Tieghan Gerard, the creator of the famous food blog Half Baked Harvest, found herself in hot water after posting a “quick” noodle recipe that she mistakenly called “pho”.
The popular recipe maker shared a noodle soup recipe on her blog titled “Weeknight ginger pho ga (Vietnamese chicken soup)” in February. The recipe, as many have pointed out, was not really pho, but rather a quick noodle dish with caramelized chicken and a “sweet, spicy and tangy sesame chili sauce”.
Immediately, Gerard’s fans began to criticize the inappropriate title on Instagram. Some reviewers have explained that pho shouldn’t be a quick dish to start with, and that several steps in its recipe – like caramelizing chicken – wouldn’t go into a traditional pho recipe.
“What upset me the most was that she passed it off as pho,” Suzanne Nuyen, a Vietnamese American recipe developer who runs the Bun Bo Bae blog, told TODAY Food. “The only thing that made it even closer to pho was that it was noodles in broth.”
“I understand that food evolves… but when you riff on a dish, in terms of ingredients, it doesn’t make sense,” she says.
Gerard eventually changed the title of the dish to “Easy Sesame Chicken and Noodles in Spicy Broth” and apologized.
She first responded to critical comments on her Instagram post, BuzzFeed News reported, writing:
Thank you very much for taking the time to comment. I understand where you come from and I decided to change the title of the recipe [sic]. I never intended to offend or hurt anyone or the culture. I will make sure to be much more aware when deciding on recipe titles [sic] in the future and be sure to do more research. Thank you for kindly bringing this to my attention, I really appreciate your kindly expressing your concern. xTieghan
And a spokesperson TODAY sent a similar statement from Gerard:
“I never intended to offend or hurt anyone or the culture. I’ll make sure I’m a lot more aware when deciding on recipe titles in the future and make sure to do more research. “
‘Love our people as you love our food’
But many Vietnamese Americans believe the title change and apologies are not enough. During this age of consideration for race, when violence against Asian Americans is on the rise, commentators are no longer satisfied with the mundane excuses issued by public relations, especially from those who are concerned. so many supporters.
“If you appreciate our food and our cultures, why don’t you also comment on the attacks that have taken place on Asian elders in recent weeks?” a commentator, Mara Van Dam, wrote on the post: “More than ever, our community needs the protection of Asians and non-Asians.
In a BuzzFeed story, former Half Baked Harvest fan Stephanie Vu said she reached out to Gerard to politely explain that the dish in question was not pho.
“I don’t know why I’m panicking about this – it’s my people’s food, I should be able to say something about it. But I was terrified, ”she told BuzzFeed. But Gerard’s response was dismissive, she said.
“I described the actual pho and the entire recipe on the blog,” Gerard reportedly replied, “and said this was just my creation of what you can make at home.”
Vu stated that in his opinion the response was not sufficient.
“The lack of recognition can really hurt the Asian community,” Vu told BuzzFeed. “This specific example, despite being ‘small’, can be extrapolated to occasional appropriation situations Asian Americans experience… the fact that she fired me really hurt me. “
Another Vietnamese American fan of Gerard said TODAY that she too felt disrespected by the recipe.
“Pho is the ultimate love language in Vietnamese culture. It sits on the stove for hours, simmering in charred spices and herbs like star anise, ginger and cloves,” Megan Do said. , script manager for the non-profit Vietnamese Boat People podcast. “It’s the ultimate comfort food and the way we say ‘I love you’ in a culture where these words are rarely spoken aloud. Tieghan’s ‘pho ga’ was far from it. “
What is pho?
Pho, pronounced ‘fuh’, is a staple Vietnamese soup made from bone broth, rice noodles, spices, herbs, and meat (usually beef, sometimes chicken) – although, of course , like any dish of any culture, there are variations.
Andrea Nguyen, author of Vietnamese American cookbooks and winner of the James Beard Prize, told TODAY that the dish made its way to the United States after the fall of Saigon in 1975.
“A lot of people fled southern Vietnam and came to the United States as refugees and started to settle in different parts of the United States as refugees,” she said. The refugees brought their food with them and survived the “small communities of Saigon”.
She said that over time and with the advent of culinary television, Vietnamese food has become a bigger part of pop culture.
Related: The campaign raises awareness of the upsurge in hate crimes against Asian Americans across the country.
