Fights Over 'Authentic' Chinese Food Have a Long and Complicated History. Now They're Tearing the Culinary World Apart
The narratives around cultural appropriation have often lacked nuance. “The question of whether white people can cook Chinese food is completely missing the point,” Hui says. “Instead, it’s about respecting it.”
While Chinese food is tied up in personal identity for many, the current intensity of the conversation is partly rooted in a history of viewing Chinese cuisine as cheap and dirty. When the U.S. Congress passed the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, the country’s immigration quota system was abolished; as a result, a wave of working-class Chinese immigrants–many of them Cantonese– started to arrive in the United States, opening up slews of low-budget restaurants. Because many of the restaurants operated on tight budgets in dense city centers, Chinese food came to be seen by many as unsanitary or worth little more than a quick bite.
For writer Angela Hui, these culinary experiences have been integral to her identity. She spent her childhood in the kitchen of her family’s Chinese takeout restaurant, founded by her Hong Kong-native parents in the Welsh valleys during the 1980s. That relationship with food is partly why she was so frustrated with her experience at Lucky Cat. “For a person with a high profile like [Ramsay’s], he could have done a lot more. The point I’m getting at is take inspiration, but don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” she says. “It would be an incredibly boring world if we were all only allowed to cook the food of our culture.”