend on each other.

  • Dr. Zhang Li Zhang

    So I would also like to ask Ozoz: what does respect, as you say, look like in our world today? Production and consumption have become so separate. Many people are entirely disconnected from growing food and raising animals in the first place. How can people cultivate this respect, when they can’t understand the history, heritage, and journey of the foods? Or the struggles of those who grow them, and those who used to eat them but no longer have access to land and resources to produce and eat their own food?

  • Ozoz Sokoh Ozoz Sokoh

    Li Zhang, I agree that the exchanges, which we now think of as globalisation, go way back. Food has largely been about survival and, honestly, it’s likely to be that way for the majority of people for a while to come. Cultural identity and respect can set up a solid foundation for advocacy. Understanding where foods come from, and in what context – especially the value chain and its weak links – can shape action, impact policy and change economics.

  • Ozoz Sokoh Ozoz Sokoh

    In 2009, while living and working in the Netherlands, food became more than eating to me. Between being homesick and finding myself, food was my anchor. Over the last few years, that strong sense of cultural identity has pushed me into documenting, preserving and advocating for Nigerian cuisine.

  • Anna Felicity Friedman Anna Felicity Friedman

    What was the impact of that?

  • Ozoz Sokoh Ozoz Sokoh

    Varied. In July this year, friends and I – chefs, cooks, writers, farmers, designers, communication experts – formed the Abori Collective and hosted a Nigerian food design summit. The objective was to examine Nigerian food systems with a view to sustainable solutions. But what motivated this? A sense of identity, of understanding the current reality of Nigerian food spaces and a desire to see this change across many levels. Admittedly, Nigeria still very much celebrates local food cultures on many levels regardless of international trade.

  • Ozoz Sokoh Ozoz Sokoh

    Respect means eating locally and seasonally, supporting producers and farmers, advocating for better connections and policies, upholding our traditions – all the things that were once natural. Respect also means ensuring that food studies and science, as well as related subjects, are in the school curricula from primary levels onward.

  • Dr. Zhang Li Zhang

    Thank you for sharing more about your thoughts and motivations, Ozoz.

  • Ozoz Sokoh Ozoz Sokoh

    Kitchenbutterfly Photo (detail): © Ozoz Sokoh

    Food media have a huge role to play in this context I see the impact which my work – documenting Nigerian culinary history and food culture – has. I see the impact of the work other colleagues are making – from photographers to documentary makers, artists, chefs, product designers: we are raising awareness of what our food is and why it should be preserved. This has impacted on government policies, on what’s on the shelves in stores now, on the growth of small, local food businesses on and through social media – I think of it as the strength of soft power. What do you both think of culinary diplomacy and gastrodiplomacy? And how they can help connect the dots from heritage to economics to the complex food network?

  • Ozoz Sokoh Ozoz Sokoh

    Kitchenbutterfly Photo (detail): © Ozoz Sokoh

  • Dr. Zhang Li Zhang

    I think, what many social movements call “food sovereignty”, helps us reflect on your question of diplomacy, bringing it down from the level of governments to real people. Food sovereignty means that people should have the right and power to control what they eat, what they grow, what they buy and sell. It doesn’t mean people should not exchange food, or that people should only consume a particular type of food. But it does mean that people need to have land, be able to keep their own seeds, and protect their own food cultures from colonisation and commodification.

  • Anna Felicity Friedman Anna Felicity Friedman

    Also @Ozoz: I am fascinated by the idea of gastrodiplomacy. I think that a lot of people’s first encounter with the other is through “ethnic” food. When food is delicious, it helps break down barriers of seeing the other as other. It is a weird form of consuming the other – literally consuming the other, having this food become part of one’s body.

  • Anna Felicity Friedman Anna Felicity Friedman

    There are also painful ironies in consuming foods of an "other": for example, so many racists in America love Mexican food...Dear readers, what do you think about this conflict: is it a chance for communication through food that might eventually drive social change or does it only leave a bitter taste behind? What are your broader thoughts or questions about issues of food and how it is globally consumed?

  • Anna Felicity Friedman Anna Felicity Friedman

    @all – something I thought would be really nice to add here would be if we each shared a recipe related to what we talked about! Here’s my recipe:

  • Reader Comment from a reader

    Oh, one of my favorite topics. In my country, you can actually see the impact of European food culture on the preservation of indigenous food culture. Indeed, it is hard to avoid. There is an increase if not an expansion of so-called supermarket chains under different names and brands. In Tanzania, most supermarkets emulate business models from Europe or the USA. The target markets are the middle and upper classes plus expatriate communities. Products, especially food products, are imported: they are pricey, close to their expiration date – and nothing about them has to do with Tanzanian food culture.

  • Anna Felicity Friedman Anna Felicity Friedman

    This is an interesting intersection of issues of class and colonialism. That corporate grocery culture and the desire of people to shop at these types of stores are erasing local food culture as those stores do not even stock traditional food products. They are also causing people to have to spend more money on food than if they shopped for ingredients in traditional markets.

  • Ozoz Sokoh Ozoz Sokoh

    This is a common problem in many parts of the world where the economics of local production fare worse compared with imports in the short term but the long term potential for growth in local industries is being eroded. In Nigeria, there's been an intersection of the growth of local food and drink businesses due to a recession which made it difficult to afford forex for imports. This led to the rise of local products to the extent that many store shelves now have more local food products than ever before.

  • Ozoz Sokoh Ozoz Sokoh

    Another plus is the rise of local food champions advocating for a return to traditional foods, a growing sense of pride in local heritage and a desire to preserve culinary legacies. This also means better awareness of health conditions and of their links to imported products, and, finally, improved communication via social media. In this way, awareness of different foods from across the country can be raised as well as the ease of buying and delivery can increase. So, things can change in Tanzania. I’d prefer if it didn’t have to go down the hard path of recession, like Nigeria, in order to further the local food industry. Perhaps a national culinary diplomacy programme, developed for the country by the country.

  • Reader Comment from a reader

    I am of the opinion that abnegation is also part of conscious consumption. For example, if the original local consumers can no longer afford the product because the food is so hyped. I had read something like that on Quinoa. That is colonialist consumer behaviour.

  • Reader Comment from a reader

    I see a general difference here. It depends on whether learning a recipe is part of a cultural exchange or whether the food culture of a country is being exploited for commercial reasons. Fusion food is an expression of an increasingly globalized world – and can be part of a rich food culture if it presents the kitchens, from which it draws inspiration, as what they are and does not adapt and distort them for a Western palate.