March 29, 2021

Food Cultural Appropriation: It’s Personal

I am first generation Chinese-Vietnamese. Both of my parents immigrated to the United States as…

I am first generation Chinese-Vietnamese. Both of my parents immigrated to the United States as a result of the Vietnam War. My closest connection to my Vietnamese culture, like many children of immigrants, is food. Food is part of my identity. Food is personal. 

Unfortunately, many Asian Americans remember childhood experiences of feeling ashamed after being told that their food was gross or that it smelled weird. As a result, seeing non-Asian chefs successfully sell misrepresentations of the food that we were made fun of for is disrespectful and offensive. When making another culture’s food inauthentically, we fail to respect the culture it originated from, reinforce stereotypes and thus, contribute to oppression known as food cultural appropriation.

I distinctly remember when I started at a new school for first grade; my dad had bought me my favorite lunch — bánh mì from Bánh Mì Chè Cali in Little Saigon, Orange County (please support them if you are ever in the Westminster area of Southern California, they are the best). Bánh mì is a Vietnamese baguette sandwich packed with a variety of meats and pickled vegetables, French pâté and various other condiments. My excitement to eat my lunch quickly turned into shame; I received disgusted glances and was told that my sandwich didn’t smell good like normal sandwiches. That day, I told my dad that I didn’t want him to pack me food anymore. Rather, I wanted to buy food from school to be like the other kids. Looking back, I feel more shame about this than during that one lunch.