Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Complaining about cultural appropriation, or misappropriation as it should be called, is fun. I can tell it's fun, because people do it even when it's not necessary. They even do it when it makes no sense. Sometimes it's just to make fun of how presumptuous white people poorly execute ethnic cuisine. "Szechuan pizza? Gross! And offensive!" Sometimes it's a form of virtue signaling, as when white people commiserate with black people about Euro-misappropriation of dreadlocks. "Look," signals the white person, "I get it! They're stealing your hair! It's insulting and offensive! They just don't get it, but I do."
I don't want to pick on political comic Hari Kondabolu, especially since he recently entertained our socialist troops in Chicago, like a kind of woke Bob Hope, but he has this one routine someone brought to my attention that fits the description of what I'm going to call "virtue-signaling through ignorance." He was complaining about vegan soul food.
First off, let me admit that I understand hostility toward vegan food. I myself have complained on this very show about a particular vegan barbecue I endured. In that case, though, the barbecue was thrown by people who didn't even understand how to host a party in which people expected to eat, let alone have their hosts provide a source of heat over which to cook food. They failed the heat test, which is, if you don't have charcoal or propane either already hot or at least ready to ignite, it's not a barbecue. And if you don't have anything else for your guests to eat other than a few grapes and some leftover croissants, along with your uncooked tofu dogs still in the wrapper awaiting absolutely nothing because there is no flame over which to make them resemble edible food, you are a bad person.
There's an idea I myself have helped spread that a vegan is someone who doesn't like food. That's wrong. But it is accurate often enough to be mildly funny to some people.
And what with new dietary restrictions cropping up every day for any number of reasons, it's tempting to mock the gluten-intolerant, the diverticular, and the celiac sufferer. Suffering is funny! Comedy is tragedy happening to people you don't care about.
But Hari wasn't mocking vegan soul food because it's bland or oily or a travesty of culinary artistry, he was mocking it because it's not black. I want to quote him directly but that would mean I'd have to watch the performance again, and I don't feel like it. He compared vegan soul food to metal – the genre of rock music partially founded by Jimi Hendrix but, admittedly, dominated by white musicians. Metal takes something with roots in black culture and presents it in a form that shows no evidence of its African- American origin.
As accurate as this may be about metal, I don't know what makes Hari Kondabolu an expert on soul food. Maybe he studied it in grad school. And he may know the proper amount of back bacon to season a pot of greens with, or whether a St. Louis pig snoot should be crispy, chewy, or tender, or how to properly decline the Latin adjective form of "chitterlings." But whoever his dissertation advisor was did him no favors if she led him to believe that vegan soul food was cooked up by Rachel Dolezal and Vanilla Ice to sell at the Brentwood Farmers Market.
In Chicago, at least, as far as I know, vegan soul food was invented, or maybe just perfected, by the proprietors of Soul Vegetarian East on 75th Street. I used to eat there back in the 90s. I assume vegan soul food was made even before the restaurant was founded, because the people who run the place are African Hebrew Israelites, or something, a Torah-influenced religious sect founded in Chicago in the 1960s. The African Hebrews wear plant-based clothing and eat no animal products, except honey, I think. Near the end of the 60s they all followed their leader to Liberia, but then moved to Israel, where a few thousand of them now live in the Negev.
Here I must digress a little. Not to be a whiner, but these African Hebrews? They're misappropriating my culture. A lot of black people have done so down through the ages, from the US slaves through the Rastafari until now. They're not Jews. What gives? What's with the pretend Judaism? Who said they could use our Moses? "Let my people go—" that's our lyric, man. First the slaves steal our riffs, then the Rastfari with their Lion of Judah and their remembering Zion – that's our memory! We sat down by the rivers of Babylon and there we wept, not you, you cultural misappropriators.
The noive, I tells ya.
And now the African Hebrews are sitting there in the Negev, on land that was stolen from the Bedouin. That's the Zionists' game, playuh. I don't know if I can eat vegan soul food anymore. It's too imperialist. I mean, black vegans are basically white supremacists. I guess Hari Kondabolu was right.
Yet Hari himself, his whole schtick is practically lifted whole-cloth from Woody Allen, the glasses, the neuroses, the simplistic stereotypes presented in a progressive intellectual frame. I am feeling very triggered, very misappropriated, very colonized. I've been violated. My foreskin is spinning in its grave.
And why is Hari annoyed on behalf of black people, anyway? Isn't he misappropriating black people's cultural resentment? Or is every non-white person's resentment interchangeable with that of every other simply by virtue of them all not being white? Is Hari also bitter about Korean tacos? And if so, is it from the Korean angle or the Mexican one? How does he feel when, say, an Arab plays the didgeridoo? Does he have hard stories about having to eat fry-bread on the res because the white man stole his naan?
Where are the boundaries of cultural misappropriation? Cuz if I was an African Hebrew I'd be a little pissed off at some comic of South Asian descent telling people my food wasn't black enough. I might even object that there's nothing inherently non-black about trying to eat a healthier diet. But I'm not an African Hebrew, so this is all pure speculation. Educated speculation, but speculation nonetheless.
I suppose it's a bit much to expect Hari to be observant about every little thing he's going to tell a joke about. Being an observational comic focusing on politics and race in these times when the inequality of black people before the law is too obvious for even the popular media to ignore, I'm sure Hari has a lot on his plate.
He's just never had decent vegan soul food on his plate. This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!