[OP-ED]: Take this taco and make it your own
Picture this: Taco fixins in a tortilla cone. A flour tortilla cone, no less.
It comes to you courtesy of a new Food Network explainer video titled “Taco Cones are the New Tacos” in which a young Asian-American woman demonstrates how to “eat two tacos at the same time” by baking tortillas into an ice cream cone shape, filling them with ground beef and adding toppings.
There is simply so much to poke fun at -- starting with flour tortillas for a taco. Blood feuds have been waged over whether fillings in a flour tortilla can even rightfully be considered a taco. And: Can anything truly be considered the “new taco” when there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the “old” taco?
But rather than getting steamed as I watched this cute, sassily soundtracked abomination, I just had to laugh. This is what it’s like getting old: A classic gets transmuted into something new and “fun for a party,” as if it had previously been too formal for mixed company.
The “new taco” comes hot on the heels of a late-May story out of Portland, Oregon. In the town known for super-affected eccentricity, two young white women were bullied into closing down their pop-up burrito cart after telling a reporter at a local weekly newspaper that they had developed their recipe by “pick[ing] the brains of every tortilla lady” in Puerto Nuevo, Mexico.
Little did these two women know that their naively honest admission would cause the beans to hit the fan.
Accusations of white privilege bubbled up. Think pieces about the differences between cultural ambassadorship and cultural appropriation (and food-related colonizing acts) threatened to boil over. Notably, none of it hindered or helped the tortilla ladies of Puerto Nuevo, Mexico.
The best response to this tempest in a teapot came from the taco king himself, Gustavo Arellano, author of “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.” In a post on the website of OC Weekly, where Arellano also writes the nationally syndicated “Ask a Mexican” column, he said:
“[It is laughable] that white people aren’t supposed to -- pick your word -- rip off or appropriate or get ‘inspired’ by Mexican food, that comida mexicana is a sacrosanct tradition only Mexicans and the white girls we marry can participate in. That cultural appropriation is a one-way street where the evil gabacho steals from the poor, pathetic Mexicans yet again. ... What these culture warriors who proclaim to defend Mexicans don’t realize is that we’re talking about the food industry, one of the most rapacious businesses ever created. It’s the human condition at its most Darwinian, where EVERYONE rips EVERYONE off. ... And no one rips off food like Mexicans.”
For that matter, Mexicans mess with Mexican food, too.
In July 2015, The New York Times kicked open a hornet’s nest by posting a guacamole recipe that included green peas. I made fun of the whole thing and a concerned foodie emailed me to complain that the silly East Coast addition to a recipe that needs no embellishment was, in fact, the brainchild of Enrique Olvera, head chef of the fine dining restaurant Pujol (Netflix featured it in its second season of “Chef’s Table”). Apparently, Olvera first put peas in the avocados at his New York City restaurant, Cosme.
At this point, some hipster is going to make menudo-flavored vegan ice cream, top it with a cotton-candy sombrero and sell it in some Brooklyn boutique for five bucks a cup. And no one who eats Mexican food because that’s what mom makes every night should bat an eyelash.
White people taking ethnic food, loving it and making it their own is perfectly fine. After all, no one strolls by Auntie Anne’s in the mall and weeps for the inferiority of their buttery pretzel compared to a meticulously crafted German laugenbrezel.
Five years ago, few people had heard of an empanada (deep-fried turnovers that are filled with savory or sweet fillings). Then in 2012, Jim Halpert got busted for lying about jury duty via a tasty empanada plot device on NBC’s “The Office” and now you see empanadas mentioned all over the place.
This is the melting pot at work, folks. And anyone upset about a snow cone-style taco or artisan burritos should try their hand at entrepreneurship instead -- the world may just be ready for a tamale-flavored energy drink or a huevos rancheros hamburger.