Conversations About Appropriation is a series of public panel conversations diving into cultural appropriation as it manifests across different industries. The conversations are hosted by Studio ATAO and General Assembly.
The very first event of this series focused on the food industry and was moderated by Studio ATAO founder Jenny Dorsey. The panelists featured in this conversation were:
Our working definition of cultural appropriation is:
The adoption of elements of one culture by another where a dominant culture exploits aspects of a minority culture outside of its original cultural context and/or at the expense of the original culture for personal gain.
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The below transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
Jenny: Studio ATAO is a nonprofit community think tank that operates at the intersection of food, art, and social impact. So with that I will give the panelists their own time to introduce themselves. If you'll tell everyone a bit about yourself and your background, I will pass it off to Preeti.
Preeti: Hi everyone. I am Chef Preeti Mistry. I have two restaurants now, both closed; Juhu Beach Club and Navi Kitchen. I'm also the co-author of the Juhu Beach Club Cookbook. And I am currently living in Russian River in Sonoma County. I'm writing, consulting, working and volunteering on small local farms and in the very early stages of hopefully one day building this beautiful dream I have of a BIPOC led farm and restaurant. So really happy to be here. Glad so many people joined us.
Jocelyn: Hi everyone. My name is Jocelyn Ramirez. I'm the chef and founder of a plant-based Mexican food business here in Los Angeles called Todo Verde, which is currently not operating the way that we usually do. We're mostly catering. We were going to sign our first lease in March for restaurants didn't happen. COVID happened instead. I also authored a cookbook that came out in April called La Vida Verde, it's a plant-based Mexican cookbook and I'm also the co-founder of a nonprofit organization here in LA called Across Our Kitchen Tables. It supports women of color and food.
Aaron: And I am Aaron Hutcherson based in New York City, where it is dark and I have not figured out lighting for night time zooms yet. I am a writer and have a blog called The Hungry Hutch and I'm excited to be here.
Jenny: Awesome. Well, I'll dive right in. I don't want to get into a long conversation with anyone about if appropriation exists or not. So we're going to just kick it off with our working definition of cultural appropriation tonight, and then we'll examine and break that down further.
So today we'll be using the following definition of appropriation, the adoption of elements of one culture by another, especially in cases where a dominant culture exploits offsets of a minority culture outside of its original cultural context and or at the expense of the original culture for personal gain.
In order to examine this further, I want to open up for the panelists to talk a little bit about the power dynamics behind appropriation. Specifically, what do you think are the inherent power dynamics that you find present during instances of appropriation? And why does that matter? Why is that important for people to understand and recognize and how have you also seen that play out?
Preeti: Who wants to go first? I guess I'm going first. Jenny that's a great definition, thank you. And a great place to start, first of all. And I think that the power dynamic is exactly what creates this rub, right? If people are just appropriating things from other people's culture. it's the power dynamic that makes it all weird and not feel good. It's that feeling of like, you know, I think about when I was a teenager and like in the nineties and like chai became this thing and like every coffee shop had it, and I didn't have the word at that time.
But it didn't seem right. You know what I'm saying? It was sort of like, what is going on here? This thing that like my parents and my grandparents drink twice a day, every morning, every afternoon is now in every coffee shop. And now I'm like working as a barista in a cafe and this like white woman, general manager is like telling me what chai is. And, then, you know, all the things that come with it.
I remember thinking to myself, why didn't we do this? Like, we, we knew this all along. Why are we not making money off of this? Why didn't like some Indian people do this years ago? And it's like, as if chai wasn't being sold in Indian restaurants, of course it was. But it's how the power dynamic can change, you know, the marketing and all of those things when it's in this very white space or just very sort of hegemonic space that the mainstream public feels comfortable with it, where it that explodes and, you know, people start making money. So I would say it's the power dynamic that actually creates the entire sort of problematic nature of cultural appropriation.
Jocelyn: Yeah, absolutely. In addition to that power dynamic, like you were saying, the money is a part of it, right? So it's this intersectional layer of class and, you know, you may have seen it in people of colors' homes, or in small mom and pop restaurants. But then when somebody actually tries it and thinks I can make money off of this, like the idea might be, they're not doing it right. Like they don't have a whole marketing effort or the packaging isn't just right. But if I did it "my way", then I'd make tons of cash off of it. And so it's definitely this like intersectional layer of like, I can kind of like outsmart this this idea that has already been created by somebody else's culture, essentially.
