Tag Archives: culture

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations – Philippines

by Guest Contributor Geo, originally published at Prometheus Brown

The un-anointed are always surprised at how good Filipino food is, offering well-meaning but condescending compliments I’ve long learned to accept with a smile and a lighthearted “I told you so.” Probably has a lot to do with that old stereotype that we Filipinos love dogs. For dinner. I once had a friend (a white guy, if you wondering) over for dinner in 6th grade. As my pops handed him a plate, he paused and stared at the rice and chicken adobo and asked “what is this, dog?” before he excused himself from the table. We stopped being friends shortly after.

Somehow, suddenly, we’ve become the flavor of the month. Filipino chefs have been making noise on the last couple Top Chef seasons (Dale was fucking robbed!). Still can’t forget George W.’s backhanded compliment about his personal Filipino chefs during dictator Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s last US visit. And now, with the Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain finally taking his No Reservations food/travelogue show to the Philippines, our sweet, salty and sour secret is out.

Though I only catch it when it happens to be on, I’m a fan of Bourdain’s show. Yes — there’s a tourist, exoticizing element to it, but you can’t front on Bourdain’s presence and palate. And when he says that our lechon is the “best-cooked pig in the world,” it almost makes me want to eat pork again.

Of course, an hour isn’t enough but the representation is respectable: Tapsilog in the opening breakfast scene, followed by street vendor foods (Chicken balls, Tofu w/ Tapioca Syrup), Pancit Palabok (”Not the greatest thing ever, but good” – and I agree), before moving onto provincial dishes such as Sinigang. Kalamansi rightfully gets its own quick feature. And when sisig makes a cameo (and is pronounced correctly) it becomes official that this episode is a pretty big deal. A redemption of that borderline-racist episode of Bizarre Foods that featured Filipinos eating bugs like it’s our national dish. Continue reading

The Brazil Files: Conflict of Interest

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

Before I utter any statements of depth in this piece, I have to present a bias. Though not meant to offend those who believe in proselytizing, I find myself firmly standing on the side of those against it. If you feel that religion and/or a faith tradition of some sort is your source of hope, guidance for life, and possibly even your ticket to eternal salvation, so be it. I respect that, and I fully honor the right we each have to practice some form of the aforementioned. However, the second you start telling me or someone else which form is best (read: which version will prevent me from burning in hell for the rest of eternity), we’ve got beef.

With that said, I want to go ahead and put it out there that I take issue with the bulk of missionary work (past and present), especially that which takes place in developing nations. It is a reminder of the power of nations who sit firmly and comfortably in their G8 seats, spectators in a game of international tennis. Only in the case of missionary work, the victory comes at a higher price, one that can mean not only renouncing one’s culture, but also one’s religion (or at least denouncing it in public) as a means of attaining vital resources. This is not to say that missionaries have not done good work. There are countless records of missionaries who have helped others in excellent ways, minus all the religious rhetoric. However, even if the message of faith lies in no more than an utterance or the simple presence of the mission’s name, missionary work nevertheless boils down to a political campaign in the name of God.

In light of my objection to this line of work, I find myself dealing with a mental conflict almost every day of my present job. My campaign has nothing to do with God, but in terms of international influence, the English language and American culture come pretty darn close. Though I have been teaching English in Brazil since July of 2008, there are still a few things about my current profession that rub me the wrong way. The source of my discomfort in teaching my mother tongue lies in implications more so than tangible, empirical evidence, thus making my inner turmoil all-the-more “inner.” Much like a mosquito bite on the sole of your foot, my conflict has been an itch I can’t quite scratch.

Before enrolling in the program in which I am involved, I already knew I wanted to live in Brazil for a few months to a year to have more exposure to Brazilian culture, particularly an aspect of it that involved more of the quotidian variety. I was looking to go beyond the favela-riddled, bikini-clad, beach bathing, rainforested Brazil with which we are presented on our television screens and in our Netflix queues. I wanted to be forced to speak Portuguese on a regular basis and pushed a bit beyond my comfort zone. I was not looking for a spoiled, privileged, escapist ex-pat experience of the Eat Pray Love genre.

The easiest way to achieve my goal was to teach English here, but I knew in the back of my mind, I would be presented with interesting challenges that I may not have faced if I had chosen another route to secure a job in Brazil. For one, I would have to be a de facto representative of American Culture TM. My language and my country would be placed center stage during class, but what Americans do, eat, buy, and think would be the main topic of conversation at all other times as well. I would be reduced to a living, breathing souvenir. Yet in actuality, I find myself to be a bit of a disappointment to my students and the Brazilian English teachers, not for lack of teaching skills, but for lack of conforming to their ideas of Americans and American life. Continue reading

ALO Again: New Lifestyle Magazine More of the Same Old Orientalism

By Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie. An expanded version of this piece can be found at Muslimah Media Watch.

