Does Jamie Oliver’s ‘stolen’ rice mean he’s ‘very white’?

Ideas

Does Jamie Oliver’s ‘stolen’ rice mean he’s ‘very white’?

We know the British chef didn’t steal the recipe from a Jamaican chef since everything about his version is wrong

Celia Walden

How would you describe Jamie Oliver to a foreigner? Because when I tried I heard myself say this: “He’s a British chef who does a lot of well-meaning stuff back home, but somehow rubs people up the wrong way. He’s very white.”“Very white”? Where did that come from? Maybe it’s the Hampstead home, the Boden-tastic lifestyle and the brood of Poppies, Daisies and Petals. Maybe it was the context: the 43-year-old has sparked a “cultural appropriation” row by launching a Punchy Jerk Rice deemed offensive by the sector of the digital universe who specialise in both offence and “fauxffence”. Or maybe it was that the person I was describing Oliver to was Afro-Caribbean and I was preempting an outrage that never came. He didn’t care about Jamie’s jerk rice. “Then again I'm not going to be eating it.”
If that divisive £2.30 (R42) rice does survive the furor, chances are you’re never going to see a Jamaican customer toss it into their supermarket trolley. By the same token Sicilians will never make up Domino’s customer base and – unless their gendarmes are in need of more threatening batons – the French are unlikely to start importing British baguettes.
The bastardised versions of these traditional foods may simply not taste as good as the real deal (apparently, Oliver hasn’t used the right spices, and in any case jerk marinade is traditionally used for meat dishes), but culinary corruptions and hybrids are how we got to where we are.
Japanese tempura originated from a Portuguese fritter-cooking technique, and Scotch eggs are said to be derived from the Indian Nargis Kebab recipe. But is Jamie’s own take on jerk offensive? As the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, Labour MP Dawn Butler apparently felt incensed enough to tweet: “I’m just wondering do you know what #Jamaican #jerk actually is? It’s not just a word you put before stuff to sell products. Your jerk rice is not OK.”
Is it that – as his Twitter dissenters seem to be saying – a “very white man” like Oliver should just keep his nose out of other cultures’ dishes? Which is potentially problematic when you consider the limitations you could then impose on every British chef brazen enough to market anything beyond bangers and mash. It could threaten the very future of a global culinary industry that’s only as diverse as it is thanks to the mixing and matching, the trying and failing, the inspiration and yes, misappropriation, that has taken place over thousands of years.
I won’t even get into how we square off these kinds of spats with the multiculturalism we’re so proud of, except to say this: if food, music, art and fashion are no longer allowed to be shared cultural and creative experiences, then really it’s segregation that we're after.Ultimately, where does cultural celebration stop and cultural appropriation begin? I believe it comes down to understanding and respect.
So, wearing a traditional Chinese dress to prom, like the US schoolgirl who was vilified earlier this year? Surely that was indeed, as Keziah Daum insisted, “showing my appreciation of their culture”.
But wearing a burka, a Native American headdress or a crucifix for a laugh? Not okay. Singing a Dreamgirls song at the Albert Hall when you’re white? Okay – and yet last week singer Mazz Murray claimed she was barred from doing so.
Extend that logic to food, and only Yorkshire folk would be allowed make and eat Yorkshire pudding.It’s true that when elements of a minority culture are adopted by members of the dominant culture there isn’t an equal cultural exchange. And because of that imbalance of power, you have to ask yourself three questions whenever this topic comes up: is this being passed off as an original idea, has any form of exploitation taken place, and is it being used for personal profit? 
We know Oliver didn’t steal the recipe from a Jamaican chef since everything about it is wrong, and he’s certainly not passing it off as his own idea.
To get an idea of how bad it is, watch the video on this tweet:Butler is right to point out that the chef is plugging himself into a culinary “fad” for profit – and that fad happens to be her heritage. It is admittedly irksome and liable to make people of any heritage squirm in the way that I do when white wealthy DJs such as Diplo “discover” Nigerian singers such as Mr Eazi, and Parisian designers base whole collections on the body markings of Aboriginal tribes. But those things are embarrassing rather than disrespectful.
At a certain point we need to determine the value of the item that is being appropriated. Is it really central to a culture and belief system? And maybe jerk marinade is? Maybe it’s just that it’s insanely good? I’m going to have to go and find out.– © The Daily Telegraph

This article is reserved for Times Select subscribers.
A subscription gives you full digital access to all Times Select content.

Times Select

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Questions or problems?
Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.

Next Article

Previous Article