Food has become a status symbol – just like with clothes, cars and houses, something to show others what social status you ascribe to yourself.
Of course, you have real gourmands who just love good food, but in between the snobs move. Standing on his ‘almond and pistachio double latte macchiato’ in the morning sends a different message than someone ordering a simple espresso.
Now food has always been a way of saying something about yourself. For example, the Netherlands in the Middle Ages had the so-called ‘show dishes’, such as whole stuffed animals and even peacocks to display the wealth.
Every era has its trends and just like in fashion they rotate. The current appetite for local and fresh products from restaurants is not new either: already in the seventeenth century the Frenchman Nicolas de Bonnefons wrote The delicacies of the countryside, an influential cookbook that encouraged the use of locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Things change when eating behavior becomes a label to distinguish you from others. You see this especially on the internet, where there is a real cult around food trends. A few years ago it was baked oatmeal, baked oatmeal, the motto, now you can’t escape the colorful acai bowl, which consists of the pulp of the acai fruit from the Amazon. The idea of mixing the frozen pulp with banana was conceived in the 1970s by Brazilian Carlos Gracie (who also introduced the Japanese martial art of jujitsu to his homeland).
There is an essential difference between valuing and appropriating
If you take a look at Instagram, you see hordes of young, western, they say environmentally conscious ‘influencers’ who travel around the world non-stop and present themselves with an impossible amount of avocados, bowls and banana bread. Those avocados have been around for thousands of years and originated in Mexico, but the affluent western hipster pretends to have discovered the fruit himself, without any acknowledgment of the origin of the particular fruit.
And that’s now cultural appropriation. In the overheated debate there is often quite a bit of confusion and cultural appreciation, appreciation for (elements of) a culture, and cultural appropriation, appropriating them, mixed up. There is an essential difference between adopting dishes, products or customs out of appreciation or for self-enrichment. The first is beautiful, because it creates connection. The second is a form of colonialism, in which the origin is ignored or scorned, and the product itself, be it a dish, hairstyle or music style, presented as something specific and then excluded others with it. You sometimes see this in Westerners who attack native cultures because of, for example, their meat consumption, but who at the same time live on the culinary traditions of those cultures.
The core of food is not status or exclusion, but feeding, connecting and passing on life. You don’t have to eat green on avocados for that.