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Other People’s Food Pt. 5: Your Mom’s Crappy Casserole

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Oct 07, 2016

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player or iTunes/Podcasts app. (And please subscribe!)

Ahead of the launch of a new series on race, culture and food called "Who Is This Restaurant For?" we’re repeating our series Other Peoples Food, in case you missed part of it the first time around.

In the fifth episode in our series, artist Ashok Kondabolu and comedian Michelle Buteau (below) join us live onstage to debate assimilation and appropriation.

Ashok's work with arts and radio collective Chillin Island (and formerly with hip-hop group Das Racist) often grapples with culture and identity. And race is a common theme in Michelle's stand-up comedy.

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Their conversation with Dan builds on many of the questions raised in earlier episodes of this series:

  • How do stereotypes about food and people affect what we eat?
  • What's lost and gained when immigrant cuisines assimilate into American culture?
  • When is it OK to cook other people's food?

Growing up in an Indian family in Queens in the '80s, Ashok remembers kids at school telling him he smelled like curry and teasing him about eating monkey brains.

Decades later, Ashok still feels protective of the South Indian food (below) he grew up with:

"Now the dominant culture is going to take my culture's food and repackage it and 'elevate' it?" he says. "Why don't you elevate your mom's crappy casseroles and your tuna fish sandwiches? It offends me."


Like Ashok, Michelle grew up in an immigrant family -- her mom is from Jamaica, and her dad is from Haiti.

She loves the Caribbean cooking she grew up eating: ackee and saltfishstew peas, and callaloo (above). But she says that doesn't make her an expert in those foods.

"Even if you're from the place, I don't even know if you're an expert [about the food]," she says. "When recipes are handed down from generation to generation, it's still your interpretation."

Now that she's married, Michelle is sharing her Caribbean food heritage with her white, European husband:

"[He] can cook Jamaican food better than me!" she admits.


Where do Michelle and Ashok draw the line between culinary cross-pollination and cultural appropriation? Listen in to the full episode to find out.

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player or iTunes/Podcasts app. (And please subscribe!)

Connect with Dan on TwitterInstagram and Facebook!

This is a rebroadcast of an earlier episode.

Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:

- "Can You Dig It" by Cullen Fitzpatrick

- "Dreamin'" by Erick Anderson

- "Legend" by Erick Anderson

Photos: Matthew Septimus; FlickrCC/Meal Makeover MomsFlickrCC/Go DakshinFlickrCC/Jenni Konrad

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