Overzealous critics of cultural appropriation seem to have turned the political correctness movement into an unyielding monster that seeks to stifle freedom of expression, as well as cultural diversity and cultural appreciation.
A prime example of political correctness gone too far is the latest controversy in which famed British chef Gordon Ramsay has been accused of cultural appropriation at his new authentic Asian restaurant.
Ramsay's newest establishment, due to open in west London in the summer, was reviewed by an Asian food writer who said she was "the only East Asian person in a room full of 30 to 40 journalists and chefs."
She went further by writing in an Instagram post that she could only "drink through the pain that this is an 'Asian' event."
Food is all about innovation, experiments, experience, and appreciation. It is also the ultimate unifier that brings together not only family and friends, but also different cultures. When sharing a meal, we are able to share our cultures because it is the most open and common experience that connects people, no matter how different, across the world.
Many people appreciate fusion cuisines that combine various elements of culinary traditions from different regions and countries to achieve synergy and the best results, giving credit and appreciation to all. And yet we do not seem to have a bone to pick with the fusion food approach, mainly because it underlines the element of appreciation and admiration.
That goes to show that it is important to credit the source and give respect to the culture one is taking from or attempting to dabble in.
In this column, I've also written last May about an American high schoolgirl who wore a traditional Chinese dress to her senior prom and stirred a tirade of online criticism. She just wanted to wear a pretty dress to the event, but was unfairly berated for cultural appropriation.
More often than not cultural appropriation critics appear to have been motivated by a misguided sense of nationalism or an underlying sense of xenophobia to a point that it has become detrimental to cultural engagement which allows diversity to flourish.
In this day and age, we cannot allow ourselves to live in a vacuum as cultural interconnectivity is inevitable. It is only sensible to facilitate cultural engagement and its exchange while doing our utmost to prevent inappropriate and disrespectful interpretation of any culture or muddled interactions between cultures.
We all have different experiences and ideas about our own culture and that of others. Therefore, it would be impossible to know it all or be able to set or follow any rules to avoid offending anyone. And there is a fine line between cultural appropriation and appreciation, especially with unrelenting arguments from both sides.
In the case of Ramsay's restaurant, it is acceptable to be inspired by other cultures to create something he believes to be "authentic Asian" or maybe even authentic Asian fusion cuisine.
Authenticity is difficult to pin down because it can be quite subjective. But when it comes to cultural appreciation, so long as it is done with good intentions, respect, and appreciation, there is nothing wrong with borrowing ideas to create something new while crediting the source.
Being inspired by other cultures is a part of life experience. If someone has spent a short time in China, are they not allowed to wear a traditional Chinese garment during Lunar New Year?
After all, who makes the rules? Is it not true that "imitation is the most sincere form of flattery"?
Critics attacked Ramsay for saying that the head chef of his new eatery, Ben Orpwood, was "way more qualified and experienced than me in this field" by dint of having researched and travelled to South Asia for "many months".
They probably were angered by the fact that Orpwood, having spent only months in Asia, is considered to be adequately qualified to cook authentic Asian food for a high-flying restaurant.
When we set limits to bar others from showing curiosity or learning a different culture, then we are setting up barriers and putting people on the defence, and this is never a good thing.
Some people really appreciate the beauty of a different culture. A lifetime is not required to appreciate or understand a culture " it is all about the depth of that love and appreciation.
So instead of criticising people for wearing certain clothes or struggling in their own ways to try to understand or even imitate another culture, maybe we should help and show our appreciation for their attempts. We should encourage and educate those who want to understand and learn about our culture.
No one really owns a culture these days as we have so much cross-cultural interaction. The world is one big melting pot so the more cultural mixes there are, the better it is for everyone.
Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post
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