As Preeti was saying, back in the day we didn't really have the name for it, but it definitely had you feeling some type of way and it just didn't sit well. But you didn't really understand like why it wasn't. But now to see how so many people have grown in this very capitalist system using recipes from, you know, a lot of people of color, a lot of Indigenous people and kind of leaving them high and dry behind once they get what they need - that needs to definitely change.
Aaron: And sort of continuing on from that point. It's like, yes, some people may have had the idea to like turn this into a business, but they may not have had the capital or the resources to do so, but here, the dominant culture comes in and they have the capital and the resources from historically putting down the other groups of people and cultures. And so that just is a continuation of what they've been doing. It's like the dominant culture will take from other cultures what they can and strip them of whatever resources they have and their identity and their cuisines and things like that. And then use it for their own personal gain and profit and fame and go from there. Whereas if someone from that culture tries to do that, they just might not be able to because of resources and capital.
Preeti: I mean, even just being a person of color, you know what I mean? Even if they have the same resources and access to capital, but they're just a Brown face saying this thing or bringing this good or service to the marketplace they're just going to be not respected in the same way then if a person from a dominant culture presents that exact same thing,
Jenny: And there's a lot of different types of dominant identities, like class is definitely one of them that can intersect with, even if you are a wealthy person of color, that's very different from being a mom and pop shop that's owned by a person of color as well. Regardless of how we may feel about cultural appropriation, the sad reality is that for a lot of big companies, people who have the capital are going to continually try and use and be inspired by ideas from cultures and backgrounds outside of their own. So what are the responsibilities that come with power if they wanted to go around and do something like that? If someone wanted to, you know, take on a new type of cuisine at their restaurant or try something in the CPG world, like, is there a way for them to properly do so, or is there a responsibility for them to step back and let BIPOC take the stage?
Jocelyn: I mean, I think it's definitely important to let BIPOC take the stage in these scenarios. It may be a partnership, you know, where there's an existing business that is bringing a new menu item onto their existing menu. But they have maybe consulted with somebody in the BIPOC community and are making sure that they uplift that person with whatever platform that they have available to them. You know, that's something that I've seen a little bit more of. But it's also very important to make sure that these folks get paid, especially like big companies are quick to say, Oh, well, you know, we're going to, partner with you in exchange for exposure. And that exposure isn't paying my rent during COVID times. I need actual funding for something that you are going to capitalize on in the long run because folks know that POC food is good.
And people want those flavors and they are trying to make sense of the situation, but it has to be really intentional. Like, one thing that we talked about is like in our pre-call is making sure that people understand that it really takes time to build these relationships. It can't be, I'm just going to use you for our second quarter new recipe and sure enough, by third quarter you are long forgotten. This has to be like a relationship that's being built, a community essentially that's being built. And how do you uplift folks in that community for the long-term not just for your personal gain, in the short period.
Jenny: Jocelyn you also had a story. I was wondering if you could share about René and his research efforts.
Jocelyn: Yes, so we talked about this on a pre-call as well. Many of us know René Redzepi, he's one of the most famous chefs in the world from Noma. And he was here in Los Angeles doing a book signing at a local small bookstore. And I know the owners and just waited until the end so that I can just kind of sneak in and get my book signed. And when I approached him, he was like, Oh, I know you, I totally know you. And I was like, ah, I don't think so. Cause obviously I know I have never met the dude, right. And so he kept insisting, so he went on to sign my book and then he says, Oh, I remember where I recognize you from, you were one of the companies, the businesses that we researched before Mexico. Our...I forgot what he called it, like our whole like art--
Preeti: Like a pop up.
Jocelyn: Project and yeah, but he didn't call it a pop-up he called it like our artist thing or whatever--
Preeti: Like an installation.
Jocelyn: Yes, and he's like, yeah, we researched all about your company before we went out there. And at the moment I thought, Oh, that's really interesting and cool. And like, you're this very famous chef and I'm just kind of getting my business off the ground. And then it just made me wonder afterwards, like what exactly did they research? Did they look at my food and my recipes? Or like, what did they get from what they researched and how come I never heard about it? They never reached out to me. We don't have any sort of relationship. And so it just kind of, again, left me feeling some type of way. You know, like I kind of want to get to the bottom of it, but it's kind of like, okay, I don't know what to do about that now. It's just, it is what it is.
