I've been following BurritoGate, the story of two white women in Portland who went to Mexico (barely, they went to Puerto Nuevo,) and liked the burritos. The pair decided to learn to make flour tortillas, ran into some language barriers, and then came back to Portland to serve breakfast burritos one day a week from a taco cart. Social Justice could not stand the 'cultural appropriation.'
Thank our lucky stars for the Orange County Weekly's Editor-in-Chief Gustavo Arellano, who in addition to writing their column "¡Ask a Mexican!" also wrote a book on the history of Mexican food in America!
Arellano explains the long-standing tradition of EVERYONE 'appropriating' food preparation styles from other cultures. Arellano shares his pride in Mexican cooks awesome ability to steal other cultures food and make it their own, just like everyone else.
Via the OC Weekly:
The Mexican restaurant world is a delicious defense of cultural appropriation—that's what the culinary manifestation of mestizaje is, ain't it? The Spaniards didn't know how to make corn tortillas in the North, so they decided to make them from flour. Mexicans didn't care much for Spanish dessert breads, so we ripped off most pan dulces from the French (not to mention waltzes and mariachi). We didn't care much for wine, so embraced the beers that German, Czech and Polish immigrants brought to Mexico. And what is al pastor if not Mexicans taking shawerma from Lebanese, adding pork, and making it something as quintessentially Mexicans as a corrupt PRI?
Don't cry for ripped-off Mexican chefs—they're too busy ripping each other off. Another anecdote I remember from Taco USA: One of El Torito founder Larry Cano's lieutenants telling me Larry would pay them to go work at a restaurant for a month, learn the recipes, then come back to the mothership so they could replicate it. It ain't just chains, though: in the past year, I've seen dozens of restaurants and loncheras across Southern California offer the Zacatecan specialty birria de res, a dish that was almost exclusively limited to quinceañeras and weddings just three years ago. What changed? The popularity of Burritos La Palma, the SanTana lonchera-turned-restaurant. Paisa entrepreneurs quickly learned that Burritos La Palma was getting a chingo of publicity and customers, so decided to make birria de res on their own to try and steal away customers even though nearly none of them are from Zacatecas.
Shameless? Absolutely. And that's what cultural appropriation in the food world boils down to: it's smart business, and that's why Mexicans do it, too. That's the same reason why a lot of high-end Mexican restaurants not owned by sinaloenses serve aguachile now: because Carlos Salgado of Taco Maria made it popular. That's why working-class Mexicans open mariscos palaces even if they're not from the coast—because Sinaloans made Mexican seafood a lucrative scene. That's why nearly every lonchera in SanTana serves picaditas, a Veracruzan specialty, even though most owners are from Cuernavaca. That's why a taqueria will sell hamburgers and French fries—because they know the pocho kids of its core clients want to eat that instead of tacos. And that's why bacon-wrapped hot dogs are so popular in Southern California—because SoCal Mexican street-cart vendors ripped off Mexicans in Tijuana, who ripped off Mexicans in Tucson, who ripped off Mexicans in Sonora.