Last summer saw the launch of ALO Hayati, “America’s Top Middle Eastern Lifestyle Magazine.” Thanks to a gracious donor, I finally got my hands on a copy of the July 2008 issue.

All lifestyle magazines have an aspirational feel to them, and this one was no different. Chock full of advertisements for Dubai hotels and Swiss watches, ALO wasn’t particularly different than any other lifestyle magazine. Considering the economic situation of magazines, it doesn’t seem like an incredibly auspicious time to launch one aimed at a materialistic lifestyle. I wasn’t able to find any updates about the magazine’s publication on the website, and as far as I’m aware, this is the only edition, though in the magazine they refer to an earlier issue in some places.

As someone who enjoys a good glossy every now and then, I delighted over advertisements with Kim Kardashian, and interview with exclusive designer Bijan, and a fluffy piece on intercultural relationships (though I did not care for the cover teaser: “Shocking Intercultural Stories”).

The magazine featured an interview with Leila Ahmed, which was a great one, likening the current western media representation of Muslim women to the same patronizing Orientalism that played out in the first wave of colonialism in Middle East. Her interview shed lots of light on the history and future of the headscarf. Despite the educational qualities of her interview, I kept thinking, “Who is this educating?”

While not every Middle Eastern person is going to be familiar with the history behind the headscarf, it seems sort of odd to have an educational feature about hijab in a magazine aimed at a demographic that has a fairly lengthy history with headscarves, even if many of them aren’t Muslim. Something about this piece tugged at me. It almost felt as if it was aimed at people who were not Middle Eastern. Continue reading

Quoted: Richard Owen from the Times (UK) on Gastronomic Racism


The tomato comes from Peru and spaghetti was probably a gift from China.

It is, though, the “foreign” kebab that is being kicked out of Italian cities as it becomes the target of a campaign against ethnic food, backed by the centre-right Government of Silvio Berlusconi.

The drive to make Italians eat Italian, which was described by the Left and leading chefs as gastronomic racism, began in the town of Lucca this week, where the council banned any new ethnic food outlets from opening within the ancient city walls.

Yesterday it spread to Lombardy and its regional capital, Milan, which is also run by the centre Right. The antiimmigrant Northern League party brought in the restrictions “to protect local specialities from the growing popularity of ethnic cuisines”.

Luca Zaia, the Minister of Agriculture and a member of the Northern League from the Veneto region, applauded the authorities in Lucca and Milan for cracking down on nonItalian food. “We stand for tradition and the safeguarding of our culture,” he said.

Mr Zaia said that those ethnic restaurants allowed to operate “whether they serve kebabs, sushi or Chinese food” should “stop importing container loads of meat and fish from who knows where” and use only Italian ingredients.

Asked if he had ever eaten a kebab, Mr Zaia said: “No – and I defy anyone to prove the contrary. I prefer the dishes of my native Veneto. I even refuse to eat pineapple.”

—Richard Owen in his article “Italy Bans Kebabs and Foreign Foods from Cities” writing for The Times Online

What Does Tyler Perry Really Want From His Audience?

by Guest Contributor Nichole, originally published at PostBourgie

Tyler Perry is set to release a film version of his play, Madea Goes to Jail, which I happened to watch with my family back home in Nashville over the Christmas holiday. TP flicks are best enjoyed as a community, because as you’re responding to your mother’s giggles about Madea’s swinging bosom, you can forget about what appears to be his real message, lurking beneath all that homespun wisdom.

Almost.

(Spoilers ahead.)

In Madea Goes to Jail, Sonny, Madea’s nephew, his wife Vanessa, and their infant son, live with the outspoken matriarch. Vanessa is in graduate school, and Sonny works hard at the local jail, pulling extra hours to finance her education. The two have a deal that once she earns her degree, it will be his turn to go back to school. But it soon becomes clear that Vanessa is an ill-mannered, disrespectful, spoiled, ungrateful bitch who doesn’t want to do the right thing by catering to her husband out of gratitude for his hard work and support. She loudly complains about taking care of the baby or performing any other domestic chore, stressing the need to complete her graduate study so she can make something out of herself. She’s so out of pocket that the busybody next door neighbor, Ella, admittedly manless, irons Sonny’s work shirt for Vanessa, as she sings about how to take care of a man and keep him happy. Continue reading

White American Culture is General Tso’s Chicken and Chop Suey

by Guest Contributor Restructure, originally published at Restructure!

