Here's Why Someone Made a List of Restaurants to Fight Cultural Appropriation

May 26th 2017

A list of restaurants is causing a big debate about racism in the food industry.

An anonymous group of people of color put together a Google spreadsheet of restaurants in Portland, Oregon, that the group deems guilty of cultural appropriation. It then offers the nearest alternative owned by people of color. 

A list of Portland businesses accused of cultural appropriation. Google Docs - google.com

The group defines cultural appropriation as "restaurants or food carts selling non-European international cuisine owned solely by white people who were not born or raised in the country or region from which the restaurant's cuisine originates." The group adds that "particularly egregious examples of religious or cultural appropriation in decor or branding are also included" in its listing.

The document received mixed reactions on social media.

ATTN: reached out to the creators of this list, but they declined to be interviewed. However, the "about" page of the Google document explains the reason for the list's creation. 

"The racial wealth and small business lending gaps in the U.S. are pronounced, which allows white folks to open new businesses more easily," reads the document. "These white-owned businesses hamper the ability for POC to run successful businesses of their own (cooking their own cuisines) by either consuming market share with their attempt at authenticity or by modifying foods to market to white palates." A 2014 study by researchers from Utah State University, Brigham Young University, and Rutgers University found that Black and Latino business owners faced more scrutiny of their credit and financial history when seeking a business loan than white people with similar financial profiles. 

List of restaurants in Portland accused of cultural appropriation. Google Docs - google.com

The document also accuses white-owned restaurants of "punching down" by appropriating food from people of color, who are already at a disadvantage. According to 2014 data, only 2.1 percent of U.S. businesses were black-owned, and 14 percent of those operated for less than two years. 

A list of restaurants in Portland accused of cultural appropriation. Google Docs - google.com

The cultural appropriation list gained attention after a burrito restaurant owned by two white women became the center of controversy following an interview with Willamette Week published on May 16. Kali Wilgus and Liz Connelly said they opened a burrito restaurant in Portland after making a trip to Mexico and watching Mexican cooks. 

"I picked the brains of every tortilla lady there in the worst broken Spanish ever, and they showed me a little of what they did," Connelly said. "They told us the basic ingredients, and we saw them moving and stretching the dough similar to how pizza makers do before rolling it out with rolling pins. They wouldn't tell us too much about technique, but we were peeking into the windows of every kitchen, totally fascinated by how easy they made it look."

The interview drew accusations of cultural appropriation, and the Portland Mercury's Jagger Blaec wrote that it's indicative of a bigger problem on the Portland food scene. 

"Week after week people of color in Portland bear witness to the hijacking of their cultures, and an identifiable pattern of appropriation has been created. Several of the most successful businesses in this town have been birthed as a result of curious white people going to a foreign country, or an international venture, and poaching as many trade secrets, customs, recipes as possible, and then coming back to Portland to claim it as their own and score a tidy profit. Now don’t get me wrong: cultural customs are meant to be shared. However, that’s not what happens in this city. Because of Portland’s underlying racism, the people who rightly own these traditions and cultures that exist are already treated poorly. These appropriating businesses are erasing and exploiting their already marginalized identities for the purpose of profit and praise."

White males often have an advantage in the food industry.

A 2015 report from Restaurant Opportunities Center United, a labor advocacy group, found that restaurant workers of color have the lowest-paying jobs in the industryand make 56 percent less than white workers with the same qualifications. The report also found that women are more likely than men to hold server positions, but are also paid less than men. 

In a piece called, "Dear White Chefs: Stop Talking, Start Listening," Eater contributor Korsha Wilson wrote that the industry needs to listen to the complaints of people of color.

"If people of color are talking about systemic oppression and you hear it as an attempt to tear a white man down, you’re part of the problem," she wrote. "Silencing opposing voices that are coming from within the very industry that you’re defending (and claiming to represent) does not help; in fact, it’s another form of oppression."

RELATED: There's a Minimum Wage Controversy on This Restaurant Receipt

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