A couple weeks ago, I was was surprised to find out that my partner – who is a White-Canadian of Scottish descent – didn’t wash his rice before cooking. I am Chinese, and so rice is a staple in my diet (obvs), and I naively assumed that rinsing rice prior to cooking (to remove the starch) was a universal norm. My partner and I shared this really nice moment later that day where I washed rice with him, our hands rubbing the rice under running lukewarm water, clockwise, and only clockwise as to not break the grains – just like how my grandmother taught me when I was 10 years old. I have this vivid memory of her showing me how you need to feel the rice run through your fingers, and I think about how her grandmother must have taught her the same thing in her home village in Indonesia, and her grandmothers grandmother before that.
Sharing a part of my culture with someone, as minute as washing rice may be, is in my opinion one of the most profound aspects of human diversity. It’s what makes us who we are, and in underpins all of our interactions with each other. That moment of washing rice with my partner, passes on the generations of culture from my own familial history. It’s this moment, this interaction in our interpersonal relationships that makes this project that we are about to embark on so interesting to me.
One of the things that motivated us about starting a project and a dialogue about cultural exchange is around the conversations on cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is complex: in a nutshell, cultural appropriation is the taking, exploiting, and/or profiting off ‘another’ community’s culture. The popularity of wearing an Indigenous War Bonnet (headdress) to Coachella or other music festivals (or at Halloween…) is a prime example of this: non-Indigenous people, taking a representation of a sacred object, exploiting it as a fashion accessory, and completely disregarding the meaning (and sacredness) and importance behind the item from the communities that the culture came from.
As this conversation has evolved, what we noticed happening on social media was that the conversation has become very binary. The exhibition of culture is either appropriation or it isn’t – to the point where we’ve seen real online conversations that eating food that is not of “your” own culture, is considered cultural appropriation (actual conversation about how eating sushi as a non-Japanese person is cultural appropriation).
What we hope to do in Diverse Appetites, is to further explore cultural appropriation, and nuance the conversation by finding ways of doing ethical cultural exchange. This is not to deny in any way that cultural appropriation is problematic – of course it is, and it is in it’s worse form, a sinister form of colonization and racism. But we hope to shift our focus towards finding solutions – and finding ways that we can appreciate and exchange culture, while contending with the power dynamics that inform our relationships day to day.
What does cultural exchange look like? How can we share the beauty of cultural diversity, while also grappling with racism?
Is there such a thing as ethical cultural exchange?