Preeti: I had a food truck company, and a culinary director came with his whole team to my restaurant and basically ordered every single thing on the menu. They run different, you know, types of food, trucks from different cuisines. And he just straight up blatantly said it to my face they're here to taste everything on the menu and analyze it. And I was just like, okay, what am I, I can't do anything. Like this guy works for this company that has all of this money to create all these food trucks. Like, what am I, I have my 40 seat restaurant in a strip mall, like, okay. But there's nothing you can do.
Jocelyn: Yes. I also had somebody who attended one of my online cooking classes. And there was this woman who took the class, a white woman from San Diego and literally towards the end of the class, she unmutes herself in the zoom and was like, Hey, I work at a restaurant in San Diego. I love this recipe. And I just want to know, is it bad if we start selling this on our menu? And I was like can you send me an email because I can do consulting with you. Like we can talk about stuff, but you can't just like take my recipe and just start. Obviously the way that she started saying "is this bad" is already for me an indicator that she already knows that it's bad. But it's just such an interesting, weird world of food sometimes.
Aaron: And with that, like no one can really own a recipe or a cuisine or anything like that. Just based on like actual laws, you can't own that. But there is, I think the right thing to do is at least credit the sources, if you were inspired by something or someone, or if you're going to go and outright steal a recipe, then you should pay someone for that time and effort in some way. But yes, definitely that's just like a blatant, outright theft, like, Oh, I would take this recipe and use it. But sort of where it gets murky is like, Oh, I went to this, I ate this dish. I'm going to try and make something inspired by these flavors. Whereas like, I don't know the outcome of the food truck, or people that came to your restaurant Preeti, but if they try to replicate it exactly, that's an issue. But if it's like, Oh, I want to do something similar then it's hard to sort of draw the line of inspiration and appreciation versus outright theft at that point.
Preeti: I totally agree. And I think that like, I mean, that's the point is like, we all are inspired by our experiences. That's why we all talk as chefs. In the food world we love traveling because we want to like taste all these different flavors and see and experience all these different things. Like there's nothing like inherently wrong with being inspired by the cuisine of other people. I think it's like, if you're actually going to blatantly just use somebody's recipe as opposed to like, Oh, I'm inspired by this like one thing like, Oh, this person, you know, used a lot of vinegar in this like pepper dish and hmm, yeah, I like pepper and vinegars.
But if you're actually just taking a recipe without giving credit or like you're of a dominant culture and you're like learning stuff that, if you can acknowledge with yourself that you're doing something that the people of this culture might not have the privilege to do. I think just like acknowledging that to yourself and then thinking about what you're saying, Jocelyn, the fact that this woman's like, is it bad? It's like she's starting to go down that path of wait a minute, this is more complicated than the me just being excited about this recipe or this particular cuisine and making it and making some money. Like I need to slow my roll. I think that if anything it's really just like, if you just respect and acknowledge and think about what you're doing and the privilege you have and you know, is it bad asking some questions?
Jocelyn: You know, one thing that I saw this past week, which is actually an old video from September that just somehow surfaced on my Facebook page, was Ina Garten and she was making a pozole recipe. I don't know, you can just literally Google her name Facebook pozole and you'll see the comments section, which is amazing. I love how my folks came through and, you know, with the GIFs and all the things. But it was just like, what, like what are people thinking? You know, like why can't you just use that same amount of energy and time and money that it took to produce that video and put a POC person there who actually knows how to make that dish who can truly represent it, who could gain so much from just having something from Food Network.
But I think that people who are scouting talent are just so incredibly lazy. Like they only know who they know already, which are typically folks in the white community. Or they might know like that one Mexican person. And now that they know the one Mexican person there's no use in finding anybody else who's Mexican because they have the one. When there's like so much regional cuisine of Mexico and many other countries that truly represents the entire culture and the country. And so, you know, I just think that it's really time for people to kind of like let it crack open, like let folks kind of out of the box that you've created for them.
