The other day I got a text from a friend that read, "Hear about the Bon Appetit pho 'controversy'? Sounds like something you would be interested in writing about to me." That was the first I had heard of the controversy, so I decided to delve into it and see what the hullabaloo was all about. First, though, I had to figure out what pho is.
It turns out pho (pronounced: "fuh") is a Vietnamese dish made with rice noodles and broth. I'm told it's a trendy food item right now amongst hipster douchebags who think that noodles in broth is something to get excited about.
But on to the controversy.
Apparently, last week, Bon Appetit magazine posted a video titled "PSA: This is how you should be eating pho" on its website. The video showed a chef from Philadelphia, Tyler Akin, making pho and explaining his philosophy on how the dish should be prepared and eaten.
Among Akin's contentions was that you should never dump sauce, such as hoisin or sriracha, into the pho before tasting the broth. He also mentioned that he likes to twirl his chopsticks around to get a "more substantial bite" of noodles on the end. He goes on to say, "That's my approach. It's not the only way. The beauty of pho is that you can do it any way you want."
Seems innocuous enough, right? I have to admit, having now seen the video (which Bon Appetit took down in the wake of the flap), if I didn't know there was controversy swirling around it, it would never have occurred to me for a second that the video was controversial. It was basically just some dude explaining the way he likes to make and eat pho.
Ah, but the dude doing the explaining was white, and as near as I can figure, that's what has people all upset. According to the many outraged voices on the internet, having a white man tell people, "This is how you should be eating pho," is a blatant case of cultural appropriation and a slap in the face of the Vietnamese community.
As one blogger, a lecturer on Vietnamese language and literature at the University of Washington, put it: "When you present ethnic food this way by a white man, you offend the Vietnamese community and deprive them of their own right to be authentic and maintain their identity."
Really? One guy talking about how he likes to make noodles deprives an entire ethnic group of its right to be authentic and maintain its identity? That's pretty pathetic. It doesn't exactly speak well of a group's authenticity and identity in the first place to think that a two-minute video could undermine them so thoroughly, but I've never been part of an ethnic group, so who am I to say?
To me, this is the sort of controversy that smacks of reverse racism. To say that it's wrong to have a white man talking about pho is akin to saying that only an Italian should be allowed to share a pizza recipe or only a Greek can discuss how to make a gyro. Hell, Emeril Lagasse was born in Massachusetts to a Canadian father and a Portuguese mother, so he should have no right to talk about Cajun food, right?
I can understand getting upset about a guy telling you how you're supposed to be eating a food that you may have already been eating for years -- I, for one, don't like anyone telling me how I'm supposed to be doing anything -- but why is that any worse than an Asian writer telling us after the fact that we all need to be upset about it? I don't have anything against the Vietnamese community, but if you think I need to share your outrage, you're wrong.
Look, if you want to find something to get upset about, it's easy to do. There are tons of things out there that are genuinely offensive, but Bon Appetit's video was hardly one of them. Had I made it, I probably would have sought out a Vietnamese chef just to make the video seem more authentic, but then that would have been its own form of racism, wouldn't it?
So, since it seems like a no-win situation as long as any white people are involved, I'd like to point out one last fact: We're talking about freaking noodles. It's not like we invaded your country and -- oh, wait. We did. Sorry.
Todd Hartley, being anti-racist, doesn't care at all what ethnicity his noodles are. To read more or leave a comment, please visit zerobudget.net.