Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Your Food is Wrong

Taking pot shots at food believed to be inauthentic probably feels good because it appears to validate the way the shooter believes the food should be prepared.  But I doubt there has even been a single example of a claim of culinary "inauthenticity" that can withstand more than a few minutes of scrutiny. 

Take the sentiment expressed in the manifesto (above) which was posted on FaceBook by a representative of a restaurant in Mexico. The manifesto shows a plate of traditionally prepared tacos above an American version of the kind you might find at Taco Bell or a high school cafeteria. But instead of labeling them "American Tacos" the author describes them as "bulls**t." (see Chingadera)

Taken at face value, the message can be politely interpreted to mean "the tacos at the top are authentic while the version at the bottom is not." I disagree. 

I'm sure there was a period in North American history where the concoction in the bottom photo would not be recognized by anyone as tacos (and therefore not tacos). But nowadays, chances are that  if you order tacos in North America in anyplace other than a restaurant owned and operated by Mexicans or Non-Mexicans who are devoted to preparing "authentic" Mexican food, you will get something that looks like that. And I think that most  N.Americans who eat tacos eat those kind of tacos and would probably be surprised to learn that Mexican tacos are prepared differently. In other words, for the majority of Non-Mexican taco-eaters in the US, the stuff on the bottom are authentic tacos and the dish at top is not. 

I think both dishes are tacos and so the message of the manifesto is wrong. 

Once a large group of people agree to call something by a specific name that is it's name,  and unless you can show that some harm has resulted from the naming, I don't think there is much reason to complain about what they are called. To call something someone made "bulls**t" because it doesn't conform to the way that you think it should be made seems silly at best and at worst,  nasty and pedantic. 

People adopting food concepts from other people, changing or not changing them, while keeping or changing the name is what people do. It's something to accept and study, and not to be derided as bulls**t. 

Okay, okay. I admit that when I pick up a restaurant menu and read "Napoleon of Sole" or order a ravioli and end up with something that looks like a 3D Frank Gehry doodle I cringe a little. But honestly, I don't care what the food is called as long as it "works." 

Now getting back to those tacos in the bottom half of the manifesto; I'll bet they suck. 


Brian Silvey said...

I'm willing to buy your argument that both are authentic versions of a taco as anytime you try to pin down an anuthentic anything you find that food is a continuum of change. But what makes the bottom version Chingaderas for me is what they're made with. Unless of course those were made with local, organic, pampered ingredients, but they look more like the "yo quiero TB" variety.


Bob delGrosso said...

Something tells me that if those things on the bottom were made from anything other than feed lot beef and nitrate inflated vegetables they would not be in the photo.

Melissa said...

Even Taco Bell sells tacos like the ones on the top. They are the "soft shell" tacos and the bottom is "hard shell" tacos. I think this is the distinction I've seen in the US and many European countries (Sweden, for example).

Tags said...

I realize that you're no fan of sweets, but how do you feel about efforts by the chocolate industry to change the current law that says candy that's called "chocolate" must contain no other fat but cocoa butter, opening the door to substituting cheap hydrogenated oil?

Bob delGrosso said...

I think that as long as the contents of a product are accurately labeled then no harm can be done. The contents and means of production of all kinds of products are always changing. What you and I call soap now, can be VERY different from what soap was to our great grandparents. Does the fact that a bar of modern soap might not contain any of the molecules found in the soap that your great grandmother made isn't soap? Nope, because soap has been redefined and we have accepted the new definition.
How are you doing you doing anyway man? It's been a while.

Bob delGrosso said...

Thanks for that tuition. I'm not very familiar with the menu at Taco Bell. I've been "angry" with them ever since they came into my hometown and knocked down what had been the home of a merchant ship captain to put up a "restaurant." One does not forget such indignities very easily.

Tags said...

BTW, don't assume for a minute that the top tacos were made from anything but factory-farm meat. Last time I checked, Mexico was not an organic meat paradise.

Jeffrey said...

Bob - how do you prefer your tacos? Soft shell, or crispy (assuming both are made lovingly with good ingredients?)

Frying makes everything better, doesn't it??

Bob delGrosso said...

To be completely honest, I rarely eat tacos. But I prefer soft tortillas, recently removed from the oven floor /stone. Fried is cool too, but the flavor of the tortilla is a little sullied by the oil. Great question man. Thanks.

nhallfreelance said...

So when has that "critical mass" been reached? How many people have to agree that a taco needs no tortilla to be a taco, before a pile of meat and vegetables is a "taco?"

Bob delGrosso said...

That is a damned good question. There is no objective test, I reckon. I still use the "dictionary test" for this sort of thing. You know, if Webster's says it's a legitimate use of the word, then it is legit. And I suppose if I wanted to go beyond that I'd do it the way the etymologists do it: a frequency of occurrence across media study. You know, find out how often the word is used in books, magazines, newspapers, online etc and make a judgement based on where and how often I find it.

nhallfreelance said...


To whit:

Not too long ago, I had a similar argument revolving around chili. Texans take it very seriously, indeed, and my argument on the morphing nature of language as applied to food fell largely on deaf ears (eyes?).

Bob delGrosso said...

There is no shortage of tribal pedants in this world. That's for damn sure.

Gary Allen said...

Ahhhh... the authenticity argument rears its angry head once more.

BTW, Since your blog is one that I ALWAYS read... I've nominated it for an award from

Good luck!

Zalbar said...

Late reply, but there are quite a few legal bodies (and myself) that would disagree with you Bob. Mostly european to protect certain products. Like champagne, Shetland lamb, Welsh beef, Stilton cheese, etc.

By your standards that powder that comes out of the green cylinder made by Kraft is parmesan?

Bob delGrosso said...

Point taken, But do you really want to live in world where you can be sued or imprisoned because you called a dollop of hot dog paste on a cracker and covered by a sheet of seaweed a "ravioli?"