Back in August of 2014, Ruth Tam from The Washington Post wrote an article called How it feels when white people shame your culture’s food — then make it trendy. Reading that article brought me back to my mini-altercation with a former co-worker in 2014.
Catered lunch that day was Korean BBQ. Because I love Asian food so much, I decided to pack extra bulgogi beef and kimchi for dinner. I put the container in our communal team fridge and went back to work. Over an hour later, someone opened the fridge and out came some strong fumes people weren’t used to. Immediately, a very picky girl told me I was no longer allowed to put my “stinky” asian food in the team fridge. I don’t know what got into me that day, but that comment made me furious, and I wasn’t going to let it go. Could my kimchi and bulgogi beef be the cause of such a foul smell in that fridge? Probably. But I sure as hell was not going to let some picky white chick who constantly complains about my “stinky” food criticize me that day. In lieu of being mature, I decided to tell her “I’d like to see you try, bitch.” Okay, I really didn’t say bitch but I really wanted to, and I also wanted to slap her. I’m pretty certain my face displayed my deep urge. (A witness did confirm that it did in fact look like I wanted to slap her.)
So where the hell did my tantrum come from? Well, it brings me back to ONE more story.
In third grade, a (white) classmate saw me eating Pork Adobo at lunch and told me it smelled bad. He made fun of me during lunch and made me cry. So later the next day during morning recess I found his lunch and threw it in the trash . Unfortunately, I wasn’t so slick and he saw, snitched, and cried to the teacher. I was in time out for the remainder of the week. I would've gladly thrown away 100 more lunches if I had to. I didn’t like being made fun of then, and I certainly don’t enjoy it now.
I’ve never been a picky eater since I was blessed with a mother that had an impeccable palate. Meals at home were always an adventure and some of my fondest childhood memories stem from the kitchen. Unfortunately my food choices whether homemade or at a restaurant were always met with a disgusted gesture or snide remark. I even avoided bringing home cooked meals to school at one point. Throughout my childhood, fitting in was greater than my desire to embrace my roots, and despite my love for Asian food, it was always overpowered by the shame of white kids.
Over the years, Filipino dishes have filled menus with perfectly plated, fine-dining versions of my traditional cuisine. While some may see this as a positive change, I can’t help notice that what once was recognized as a shameful, gross, and foul-scented cuisine, is now being gentrified by white people. As much as I don’t enjoy pointing fingers at one particular race, it is imperative to stress that white people will never understand how it feels to watch a group who once ridiculed you, monetize off of your traditional cuisine and label it as "high-minded fusion" in SF Restaurant Week.
While I am no longer ashamed and embrace my culture's quirks and cuisine, I do wish I could go back and tell 8-year-old Mary Chang that in 18 years, I'll be calling out white people on their cultural appropriation over the internet.