“Vietnamese Americans have opened restaurants that I describe as ‘crossover restaurants’ that are not in Vietnamese enclaves that serve a lot of non-Vietnamese, you know at higher prices with quality ingredients,” a- she explained. “And so, people are starting to get acquainted with Vietnamese cuisine.”
Nguyen added that she had three traditionally Vietnamese dishes that she calls “gateway dishes”: spring rolls, banh mi and pho.
“The beautiful thing about Vietnamese cuisine is that you can have it your way,” she laughed. “And it’s customizable, it’s customizable. And it has taken many different directions. “
Nuyen echoed the sentiment, adding that “everything is banh mi now”.
“Americans really like banh mi,” she laughs. “Even though I personally don’t think it’s a banh mi, the presence of this pickled carrot and radish implies at least a basic understanding of what it is.
What are the best practices for recipe makers?
The idea of cultural appropriation in food writing is by no means new. Even last month, Shake Shack was accused of the same after releasing a “Korean” fried chicken that critics said wasn’t actually Korean.
In 2016, Bon Appetit published a story originally titled “PSA: This is how you should eat pho,” with a video featuring a white chef from Philadelphia making pho. The video said, “Pho is the new ramen.” Although the outlet later apologized for pho’s misstep, it was just the start of what would become a racial calculation at the magazine, which culminated in the resignation of Bon Appétit’s editor-in-chief, Adam Rapoport, when current and former staff shared stories of discrimination. within the company.
Related: “Cultural appropriation enables a strategy of selection and blending whereby American culture can take what it wants to market. South Asian ingredients and practices are appreciated, but not the finished cuisine per se, ”said one expert.
Following the accusations, the company apologized last summer for being “way too white for too long”.
“As a result, the recipes, stories and people we’ve highlighted too often come from a white-centric perspective,” the apology reads. “At times we have treated non-white stories as ‘not topical’ or ‘trendy’. Other times we have appropriated, co-opted and Columbus used them. “
It’s certainly not that Asians and Asian Americans don’t want people to enjoy their traditional food: Nuyen and Nguyen both said they like the fact that non-Vietnamese are interested in Chinese cuisine. Vietnamese inspiration. But both believed that recipe makers should take responsibility for what they create.
“You know, I don’t monitor things,” Nguyen said. “But if you’ve got this reach that’s really diverse and diverse, respect those people.”
Nuyen said she doesn’t consider herself “super traditional” and regularly riffs on traditional Vietnamese dishes herself, but she just wanted people to “treat the original dish with integrity.”
Nguyen echoed these sentiments, adding that authenticity is not “a precious thing fixed in time (which) belongs only to those for whom it is part of their heritage”.
She explained that it was a matter of thought and skill – the Vietnamese word for which is “kheo”.
“And when we speak of someone who has kheo, we discuss the fact that they have reflected. They looked at the fundamentals of things, ”she explained. “They are skilled, they know the classics and know how to riffle.”
Nguyen said she didn’t think Gerard and the like would need to do something “totally hardcore where they dig deep into a topic, but to go beyond, ‘It’s so delicious and I was so busy and I just wanted something in less than an hour! ‘”
“It’s tasteless,” Nguyen added. “Look at him, find him, you know, what’s his story. How do you do this, why do you think you are doing this? “
Cultural appropriation vs appreciation
Do took a tougher stance, accusing Gerard of having “a repeated history of taking pieces from various Asian cuisines, mashing them together, and calling the dish something it’s not.”
“There is a fine line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. Its lack of recognition of the rich cultural history from which its dishes are inspired is the definition of cultural appropriation,” she said. “In the end, it’s the same story: she enjoys these altered dishes as our culture fades away.”
Related: The facility had been marred with accusations of racism and cultural appropriation from the Asian American community.
Nguyen said she believes the food is a storytelling story – and the food story is what makes it taste great.
“If we don’t have the context on the food then the food doesn’t taste that good, we don’t have the story,” she said. “I want to tell you what my relationship is with food and food and cooking. It’s a process that is our relationship… and that makes everything taste so much better because it’s so much more beautiful and it’s filled with humanity.
She added that over time, traditionally ethnic dishes are increasingly recognized by the American public: “When is a taco just a taco?” she offered as an example.
“When something, a dish, goes into the English dictionary so that I don’t have to italicize it in my writing anymore,” she laughs, adding that banh mi and pho are both in the dictionary.
Editor’s Note: Suzanne Nuyen is a former TODAY intern.