Preeti: I feel like that's a little off topic, but can I just say something about what you just said, I feel like so much of it is also this like cult of celebrity and this idea that like, Oh yeah, there's that one song, oh, but did you hear the Drake version? Like everybody just wants that same person, whether it's the person of color, like, you know, I think he's a nice guy, but like, oh, Marcus Samuelsson. Okay, we're done. He will be the one. And then when you have Ina Garten or Bobby Flay or Rachael Ray, people just want to see that person make pozole or chicken curry or, you know, whatever it is. I do think it's because the media is lazy because I do think that people are more dynamic than that. Like I think Americans and people around the world could handle seeing different people that aren't the same, like 10 celebrities make the food of every culture.
Jenny: I also wanted to talk about one of the very visible forms of appropriation is naming and just the vocabulary, the words, the language that we put around the food that we create, whether it's named incorrectly or if maybe named and then written about in a strange way that kind of has the white gaze - we discovered this, this is new, or it's just, you know, the name is translated wrong, whatever that is. Can each of you just talk a little bit about like how naming plays into appropriation, how you've seen that, what we can do about that?
Aaron: So, with that from a media standpoint, a lot of it is thinking about who your audience is and how much work you want your audience to have to do to understand something versus how much you just give to them. The first thing to come to mind is I think, I don't know if it was Bon Appetit or Christina Tosi or one of them made up a recipe for like a flaky flatbread, which is also paratha. And it's like, when you go around calling this the flaky flatbread, you strip it of its identity and its history and its place and its people and its culture to make it palatable to everyone else, to outsiders who aren't from that culture. And so that is, I think for the longest time, mainstream media has focused everything towards a middle age, white Midwest sort of suburban persona in terms of what they know and what they don't know. That's sort of like the lowest common denominator.
And I think that by doing that, then no one ever learns, no one gets better, no one learns the actual name for things. And we are just stuck with this, like, Oh, this is a flaky flatbread that I love that's delicious and tastes good. And so it's just a laziness that is on behalf of the writers and editors and media as a whole. And they also treat their readership as lazy, like if I call it paratha, then they won't know what this is. And they'll think it's something completely foreign or whatever, scarier, newer, too exotic for them to want to make. So that's sort of the issue as I see it when it comes to naming things. And a lot of times media will try to make it translated into a way where it's like easily understandable and easily digestible, pun intended. But I don't think we have to do that anymore. I think we need to educate the consumer and also push them to like do some of the work to be better and learn more. And it's okay if you have to look up something every once in a while. Google is your friend, like what is this? Then you can look up a video or whatever.
Preeti: Yeah. I have a story on the flip side of it in terms of taking it back, which is that when I was opening my restaurant from a popup to brick and mortar, I really wanted to have Indian scotch egg. And I was doing all these trials and meanwhile, my brilliant wife was like, Googling the fuck out of everything. And ostensibly discovers through the internet that it seems very probable that Indian people created the scotch egg. There's a recipe called nargisi kofta that predates the scotch egg from Fortnum & Mason by a century. And I think we all know that the Brits were all up in India. So when we went to name it, so I was like, wow, this is amazing. And so then we decided in that moment, like, we're not going to call it you know, Indian scotch egg or lamb scotch egg which was what I was going to use anyway, but we were going to call it nargisi kofta or lamb kofta.
And that even if that didn't have that immediate like, an American person knows what that is. Because as someone who's Indian, but grew up my entire life in the UK and the United States, like I have that gaze. I was, you know, culturally brainwashed by television and movies and all of the things to like still have that tendency to make it cute or, you know, do this, whatever, give it that name that somehow digestible. Like we self-censor ourselves, like, you know, I'm queer, I've been self-censoring myself for decades. Like it's we have to like kind of unlearn it ourselves. I feel that sometimes as well and that was like a really great moment for me to kind of like learn something of like, Oh yeah, let's just call it what it is. And then as someone would say, Oh, it's like an English scotch egg, I'd be like, actually in fact, I said this to Mr. Anthony Bourdain, actually we invented the scotch egg and he was like, yes ma'am. Yes, you did.
