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Food For Thoughtlessness

Labour shadow cabinet minister Dawn Butler has accused celebrity chef Jamie Oliver of “cultural appropriation” because he’s marketing a Jamaican-themed recipe meal. “Your jerk Rice is not ok. This appropriation from Jamaica needs to stop,” she ranted on Twitter. She was soon joined by her colleague Clive Lewis who claimed Oliver’s product was a continuation of the ‘rape and pillage’ of slavery and a symptom of ‘structural racism’.  Both argued that Oliver somehow stood in the way of black enterprise. This “denies too many black people a fair shot at doing the same thing,” claimed Lewis – which was odd since Butler had copied in Levi Roots into her original rant. Roots, of course, is a black British celebrity chef of Jamaican heritage who seems to have had more than a fair shot of putting Jamaican ready meals onto British supermarket shelves and his cooking sauces into pantries across the land.

Nevertheless, Roots weighed in in a video published by The Guardian in which he claimed Oliver (“or his marketing team”) had “made a mistake”.

This is rather rich, and frankly staggering hypocrisy, from Levi Roots who markets his own brand of Jamaican-flavoured pasta, noodles and curry without a by-your-leave from Italians, Thais or Indians.

Neither Butler nor Lewis seem to mind, and Roots’s comments demonstrate a startling lack of self-awareness. Perhaps he just wanted to be seen to be saying the right thing. Butler also hasn’t ever seemed troubled by arguably Britain’s most beloved TV chef, Ainsley Harriott – also of Jamaican heritage – marketing his take on Thai, Indian, Italian, Chinese, Moroccan, Mexican, Scottish, and Cajun cuisines.

One of the most famous faces on our supermarket shelves is ‘Uncle Ben’, who along with ‘Auntie Bessie’, ‘Mr Kipling’, and ‘Dr Oetker’, is an icon of (semi)fictional food producers. One fears that he will soon be a target of Dawn Butler’s crusade to cleanse our pallets of racially-mixed cuisines, particularly if she sees this advert.

Will Butler and her ilk be going after best-selling cookbook author Lorraine Pascale, born in the UK of Caribbean parents, who describes how she approaches cooking thus:

“Recently I’ve been like a mad food scientist in the kitchen; conducting culinary experiments using everyday ingredients and putting a wicked spin on some familiar traditional recipes. I’ve also drawn inspiration from my travels to Barcelona, Sri Lanka, Corsica and chilled-out Byron Bay, so be ready for a few surprises!”

In Canada, once of Vancouver’s most popular Jamaican chefs presides over his restaurant Pizza Jerk whose menu combines Jamaican jerk flavours with (Italian) pizza. They also offer a “Multicultural Soup Of The Day”.  It is a mix of “creative and authentic dishes” says Chef Bounty. Call me mad, but this seems to be the way to build non-racial and multicultural communities who feel part of the same society.

Still, those who push the fight against so-called “cultural appropriation” at least have some political support from beyond the grave: