du Fresne: Identity politics, Cultural appropriation and the politicisation of food

LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 24: Katy Perry performs onstage at the 2013 American Music Awards held at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on November 24, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)

Karl du Fresne is one of our best columnists.  He hits another out of the park.

If you haven’t heard of identity politics, it’s the fashionable ideology that breaks society down into minority groups which identify themselves according to their point of difference, whether it be based on culture, ethnicity, disability, sexual preference or whatever. Often these groups define themselves not only as different, but as disadvantaged and even oppressed

It’s from identity politics that we get the notion of cultural appropriation – the dogma that each culture retains exclusive rights of ownership over its own traditions, and that anyone else who tries to imitate or borrow them is guilty of theft.

This is surely one of the more spectacularly wrong-headed manifestations of political correctness.

It provides perfect fuel for displays of liberal white middle-class guilt. An example was the woman who protested at the inclusion, in last year’s Christchurch Christmas parade, of a float with a “culturally insensitive” Native American theme.

Nothing illustrates the inconsistencies and contradictions in this debate better than food, which has become –perhaps inevitably – the latest ideological battleground in the culture wars.

A recent BBC radio documentary questioned whether it was acceptable for people to cook food from another culture. It went on to ask whether it was okay to profit from such food, or to tamper with recipes so that the dishes were no longer wholly authentic. The implication seemed to be that this was all, in varying degrees, cultural appropriation.

But even the most unexciting food has been culturally appropriated somewhere along the line. Porridge, for example, came from the Scots.

If the enforcers of culinary correctness had their way, presumably the dozens of New Zealand fish and chip shops owned by Greeks and Yugoslavs – and now increasingly by Asians – would be outlawed, since fish and chips are a traditional English dish. Chips, come to that, are a French invention. See how crazy it could get?

I get my sushi from a Malaysian woman.   Stop the world!

Ultimately the key point is this: civilisation is built on cultural appropriation. Every society absorbs influences from other cultures, often cherry-picking the best of what’s on offer.

This process cuts both ways, because disadvantaged societies learn from more advanced ones. It’s not all about exploitation.

Those who seek to outlaw what they arbitrarily define as cultural appropriation would condemn us to a monochromatic, one-dimensional world in which we would all want to kill ourselves out of sheer boredom – and one in which New Zealanders would be reduced to eating tinned spaghetti on toast, since it’s one of the very few dishes we can call our own.

On second thoughts, scratch that. Spaghetti’s Italian.

…until you add a little pineapple?

 

Read the complete article here.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story.  And when he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet.   Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet, and as a result he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist that takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him.  But you can’t ignore him.

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