Jenny: I love how both of you also talked about how do we uncentered the white gaze. How do we uncenter the whiteness in food? I think a lot of times when we start talking about cultural appropriation and food, the conversation gets derailed really quickly to be about like white fragility and white worry. Like, does this mean that white people can never cook anything from another background? What is this limitation going to be on me? So today I want to consciously shift away from that and talk a little bit about how cultural appropriation actually affects BIPOC people and why is it harmful? I feel we don't even talk about why it's harmful. We just assume it's theoretically bad, but how has it impacted you? How has it shown up in your personal life, your professional life? Why has it been an obstacle for you that we are still working through as an industry?
Jocelyn: I can start this off. You know, one of the other things that we had talked about, me growing up watching and being addicted to like cooking shows, one of them being Rick Bayless's Mexico, one plate at a time. Which was, in one sense, really awesome to see different regional cuisine featured because I was so focused on my family's regional cuisine of Zacatecas but then also too, you know, on the other end of it, this guy is taking up space where there should be somebody who I can, as a young person, look up to somebody in the food industry I should be able to identify. And I just didn't see that. So even growing up, I always thought that food was something that I was really passionate about, but never thought that it was a career choice for me. Because I didn't see myself, I didn't see a space for myself there.
I just thought that's something that I'll always want to be into, but it's not going to be what I end up doing for a living. Which is just so sad to think about like how you can really like frame somebody's mind to think that, you know, this is really like a dominant space for white men essentially, right, to make all kinds of food that they learn typically from POC or BIPOC women. And so it's just really an unfortunate situation. I think for me, it feels like a little bit, I don't know what the proper word is, but the feelings are just kind of like upset, frustrated trying to kind of like get people out of the way and really like, be able to see the true essence of like where these flavors, this food and this technique comes from.
And in fact, you know, as Todo Verde has received a good amount of press over the years you know, people from time to time will ask me, like, who did you work for? What chef were you working under? Assuming that I worked for some white chef somewhere for some years before I did a spinoff to do my own thing. And I was like, the person that I learned from is my abuelita. That is my, you know, my true essence of like all the food technique, everything that I needed to learn. But yet that's still for some people isn't enough. That's not, you know, chef worthy because I didn't have this like French training, which is another problematic thing to think about.
Like the reason that, you know, the French have been able to kind of like dominate in the culinary spaces because they were the first to document a lot of things, but that doesn't necessarily mean that their way is the only way. Their way does not really look at all these techniques that my culture has created or used in the process of working ingredients as a formal technique to prepare food. So, you know, that doesn't really resonate with me a hundred percent. Although it is useful, it's not something that I think that I have to go through in order to reach a level of like "chefdom" or whatever you'd like to call it, and so there's a lot of problems there.
Preeti: I think also there's this idea of meritocracy that so many people are brainwashed into believing that they think that somehow like, you know, well, you could do it too, but you just didn't. Or I'm somehow better or smarter, you know, with the marketing or packaging or whatever. It's basically like no acknowledgement of privilege. You know, it's that idea that like, somehow it's all just food. And like, if I make this food and it's tasty and people like it, and I'm a good business person and I'm good at marketing my product. And that's the problem.
Because that infers the concept that somehow we've had an even playing field in our society, which is just a ridiculous idea. I think we can all acknowledge that inequalities exist. So when somebody's called and is like, "I'm just being me". Like, [you're saying] you have just as many opportunities to do this as me and not acknowledge I'm in a position of power. I have the privilege to do this. I think about once I was chatting with some like industry friends that came in to dinner at the restaurant and we were talking and they were like Chez [Panisse] alum and they're both white presenting.
And we were talking about this whole notion of writing all the farm names on the menu and how it was kind of like going out of style. Like, you don't really need to do that the way it was like, you know, a decade before, or five years before, like the people are starting to trend down on that. And I was like, yeah, but I still have to keep doing it. Because otherwise people won't believe it, because I'm Indian and it's Indian cuisine, unless I list all of the small local farms that I use on here, they'll assume that I buy everything at Restaurant Depot and they were both like, yeah, you're right. And so like, just by acknowledging that they have the privilege to not have to do that because they're Chez [Panisse] alum and there's a lot of whiteness coming out et cetera, that they don't have that same burden to prove themselves because people just assume. Like the story I heard recently that actually I heard a while ago, but it was confirmed recently by somebody on Twitter that Thomas Keller was using Hormel ham in his croissants at Bouchon.
