The other day I was scrolling through TikTok (don’t judge, it’s entertaining AF) and I came across a sneak peek video of a new restaurant opening made by local “foodie.” Seemed interesting enough and it’s pretty close by so I opened the comments to declare my excitement when I fell headlong into an absolute shitshow. It was a rabbit hole that occupied the better part of an hour spent reading comments and I am still confused about it all.
The TL;DR version of the comments is this….local restaurateurs who own several popular Italian places nearby, and are Italian, are opening a Mexican food place next. This makes them culturally appropriating colonizers. Unless it doesn’t.
Now, since this isn’t my lived experience I am willing to defer to those whose experience it is…..except those were the people fighting it out in the comments. There seems to be no consensus or anything even approaching one, which left me with more questions than answers.
If any non-Mexican person opening a Mexican food restaurant is not ok, then do I need to check the ownership of every place I go to before I go there? I mean, I’m in Arizona so hitting up a Mexican place owned by Mexican people is pretty easy…but what about large corporate places? Who owns Taco Bell? I mean, according to the Supreme Court and Senator Mitt Romney, corporations are people, but are those corporations Mexican people? I doubt it. Still, not too hard to avoid those places either because honestly, they aren’t any good anyway, but…
What about my local Chinese food place on the corner? I know the people who own it are Asian, but are they Chinese? Asia is a big place. Should I question them? Does it matter anyway since “Chinese food” the way we know it isn’t actually anything that is eaten in China?
I also don’t know how big my local Japanese population is, but it cannot be large enough to account for the endless amounts of sushi places we have, so some of them have to be owned by people who are not Japanese.
Food is a deeply personal touchstone for pretty much every nation and culture around the world, so there are definitely issues here, but I truly do not know how deep to go regarding this. What do I do with this information? Since I am not opening a restaurant, ever, what is my responsibility when I comes to acting respectfully? I don’t want to eat at the same three places all the time. I love to eat at different restaurants, but do I need to research the ownership of all of them to ensure someone isn’t profiting off another person’s culture? It seems like this could take the whole “where do we eat tonight” dilemma to another dimension that requires an hour long Google search and still might not yield the answers I am looking for.
I went back the next day to the TikTok video to review any new comments hoping for some clarification (yeah….go ahead and laugh) and you will be shocked, SHOCKED, to learn that it had only gotten worse instead of better, so if any of you have any enlightenment for me I would truly appreciate it.
Meanwhile, I’ll just be sitting over here eating my homemade tacos and being sad about it.