Column: Cultural Appropriation in Restoration

Cultural appropriation, which can be defined as an inappropriate adoption of ideas or customs from a group of people, can be seen in many different industries including food, toys, clothing and many more. .

It is a common occurrence in the restaurant industry to steal ideas and recipes from other restaurants who have claimed them as their own. Restaurant chains do not contextualize the food they serve and may distort it.

For example, according to a LA Food Adventure Blog, Taco Bell is built on the appropriation of Latinx culture as they distorted and commercialized Mexican cuisine. The chain restaurant has now more 7,000 locations around the world and thriving, but not because of Glen Bell’s creativity and authentic recipes, but rather because of its stealing ideas from others.

Taco Bell’s success comes from the power imbalance in the restaurant industry. Glen Bell, the owner the hugely popular Taco Bell restaurant has taken many of its methods from other authentic restaurants. Her recipe for her hard-shelled taco come of a restaurant in San Bernardino called Mitla Cafe. It is even reported that he has eat there every night and tried to recreate the recipe at home.

On the other hand, Guerilla Tacos is a great example of a Mexican restaurant that can combine many ingredients from different cultures, using appreciation rather than appropriation.

This restaurant actually has begun as a taco truck and was founded in 2012 by chef Wes Avila and his wife, Tanya. A stand around the corner became a food truck and is now a successful restaurant, Guerilla Tacos, in downtown Los Angeles. Avila goal in starting this business was to do something that reflected the culinary experience he had gained and which helped shape his identity.

They have an extensive menu that changes depending on what ingredients are in season at the time. This is one of the many ways Avila ensures that its customers receive meals cooked with the finest fresh ingredients available. He creates dishes with ingredients that aren’t usually put together and combines them into a tortilla; each fusion is a great blend of flavors.

“I like to use ingredients that keep us interested in what we’re doing,” noted Avila in an interview with NPR.

One of his most popular tacos is the Sweet Potato Taco; he took her comfort food and raised her. The tacos have evolved for about nine years in the taco he serves today, which has become Guerilla Tacos’ signature dish.

It’s a combination of many ingredients not typically found in a Mexican taco, including the main ingredient, sweet potatoes, in addition with Oaxacan cheese and an almond cashew chili – which is one of the many unique sauces with which Guerrilla Tacos garnish their dishes.

It is extremely important to learn about the heritage and customs of the Latinx community in order to respect their culture and become more aware and actively fight against appropriation. Ways to help the Latinx community and truly appreciate their culture include holding talks, calling for ownership, and stopping to support businesses that profit from ownership.


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Cecil N. Messick