The fait accompli of said mush was focusing on one man’s journey to find authentic food and then recreate it. Though I’ve no qualms with any sort of recreation, I do, as you all know, have a huge problem with the dangerous snake pit of authenticity. Authenticity is like perfection. It’s a ridiculous, controlling concept. It’s a charmed circle. It might work with one painting that sticks around for a long while, and is the source of copy and profit. Adam’s rib too might be authentic, but a dish certainly can’t be. Or so I like to claim, because it comes and goes. That magic argument, using a little reverse Nietzsche, is made into manure. But here’s my bigger problem with anything authentic in the food world: authentic food imposes imperialistic ideologies on the less fortunate; it Others cooks, and encourages modes of power. For one White privileged male to spend his time in other parts of an ‘exotic’ world only to come back to the West ‘looking’ for the real thing is a delusional theatric consumers love buying into, specifically because it buys into the Western ideal of the individual, which in and of itself is destructive, because while we cannot find any kind of autonomy from anything authentic because it is a mere fantasy, we continually shell out cash and look for it. Also, it’s lumped under the genre of travel writing, so it’s strictly for entertainment. At least until you decide to impress your friends with a recipe at dinner. And that’s only the political economy of it. I’m not depending on it for making my argument.
My real problem? My real real problem is this: asinine tripe like this, from a White privileged centre, going out and looking for the authentic and then trying to conquer it, or policing it in a multicultural space couldn’t be more imperial and destructive, especially when you try to own the people doing it to survive through the act of judging the product they prepare as true to the abstract ‘genuine article.’ I hope people know this kind of shit is why museums and zoos exist. So France and Britain could just fight each other like babies and one-up each other by conquering lands and displaying anthropological war trophies. That said, know this: when you go into an ethnic restaurant, or read about a guy who’s going into an ethnic restaurant to see if they made the ‘real thing’, you are entertaining your novel whims, but also Othering those poor ethnic cooks, and rendering them invisible if they can’t do it. This is a huge paradox, aside from a huge slap in the face to the poor folk running their restaurant. Is the Thai cook not making Thai food? Did they not come from their native country and decide to cook their food to make a living here? So how can you argue authenticity when they made it in their land originally, albeit a little variably. That’s why authenticity’s a hoax, man. That’s why it’s so easy to control a submissive party by accepting them or shaming them; unfortunately, if they’re approval seeking, they’ll suffer for it. Unfortunately, if we’re approval seeking, looking for cultural capital to elevate ourselves through consumption, they will suffer, because we’ll judge them on ‘taste,’ not taste. What do these kinds of White shenanigans say for the Thai family I spent two tender years working for? Are they not authentic because something doesn’t taste the same? (A customer once complained the pad thai wasn’t like the pad thai in Thailand- little did he know, pad thai is a Western creation, taken in by Thailand- no peanut butter, no ketchup) Or is their food authentic because they are a specific ethnicity? What does that say for the Chinaman who can cook great, fantastic laab? That’s Othering, man. Ignoring the struggle of a person and disqualifying them if what they offer doesn’t benefit us.
And if you’re all, ‘Hey, man, no, I mean ingredients are what make some dish authentic.’ Please. Take that shit up with the ghost of Barthes. I shamed an economics professor for trying to tell me Chinese food in China is better than Chinese food here made by Chinese immigrants, in front of a whole Chinese class, so I’ve no bone about doing the same to you. Save that authenticity garbage for 17 year olds reading Thoreau for the first time and somehow, for whatever dumb fuck reason, associating nature with what is real and true and genuine and autonomous. Please. Thoreau didn’t care about wilderness; that’s not why he left. He hated the political climate and wanted to get away from it and try and make his own, only to fail and come back. So, just as an aside, can we stop trying to associate the environment with human autonomy and spirit too? While we’re bringing up the subject. I mean, that’s like me leaving Waterloo’s people for Cambridge’s because, they’re more ‘real.’ Ha. It’s like going to the market to buy Canadian bananas. That’s bananas! It’s like going to China to learn real kung-fu, when everyone knows Mao totally mutilated kung-fu. He destroyed Shaolin, he burned down temples. Now you gotta go to Taiwan, or Japan and find secret masters. Do I sound ridiculous? That’s because I’m being ridiculous. It’s ridiculous! If someone’s good at kung fu, they’re good at kung fu. If they can teach you to defend yourself, then you can defend yourself. Nothing’s more right. And so I make the same claim for taste.
Seek food not because it’s authentic, because that doesn’t mean it’s literally better! You can allude yourself in thinking that yes, but just seek for tasting good. Period. And there’s the other variability, and even I’m disqualifying myself. Everyone’s palate IS different. Food writing’s just flashy rhetoric, sprinkled with a little bit of credibility. Anyone can eat and say something tastes good or bad. But how well can they convince you? Get out there and eat. Or don’t, but please don’t support any notions of authenticity so some patronizing White butthead can lord his tongue over poor immigrant workers depending on free family labour and illegal workers. Life’s hard enough as it is without categorizing cooks into authentic, not authentic. Can we all PLEASE stop eating the Other? Can we just strike ‘authenticity’ from the lexicon? Call me a communist, but at least I don’t have to listen to another fathead tell me he’s better than me because he had ‘authentic’ poo soup. At least then, I won’t have to see another old Thai woman cry in a corner, knife in hand.