The social, cultural and economic value of food often reflects the value that society places on a particular culture or group of people. Food discourse reflects these values and frequently perpetuates racist, exploitative and oppressive stereotypes. Cultural appropriation occurs when a dominant group seeks to use and profit by the knowledge of a nondominant or marginalized group. In the United States, this occurs, for example, when white chefs act as the discoverers and educators of “ethnic” or non-white cuisines. Racist food discourse also occurs in food marketing as stereotypical images are used to sell food products, thereby perpetuating racist tropes and normalizing racial power structures. The language used to describe racist food discourse is lacking as it focuses on historical understandings of race, namely blatant acts of bigotry and discrimination. In order to understand how and why racism is allowed to be perpetuated through food discourse, it is essential to create or re-define the language used to discuss it.
This research addresses racism and oppression as reproduced through food discourse because I want to learn how representations of food work as tools of oppression so that we can become more aware of the systemic racism inherent within food discourse and learn to both recognize and respond to instances when food is acting as an oppressive and exploitative tool. This thesis introduces critical academic theories on race and appropriation which are then used as a framework to examine both historical and contemporary examples of racist food discourse. These examples provide insight into the ways in which racist discourse is perpetuated and tolerated as well as pathways to potential solutions, which include the creation of new terms to label racism and appropriation as well as the need for a more robust and public discussion of these issues.