And like nobody would ever, like, they just assume he must be using the finest of fine. And until I had said that I'd heard this a while ago and like a couple former employees and people were like, yup. So like, it's just acknowledging the fact that you could get away with that kind of shit, whereas we have to like constantly prove that we're like getting everything organic and we're getting everything from a local farm and we're making every little thing by scratch and, you know, and then people still are going to make like stupid assumptions, if they don't read all the fine print we put on the menu.
Aaron: Yeah. I think it all comes down to, we live in an unequal world where people of color and women have less opportunities, less chances, less capital to do the same things that white men can do with ease. And so going back to the example that Jocelyn brought up with Ina Garten making pozole, it's like she has that opportunity because she's Ina Garten, she's famous, she has a platform. And I am assuming that she did not grow up eating pozole, she had to learn that from someone. She had to do research, but she had to like get this information from someone else. Whereas there is another chef out there who just knows this inherently in and out and could have been given the opportunity to have a video with Food Network. But now that opportunity is gone because I had a ticket. So that's where the harm comes in. It's that cultural appropriation takes away opportunities from Black and Indigenous People of Color. And those opportunities most often equate with money, so they're stealing.
Preeti: Or could they have had a person who knows how to make pozole on the show with her. And that also comes down to money. Would that person actually get paid? Oh, we don't have it in the budget. How about Ina actually just takes a little less since she's, you know, leaning on this other person for all the intel. Like, would that be so terrible?
Jenny: Aaron, can you also talk a little bit about how this plays out in the blog world and what blogs get the traffic, what blogs get the sponsorship deals? Like how that, I think there's a very specific demographic that we often see in blogging and it's not particularly representative.
Aaron: So I've had my blog for 11 years. So I started around the same time to see people like Thug Kitchen and all these other people who are household names essentially. And from the beginning they would get these write-ups and traffic and everything. And I never really got much of that until this year, after this year that we've had. And this goes back to my earlier point. It's like in the blog space in particular, a lot of it is white Midwestern housewives who have the time and the opportunity to put all their energy and resources in creating this blog. And then they get written up by various outlets and their platform grows et cetera, et cetera.
Whereas there's people like me who, like I started doing it nights and weekends, and never really got much of any press until the past year or two. And like, I'm just now starting to get some of the shine and sort of audience and clout that some of these other people that have been doing it for the same amount of time that had, I mean, I'm not going to make any judgements to anyone else's recipes or cooking, but like, I know what I'm doing. I've been to culinary school, I've worked in restaurants. I have the culinary training I grew up in the kitchen. So yeah, it's just interesting to see who has made it as like these blog celebrities and who hasn't.
Jenny: And for Preeti and Jocelyn both of you have cookbooks. So can you talk a little bit about that process and how on one hand, you know, "we don't want another Mexican cookbook, we already have one of those". And then on the other hand, they could be like, well, this isn't Indian enough for us because we have this random notion of what is supposed to be, you know, categorized as the "ethnic" cookbook. So if you can talk about how the appropriation piece there and how it causes harm.
Jocelyn: Sure. I mean, back in the day when I first went plant-based I looked up cookbooks, specifically Mexican plant-based cookbooks, and a majority of them are not written by Mexican folks, they’re actually written by white folks. And you know, you see that now that I've written a book and have kind of stepped into that world of authoring a book you see that it's very much a white space and that there's not a lot of room POC there or people want to again, fit you in that box. Like, I knew that I didn't want to include the word vegan in my book because I wanted it to be more open to folks in my community who think that vegan is like too much, right. It's like a far extreme. And so plant-based seems a little bit more flexible for people.
And that was, I mean, I wouldn't say it was like a struggle to get that change, but there's just definitely like this imposing of what they want and what they think will sell to folks in their community. But obviously I'm coming in to the scene thinking about what's going to make sense for the communities that I've already been working with for so many years. And so it's this collaboration that sometimes feels imbalanced. But thankfully I was able to find something that made sense for me. But I think it's just really important, like one of the reasons I wanted to get this cookbook out there is because I feel like if there's going to be a plant-based Mexican cookbook, I want to be a part of it. I should take up space in this category. I should have room on that shelf.