Finally, somebody summarized the myths that non-Chinese Americans have about Chinese food. Most of what White Americans consider “Chinese food” is mostly eaten by white people, and would be more accurately described as “American food” (and perhaps even “white people food”).

Jennifer 8. Lee has a great video on TED Talks titled, Who was General Tso? and other mysteries of American Chinese food.

Here are some important points from the video:

  • Fortune cookies are almost ubiquitous in “Chinese” American restaurants, but they are of Japanese origin. Most people in China have never seen fortune cookies. Fortune cookies were “invented by the Japanese, popularized by the Chinese, and ultimately consumed by Americans.” Fortune cookies are more American than anything else.
    • General Tso’s chicken is unrecognizable to people in China. It is the quintessential American dish, because it is sweet, it is fried, and it is chicken.
    • Beef with broccoli is of American origin. Broccoli is not a Chinese vegetable; it is of Italian origin.
    • Chop suey was introduced at the turn of the 20th century (1900). It took thirty years for non-Chinese Americans to figure out that chop suey is not known in China. “Back then”, non-Chinese Americans showed that they were sophisticated and cosmopolitan by eating chop suey.
    • Continue reading

    A Footnote on Australia

    by Latoya Peterson

    Last week, I picked up the new issue of Script Magazine looking for some information on script reviewers . However, what I found was Baz Luhrmann talking about the planning and writing of Australia.

    The lengthy article describes the thought process involved in creating a script of epic scope, and reveals that Luhrmann wanted to write a film encompassing the history of Australia. Script explains:

    There were a number of issues that Luhrmann knew he wanted to explore, including those related to the continent’s Aboriginal peoples as well as those related to Australia’s to achieve self-determination and self-governance.

    After spending six months immersed in research and historical documents, Luhrmann decided to set the film near the beginning of World War II, due to “the transitional period” that it represented in Australia’s history. Also of note:

    Another reason Luhrmann chose this time period because it allowed him to shine a light on what he describes as “probably the most heinous and difficult part of our history” – a period that marked a low point in the relationship between Australia’s white majority and the indigenous peoples with whom they share their land. In the time between the two World Wars, so many white Australian cattle stockmen were having relationships with Aboriginal women that the population of mixed-race children was causing a dilemma for those concerned about the country’s racial purity. A government policy was instituted in which mixed race children were taken from their parents, placed in Christian monasteries, and, in Luhrmann’s words, “basically trained to be white. This decimated large sections of the indigenous population – you can imagine the spiritual decimation and the pain. So, it was an extremely dramatic problem that has haunted this nation for a very, very long time and it really began in that period.”

    Luhrmann wanted to deal with this issues in his film, not as its primary focus, but woven into the fabric of the piece in much the same way that slavery – while certainly not the main subject of the movie – was an indelible part of the texture of Gone With the Wind.

    I find the journalist’s recounting of historical events extremely interesting. Continue reading

    Cadillac Records

    by Guest Contributor SLB, originally posted at Postbougie

    I think if we’re all quite honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that the methods to approaching big-screen biopics are finite—especially biopics about musicians. In order for people’s lives to warrant the silver screen treatment in the first place, those lives have to possess extremes—a series of extenuating events that can be exploited for the highest dramatic impact the actors can generate. And face it: biopics are only as good as their actors. Sure, the writing has to be passable. If you’re lucky, the writing makes the actors’ jobs easy, but to our main point: the lives themselves provide the pathos. The writers need only heighten it. Yes, there are glaring historical omissions. Yes, there are all kinds of melodramatic liberties taken—especially in the film’s second to last scene of this film. But that, too, comes with the predictable territory of biopics, and good actors mine that melodrama for all its worth. That’s what makes a decent biopic so watchable.

    Everyone involved in Darnell Martin’s Cadillac Records understands the pecking order of the biopic genre—which is precisely why this one works so well. Fortunately, the casting directors brought their A-game, tapping Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, the Jewish-Polish immigrant who founded the most successful Blues and R&B label in Chicago history, Chess Records, and the incomparable Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Chess’s flagship artist.

    With Brody and Wright anchoring the film, the substantial supporting cast had no choice but to tow the Oscar-caliber line and, with very few exceptions, they did. Granted, Cedric the Entertainer was probably miscast as songwriter Willie Dixon. He always sounds like he’s faking an accent, rather than playing a role. It’s as though his acting ability doesn’t extend beyond varying the tenor of his voice. But since he was only in a few scenes, total (even his role as the narrator didn’t yield him that many lines), he wasn’t distracting at all. Continue reading