It’s important to look at menu offerings and their origins.
A must read column on Forbes.com for all grocerants, and restaurateurs! “Last week, the food world was hit with the news that Kooks Burritos in Portland, Oregon had been forced to close their cart after weathering accusations of stolen recipes and cultural appropriation. The Kooks debate centers on the actions of the two white female owners of the burrito cart. The women started their business over 1,000 miles away from where local "abuelitas" first created the tortilla recipe that they appear to have pilfered from the local Mexican cooks.”
Recently there has been much press about this topic – similar to the situation that surrounded photos available on the Internet and was resolved a couple years ago with aggressive monitoring by bots. While its easy to copy and paste a recipe, the question goes beyond is who created or owns the recipe and now extends to whether or not the Grocerant, food truck, food cart or restaurant is culturally appropriate to sell the food. Imagine a lawsuit challenging whether McDonald’s stole or could sell French fries.
The Forbes column goes on to say that food has always helped to define and differentiate cultural identities and the cultural assimilation and mutation of foodstuffs is constant across nations and cultures through the mechanisms of both trade and imperialism. The writer asks, “Where would modern British foodscape be without the influence of native Indian dishes that came as a result of colonialism?” And points out that some dishes were even engineered just for a new culture. Chicken tikka masala was created for Anglican palettes, just as General Tso's Chicken seems to have been a culinary invention of Chinese chefs looking to appeal to American tastes in the mid-20th century. And the most absurd was Chef Rick Bayles, who lived in and researched Mexican cuisine for years coming under fire that his restaurants were serving Mexican cuisine since he isn’t Mexican.
What does this have to do with your Grocerant? Plenty as you look to differentiate your menu from others. Be sure that your chefs are carefully planning your culinary experiences and work closely with suppliers who have test kitchens and culinarians on staff to develop custom and appropriate recipes for your foodservice operations.
Whole Foods came under severe criticism for tweeting to over 4.8 million followers their recipe on how to cook collard greens. CNN ran a headline that had others follow the story – “Whole Foods gets in hot water with Black Twitter.
The story isn’t about whether Blacks or Whites “own” collard greens, it’s about shoppers being overly sensitive these days and it’s certainly become part of our food culture. It’s unfortunate but - be smart, be careful and be sensitive.