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Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

October 21, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Seattle disses Thug Kitchen, vegan cookbook signing canceled

The authors behind Thug Kitchen, an expletive-ridden food blog and cookbook, were looking forward to visiting Seattle this week to discuss their vegan recipes and America’s relationship with food.

The cover of the controversial vegan cookbook, "Thug Kitchen."

The cover of the controversial vegan cookbook, “Thug Kitchen.”

They packed their suitcases only to learn Monday they were uninvited.

Book Larder, a culinary-themed bookstore in Fremont, decided to cancel a book signing scheduled for Wednesday night over concerns that critics would take over the event.

The authors also canceled two events in the San Francisco Bay Area earlier this month after people threatened to disrupt and protest.

Critics call the recently released Thug Kitchen cookbook, subtitled “Eat like you give a f—k,” an example of racism and cultural appropriation. Instead of the book inciting a nuanced discussion of the term thug, a vocal few silenced the conversation in Seattle before it could begin.

The controversy started when the authors, Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway, revealed during an interview with Epicurious that they are a pair of white 29 year-olds who live in Hollywood. They had cloaked themselves in anonymity since launching the Thug Kitchen as a blog in 2012.

On the phone this week, Holloway and Davis told me they created the fake thug persona — vulgar, hyper-masculine, snarky and arrogant — to instill confidence in readers to act like a “badass in the kitchen” and have a few laughs.

“There is an aura of elitism surrounding eating well, and so many people tend to associate health with wealth,” the book states.

The authors elected the term “thug” and the liberal use of expletives as an anti-elitist attempt to empower “everyone who wants to do better but gets lost in the bulls—t.”

I heard about Thug Kitchen more than a year ago when my husband sent me a link for a recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts with quinoa and motherf—king cranberries.

The recipe came with some interesting instructions:

“Roast those sons of bitches for 20 minutes, stirring half way, or until the sprouts are golden and kinda burnt in some places. Goddamn delicious. Just trust. Boiling these tiny cabbage-looking motherf—kers is a crime. ROAST OR GTFO.”

I couldn’t stop laughing and kept reading to see what other verbal lashings the blog dished out along with surprising healthy sounding recipes. It reminded me of an irreverent cooking show, “Bitchen Kitchen,” that features a chef who dresses like the frontwoman of a female rock band.

The Thug Kitchen blog read to me like an articulate chef obsessed with fresh vegetables who listened to a lot of hip-hop and rap. I e-mailed my husband back with, “I bet the blogger is white.”

I wasn’t surprised or appalled that Thug Kitchen is the brainchild of two white vegans, but a lot of other people were.

The problem is that thug is a loaded term. The media grabbed onto the term to describe Seattle Seahawks player Richard Sherman after an impassioned interview following his team’s victory in a championship game last January. Sherman said he was frustrated that thug turned into “the accepted way of calling somebody the n-word.”

I can also see how some people are offended when someone commercializes and capitalizes on the cultural heritage of another group.

I can relate. I cringe every time I pass a Chipotle or Taco Bell and see how non-Mexicans make millions from butchering Mexican food into an unrecognizable version of itself.

The cover of the Thug Kitchen coincidently features a photo of tacos. Double appropriation!

It’s hard, however, to decide which culture owns the term “thug.” Anyone immediately assuming it refers to a black man from the ghetto is also guilty of stereotyping.

In the two years before the authors’ identities came out, the blog received plenty of feedback, but most of the critiques asked for less foul language and less use of particular ingredients like cauliflower and chickpeas. No one had ever accused the blog of racist behavior.

I agree that the term thug comes with baggage and in a society as racially and culturally complex as ours, we must look past words as labels and at what they mean in context.

Using thug to degrade or vilify someone, as in the case of Sherman, is an insult. But, using thug to redefine healthy cooking and eating and make it a lot less boring, shouldn’t offend anyone.

Sherman said the “thug” reaction to his interview opened up an opportunity for him to talk about negative perceptions of black male athletes.

“I felt the need to turn the discussion on its head,” he told the Associate Press.

In a similar vein, the authors of Thug Kitchen want to turn the perception of healthy cooking on its head — or at least talk about it. But at least for now, that won’t be happening in Seattle.

“Some people were not interested in having a conversation,” Holloway said in reference to cancelling book signings. “They had their minds made up.”

Comments | Topics: cookbooks, richard sherman, Thug Kitchen

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