White as the Driven Snow

Thank you, Morgan Clendaniel, for using the phrase I was recently too afraid to use for fear of pissing people off. I’m not sure why I was afraid of pissing people off, I tend to live my life assuming that most people are pissed off by something about me, and undoubtedly my Loca-Bores piece (despite all of the positive comments it got) pissed people off. Because that’s how I roll. And I’m okay with that, as long as it gets people thinking about stuff.

But in employing fancy words like xenophobic and elitist, I really wanted to just rant about “white people food”, and the subtle undercurrent (that would undoubtedly be denied if you pointed fingers at specific people or groups) of racism (another word I wanted to use in that piece but was afraid to).

But seriously folks… white people food. Not that it isn’t good. And tasty. And ethical. And local. But. But, but but… It makes us shoves our heads up own own asses, really. It means we wear blinders to the other delights around us. It means we treat people who make non-white people food as second class citizens.

Yesterday, I stood on a windy street corner waiting for a bus. I had an amazing tasty sandwich in my bag from a lauded hot new sandwich place. But I also had a bag of pastries from the Portuguese bakery by the bus stop. And as I stood there in the cold, I reached into the bag and grabbed the pastis bacalhau (deep fried salt cod ball) I had bought. And I stood there eating it, thinking how fucking cool it was that I was on a street corner in Toronto eating bacalhau in the cold. Because how many other places in the world could that happen? The sandwich, when I got it home, was amazing. Deserving of all the praise the shop had received. But why does it get more accolades than that cod fish ball?

When people ask me what my favourite food event of the year is, my answer is always the same. Afrofest. Not technically a food event, there’s still a large number of caterers set up serving food from Kenya, Ivory Coast, Congo… When was the last time you went out for Kenyan food? Exactly. I can have pork belly any day. Likewise foie gras, or even truffles if I really want. But African food? Other than Ethiopian? Even in a city like Toronto, it doesn’t happen.

Yet I talk to people who claim to love food, and they turn up their noses at Afrofest. Or the Thai festival that takes over the square in front of city hall in the summer. On more than one occasion, I’ve walked away from the conversation thinking, “shit, that person is so fucking *white*”. Undoubtedly, they’ve walked away thinking less of me because I refuse to tow the white person line of “local”. Don’t get me wrong, as stated above, I eat white people food. Riddled with allergies that caused me to become vegetarian, almost vegan, for a time, I sang the sustainable, ethical, local, organic thing years before it became popular.

But, as Clendaniel so aptly puts it:

For the indignant White People out there, think of it this way: It’s just as easy to be smug about going to the new, especially authentic Thai place as it is to be smug about how close to you that cow was raised. And I have a feeling that it’s the potential for smugness, not the politics or the taste, that made us all like White People Food in the first place.

When I encounter white people who turn their nose up at African food, or Vietnamese food, I can’t help but think why? Is it actually racism? Is it the politics of smugness? Or is it really that they don’t even like the white people food that they’re eating – by which I mean, it’s all a farce and at home they secretly eat Kraft Dinner and shake and bake. It makes one wonder, doesn’t it?