Monday, 29 May 2017

The Racially Authentic Culinary Experience

[Media prompt] Should white chefs sell burritos? A Portland food cart’s revealing controversy. Portland, Ore., has become the epicentre in a growing movement to call out white people who profit off the culinary ideas and dishes swiped from other cultures.
The Racially Authentic Culinary Experience

Rosario Salazar looked over the rims of her glasses at the man standing in front of the counter, then glanced at the papers he had placed there. She straightened them into a neat stack and slid them to one side.  

“Mr. Chan?” she said.

The man nodded. He was dressed in a white chef’s jacket and a pair of black cotton pants with a white stripe down the side. In one hand he held a small black briefcase, which he gripped so tightly his knuckles turned white.

Miss Salaza slid the stack of papers back so they were in front of her, turning over the first sheet and placing it gently on the counter. She straightened the stack of papers again. Her fingernails were painted in the colours of the Mexican flag, and she rubbed the tips of them against her thumb as she read.

“A dim sum restaurant?” she said. “I’ll need to confirm your CRA.” She looked up and smiled.

Mr. Chan placed his briefcase gingerly on the counter. There was a loud snap as the locks opened. He rummaged among a loose mess of papers, his fingers clumsy from trembling. As he put his CRA on the counter, a manila folder fell out onto the floor with a soft slap. He apologised, bending down stiffly to pick it up. He saw his reflection muddied in the polished floor, a black scuff mark obscuring his nose.

Holding it in her slender fingers, Miss Salazar slid the proof of Mr. Chan's racial purity into a small slot. Mr. Chan locked his briefcase, holding his breath until his chest started to hurt. It was unrealistic to expect mistakes in this day and age, but Mr. Chan was old enough to remember when errors were common. Errors of right thinking mostly, but technical failures too. Racial authentication had been an inexact science when he was a boy. His own father had been wrongly accused of fabricating a Chinese identity to profit from what in those days was referred to as the crime of cultural appropriation. Nowadays it was classified under the UN’s growing list of genocidal acts, and an offence punishable by death.

“Everything seems to be in order,” said Miss Salazar, sliding the certificate back to Mr. Chan. “One of my Chinese colleagues will establish the authenticity of menu items, ingredients, restaurant décor, and so on. Then it’s up to the Commissioner.”

Without realising it, Mr. Chan had started breathing again. His mouth was dry, and the floor felt cold beneath his feet. He nodded, and turned to go. The mayor of San Francisco beamed down at him from a larger than life portrait on the wall.

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