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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Ethics of Ethnic Eating

I went to lunch at my favorite Vietnamese dive today, it's a small shop, on the corner of a busy road behind a gas station. I found it by mistake and now I can't stop eating there. As I was there, I watched as customers from all walks of life came in. A rastafarian and his Hindu-wannabe girlfriend, a local (Hawaiian) couple with their two babies as well as several Vietnamese patrons. I then watched as a woman and a man came in, she sat down at a vacant table, pulled out a bag of Taco Bell and ate while he ordered some Phö. I watched as the owner (who is also the host, waiter and cash register attendant) looked at the woman but decided to say nothing. I was offended. But then I have to ask myself, "why?" I mean, there are no signs indicating that you can't bring another restaurant's food inside. Maybe it's because I know the owner's wife is in the back kitchen, cooking her heart out, yelling in Vietnamese while her busy husband yells back. Maybe it's because I know that they never take a day off, and that each order is another dollar to pay the cost of raising a family with two small children on this expensive island. Maybe it's because I know that by the woman bringing Taco Bell into their restaurant, she was effectively saying, "I don't like your food."

I started to contemplate the ethics of ethnic restauranting. I know that when I go to, say, my favorite Indian restaurant, I come and eat as if I were a native. I don't turn my nose up at their cuisine, in fact, I try my best to eat it as if I were one of them, fingers and all. Same with Ethiopian, Thai and Korean restaurants. The list goes on and on. My goal is to come and experience their food, at their restaurant on their terms, with an open mind, open heart and open mouth. To me, it's simply an unspoken rule, like bowing when a monk bows towards you, or answering "si" when spoken to in Spanish (even if you aren't sure what they said.)

In the woman's defense, maybe she didn't know how rude she appeared by bringing fast food into this well-loved restaurant. Maybe she didn't stop to think of eating before, or after her friend ate there. And maybe, just maybe, when she brings someone to her mom's house for a hard earned, well cooked meal, she doesn't get mad when they bring Burger King instead...


Shana said...

You know, in all fairness though, at least she came to the restaurant with her friend because I am sure for the friend to get that food would be more difficult than her going thru a drive thru and then eating there. It's all a matter of taste really. I don't do it, but I can see how it would happen. If I did though, I would probably make sure to buy at least my coke there, just like when I walk into a restaurant or convienience store to use their bathroom, I always buy something, even if it's just a pack of gum.. I also write really long run on sentences :)

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