The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Monday, February 01, 2016

Culinary news that you can use, yes you can

I don’t go to town very often—I am no one’s idea of a social butterfly—and so when I do go out I want to make sure than I am going to a good place with excellent food and nice ambiance. Once upon a time, finding such a place would involve going through newspaper after newspaper looking for reviews, but nowadays all I need do is check the Internet.  Almost all restaurants have their own websites now, complete with hours and links to reviews proclaiming how wonderful they are, and with menus listing the specialties of the house available for everyone to read.  I think this is a very good thing, although sometimes I wonder if the menus are too much of a good thing.

I bring all of this largely unnecessary detail because I have a bad habit of not getting to the point in the first paragraph, which I know many of you find annoying in the extreme and, to tell the truth, irritates me as well, but I fear that it is a stylistic tic that I am stuck with at this point.  In any case, I was reading the menu of a new Mexican restaurant here in our happy little burg—they had their soft opening a week ago and some of my friends recommended the place to me—when I noticed that amongst the fillings offered with their homemade tortilla tacos were children and Jamaican jerks. This took me aback; these are not the sort of things anyone would expect to see on a restaurant’s menu, especially a restaurant that hasn’t really opened yet.  The average taco connoisseur expects to see fish, pork, or beef as a filling, although in some places one can get kangaroo, cockatoo, or emu too; I should point out here that I would not actually eat a fish taco if one of my brothers’ lives depended on it—I hate fish with just about every fiber of my being. I hate liver, eggs, and asparagus as well, but I would eat them if one of my brothers’ lives depended on it…maybe. No, not maybe, definitely, sort of, and only if Mom made me. I suppose I should say something about the use of children as a taco filling, but an Irish clergyman of my acquaintance has modestly proposed something along these lines a while ago and so I recommend that you peruse his recommendations.  I agree with most of his major points and I see no reason to repeat those points here.

I do, however, wish to comment on the use of Jamaican jerks in Mexican cuisine. This seems to me an act of cultural appropriation on a truly monstrous scale, nothing less than the forced bastardization of two national cuisines that do not derive from the same cultural and culinary sources and share no common traditions. And to what purpose? Like Tex-Mex, chop suey, and Chicago style deep dish pizza, using Jamaican jerks as filling is less a celebration of culinary mestizaje than a surrender to the unyielding demands of Americanization and assimilation, a demand that all the world’s cuisines subsume their cultural autonomy into the black hole of the American melting pot and transform themselves into peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
As if this astonishing act of cultural imperialism were not enough, I heard on NPR the other day that, following many allegations from consumers that the Jamaican jerks they’d eaten could not be the real thing, the state Department of Consumer Affairs had investigated several restaurants with Jamaican jerks on the menu for false advertising and that the consumers’ allegations were true.  Approximately thirty-five percent of all restaurants advertising Jamaican jerks in their tacos or as a separate menu item were not using Jamaican jerks at all; these restaurants were using locally grown American dumbasses instead. One veteran department investigator told the NPR reporter covering the story that this was one of the most blatant cases of false advertising and consumer fraud that he had ever seen.

Nor is consumer fraud we are dealing with here. The use of American dumbasses in place of Jamaican jerks who should have gotten those jobs is an in your face example of nativist prejudice and racism at its worst. I understand, as does anyone who has to deal with the public everyday, that dealing with jerks of any race or nationality is always a bit trying—jerks wouldn’t be jerks if they weren’t trying—but to deny jerks work simply because they are jerks is un-American in principle and probably a civil rights violation in practice.  While it may be too early to demand that the Attorney General’s office open an investigation into this matter, I fell that the restaurants involved should pay the Jamaican jerks they deprived of a livelihood some restitution for their pain and suffering, and also for involving them in an act of cultural appropriation that I am sure these good people did not want to take part in.

I should, I guess, end this discussion with a brief review of the food.  The child-filled taco was very nice, I thought—the meat was tender, but a bit too spicy for my taste, and the pulled Jamaican jerk made with real Jamaican jerks was quite good. You can tell the difference; American dumbasses tend to be bland and the meat tends to be a bit fattier—and it surprises me that any restaurant would think that they could pass off such a clearly inferior product and that no consumer would notice the difference. I do recommend the Jamaican jerk taco, if you like that sort of thing, and also the steak fajita, which was very nice and a welcome change to the less conventional fare.  I also recommend that if you have a restaurant advertising Jamaican jerk in your area that you call your local consumer affairs department and ask if they know if the restaurant is selling the real thing.  You really do not want to waste your money on a cheap imitation.

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