And then in addition to that, I also want folks in the community to see, whether they're Mexican or from any other community to see that, you know, these traditional recipes that my abuelita from a small Rancho in Zacatecas that her recipes could be published in a book where now there's people across the country and even some other places of the world that are cooking this food. And that those stories that are written about each one of these recipes are super personal and important and relevant stories that resonate with a lot of people. And that our stories matter, that it's not just about, Oh, I, you know, I happened to visit this place in Mexico one time, and now here's a recipe based off of my vacation. Like, no, this is like actual, like family history. And that deserves to have space for people to open up the book. And then to see all these folks like who are DM-ing and commenting and like really sharing how much this book has resonated with them is so important. And I think that publishing houses once they are more open to having more POC take up space in these areas and actually see that the numbers show that folks are looking to buy these types of books. I think that that's really, what's going to help create a shift.
Preeti: Yeah. when I was first working on my book, my co-author who's been involved with other books, but it's my first book. She kept bringing me all these Indian cookbooks. So one thing that we actually talked about before is that actually most Indian cookbooks and American Indian cookbooks are written by Indian people, not white people. I don't know if it's because Madhur Jaffrey just like kicked off in like the seventies and eighties and was like, we got this, but there's a lot of really amazing, talented Indian cookbook authors in the U.S. and the UK and India. But she kept bringing me all these books and I was just like, why are you giving me all these books? Like this book is like, this is about me and Juhu Beach Club. Like, it is not like all of these other books, like they were super traditional.
They're like, you know, these recipes from my grandmother, I'm like masala fries and pulled pork vindaloo sliders that tastes like American Southern barbecue. But she was right, when we went to go start shopping the proposal, those are the types of answers that we got from people, Oh, we already have an Indian book. And so, it's always like, there's one Indian book, you know, for every year, maybe even every two or three years, every publisher will do an Indian book. But they can't have more than one, no matter how vastly different they are in terms of the cuisine. I think that the other thing that once they usher in, as you say, Jocelyn, more POC authors, they got to look inside the house because I think that that's where the other disconnect really is, as Aaron you were saying about marketing and who that demographic is.
So I mean, I think that that's so much a part of it as well. Like I got in a huge fight with my agent, who is not my agent anymore. Because she disagreed that I should have my photo anywhere on the outside of the book, that it should just be pretty pictures of food. And she kept saying how, like, you know, like, the chefs that are on their books, like, that's not the message we're trying to telegraph. And I was like, okay, first of all, like, I'm not like Andy Ricker. And also like my book was personal. Like it's recipes and it's beautiful photos of food, but it's also like the story about like how I proposed to my wife. There's like wedding photos in there. Like to me, it just seemed totally disingenuous to not, you know, this says a lot, this communicates a lot with just one picture where, you know, somebody buys this book with pretty pictures of food on the outside and a quote from Anthony Bourdain and John Birdsall and is like, Oh, wow. And then they're like, oh, there's a lesbian love story in here. Black Lives Matter. What's going on?
It just made no sense to me, you know, but for them, they're not thinking about the outside of that book and the content of what's in it. They're only thinking about how do we sell this book and what is our positioning? And to me, I feel like my publisher, you know, I'm glad they published my book, thank you. But like, I'm also, like, you don't really understand me or how to get this out to the right audience in the right way. You just have this one way that you know how to do it. And so that's not really reaching the audience or telegraphing the right things to the communities and people that would actually be interested in this.
Jocelyn: And you just reminded me of this photo too says a lot of words, right? Like this wasn't about the book specifically, but it was with the collaboration I was doing with a client where I had a picture that I sent of a cocktail that we made. And it was like a really beautiful cocktail. But like, if this was the square right. Of the rectangle of the image, it was like this much hand. And like the cocktail was like over to the side and they were like, why is that cocktail so over to the side and you just see like this hand or whatever? And I was like, that is a beautiful brown hand. Like that arm and that hand is so important to me. Like I think that that speaks volumes, even though you can't see the person's face, like, you know, that that's a POC person holding that cocktail. And like, for me that says that it's not just about the food, it's about the people. It's always been about the people and who you're feeding and nourishing and nurturing with this food. And so, I really like took a firm stance on like, this is the image I want. Take it or leave it. Because for me, this message of like, it's like, without words, it's just the message that you're putting out there of like, look at how beautiful this all looks together, the food and the people, you know.
