A magazine feature about the Vietnamese dish pho has cooked up some serious outrage.
Readers took serious issue with Bon Appétit’s recently published piece originally titled, “PSA: This Is How You Should Be Eating Pho.” The story was accompanied by a video featuring Tyler Akin, chef at Philadelphia’s Stock restaurant, which serves Southeast Asian food. Akin, who is white, demonstrates how he consumes the dish.
The internet took particular exception to the outlet’s use of a white chef as an authority on the subject. Many also criticized the magazine’s touting of pho as a food trend.
The outlet attempted to amend the article with two updates and removal of the video. But not before it was met with a flood of criticism from people across the internet, accusing Bon Appétit of cultural appropriation.
Dr. Bich-Ngoc Turner, lecturer of Vietnamese language and literature at the University of Washington, explained that Bon Appétit’s write-up and video, (which you can still watch here), is problematic right from the title.
“So when you present ethnic food this way by a white man, you insult the Vietnamese community and deprive them of their own right to be authentic and maintain their identity.”
“The title sounds very authoritative and over-confident ... Food is very much related to race, identity, and cultural pride,” Turner explained to The Huffington Post. “So when you present ethnic food this way by a white man, you offend the Vietnamese community and deprive them of their own right to be authentic and maintain their identity.”
While Akin mentions in the video that he’s demonstrated his personal, preferred way of consuming pho, the outlet’s packaging still positioned him as an authority. That left social media users, like Rainier Maningding, the blogger behind The Love Life Of An Asian Guy, wondering why a chef from a Vietnamese-owned business wasn’t the subject for the article instead ― especially since Philadelphia is home to several pho establishments.
Another aspect of the piece that’s been stirring the pot is Bon Appétit’s mention of the dish making its “list of the coolest restaurant trends for 2016.” Andrea Nguyen, a Vietnamese chef and cookbook author, noted that by doing so, a crucial aspect of the dish is erased.
Treating pho as merely a fashionable food negated its rich role in Vietnamese, Vietnamese-American, and now, American culture.”
“Treating pho as merely a fashionable food negated its rich role in Vietnamese, Vietnamese-American, and now, American culture,” Nguyen wrote in a piece for NPR.
Beyond that, when American chefs make ethnic cuisines, they not only profit off of the food, but they are also not subject to the prejudices immigrants face when creating the same foods, Ruth Tam wrote in the Washington Post last year.
“This cultural appropriation stings because the same dishes hyped as ‘authentic’ on trendy menus were scorned when cooked in the homes of the immigrants who brought them here."
“This cultural appropriation stings because the same dishes hyped as ‘authentic’ on trendy menus were scorned when cooked in the homes of the immigrants who brought them here,” Tam stated.
The outlet not only labeled pho as a trend, but also called it “the new ramen,” in its video. Replacing one Asian culture with another, Nguyen says, creates another issue.
“I saw it and I was flinching and I thought to myself, ‘So, in the Western world, to the white world, can there only be one Asian noodle soup?’” Nguyen told Mic. “Do they say that about spaghetti?”
There is one positive aspect to the controversy, Nguyen mentions in her piece for NPR, and that’s that food can be used “to foster deeper understanding of one another.”
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