Jenny: I also love that. All of these examples it is like overcoming harm that has happened to you and making sure that the message that you wanted comes out into the world. So, with that, I also wanted to ask about in many times when you're dealing with appropriation, personal and professionally how is that manifested, and harm is done. And many of us, even POC, even marginalized identities, also can harm other people within the context of appropriation. So, what do you do? What is the right steps to take to at least start thinking about how to mitigate that harm, to overcome that harm, to learn from harm, perhaps potentially if you inflicted it on someone else?
Aaron: Sure, I guess I'll start. I'll say that in terms of mitigating the harm, it comes back to like a lot of things we've been talking about already in terms of like, do I give the proper credit to the people that XYZ belongs to. And if I do, am I getting financial gain from it? Am I sharing that financial gain with that person, for that group somehow? And just, am I being respectful? Am I using the right language? Am I using the right words? Like for me as a writer, I think very carefully and a lot about word choice and what I call something. And I want to sort of as best as possible, always use like the correct word or use words that mean something and like words matter. And it's important to make sure that when we're describing a dish and we're describing paratha, it's like, you can say it is a flaky flatbread, but it's also important to say that this is the name of the dish. This is what it is instead of coming up with these pseudonyms and whatever.
So, I think those are some of the questions that I tend to think about in my work sort of on a daily basis of am I talking to the right people? Am I sharing the financial gain with them if I can? And am I describing and using the right terminology? And then another thing that we sometimes have to think about is, should I be doing this at all? Like, should I pass this opportunity to off to someone else? It's like, Oh, this is a great idea, but maybe you have to like, do this sort of internal inspection. Like maybe I'm not the right person to write about this or come up with this recipe and share with the world. I mean, yes, there is something to say for anyone using their expertise and their platform to educate others about a dish or cuisine or a person. But there's also instances where like, there's someone else out there who can do this just as well as I could, but they're more connected with it and they know more about it. So why not give this opportunity off to someone else?
Jocelyn: Absolutely. I think that is huge, passing off opportunities and also the any potential for financial gain should be split equally, right? Like that's all folks want is an equal playing ground, right? It's not like we're trying to like take over everything. We just want things to feel more balanced. I recently had a phone call with somebody who has a very huge vegan blog, probably one of the biggest ones out there. And it's a white man and he wanted to meet me to virtually on a phone call to talk about this new part of his blog that was going to be all about Mexican cuisine and how he had written this like really extensive piece on Mexican cuisine. But that he was pretty sure that there were going to be a lot of errors in it. So, he was reaching out to me so that I can proofread it.
And I was like, yeah, I have a lot of time on my hands to just like, proofread your stuff about Mexican food. Thanks dude. Like for not offering to like pay me anything for my time, not giving me any credit. Like, I'm just like, what are people thinking? What are you thinking? You know, this is consulting. If you want to get into this world, hire us as consultants and pay the price that it will take to do this legitimately and well. But until that happens, like there's no more free labor here. Like, we're tired. This can't happen anymore.
Preeti: I think there's also like just having, like, this phrase has become very popular in the last seven months of do no harm. And if one wants to really like embody that like you should be thinking about that with everything that you're doing, whether it's contacting Jocelyn to proofread and consult for you. Or like Aaron, you were saying about like the naming of things that you just think for a second, is this going to upset or hurt or offend somebody? Because that's not what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to be excited about what I'm doing about what I'm writing, about what I'm cooking. Like I'm not looking for drama. I'm not looking to be, you know, seen as a bad person or what have you, or a person who's doing harm. So, like, I think about when I had this Indian spiced Cracker Jack on my menu called Daisy Jacks. They're delicious.
And I remember when we were naming them, I was like, wait a minute, Cracker Jack, this seems like a minefield. So, I like, did all my research to make sure that the word Cracker Jack predated, both terms, Cracker and Jack, and the negative pejorative connotations they came to have. And so, I was like, okay, we called them Daisy Jacks. And it was all good, but it's like, if you just go into things with that mental model of like, wait, I want to make sure that this isn't harming somebody. Like, I feel like for myself, like, especially being a queer person of color, like it's only recently in my life that I realized that like, Oh, wait a minute. I actually have some power that other people don't. And I've had to check myself and recognize that, like, I can also do harm because now I have power and it was like an eye-opening experience to realize. And so, I think that like, it's not like, oh, you know, I'm okay because I'm a woman, I'm okay because I'm this or