Jamie Oliver is a British celebrity chef who has had a series of television shows and also runs a chain of restaurants. Yesterday Oliver was accused of cultural appropriation over a rice recipe which he called “punchy jerk rice.” Here’s what it looks like:
I'm not in the mood for this @jamieoliver #PunchyJerkRice #Alkindawrong #Stopit now lost all respect for you. WE IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY truly know how to cook OUR food and you take it and disrespect it in such a form. What a disgrace. I'm not surprised though #FakeFood pic.twitter.com/T5lzNiivch
— Sam 'MamaSam' Davis (@SamDavis66) August 14, 2018
Jerk is basically a type of barbecue sauce/marinade created in Jamaica. Oliver, who is white, apparently varied the recipe to suit his taste and that didn’t sit well with at least one Member of Parliament who complained on Twitter that it was a case of cultural appropriation.
#jamieoliver @jamieoliver #jerk I'm just wondering do you know what #Jamaican #jerk actually is? It's not just a word you put before stuff to sell products. @levirootsmusic should do a masterclass. Your jerk Rice is not ok. This appropriation from Jamaica needs to stop.
— (((Dawn Butler MP))) (@DawnButlerBrent) August 18, 2018
The Independent has more on the culinary outrage:
Most variations of jerk marinade contain allspice and scotch bonnet peppers and often cloves, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, brown sugar, ginger and salt.
Oliver’s rice mixes garlic, ginger and jalapenos “to create a jerk marinade with attitude”.
Celebrity chef Levi Roots, who successfully pitched his own jerk-infused Reggae Reggae Sauce on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den, said Oliver’s decision to launch his jerk rice dish was a mistake.
Since the actual ingredients of Oliver’s dish don’t match the recipe for jerk barbecue, one way to look at this is that it’s not cultural appropriation at all. Or maybe it’s a failure to appropriate the culture faithfully. Would the critics be okay with this if he’d at least used the right recipe?
Probably not because “jerk” isn’t really used as a marinade for rice anyway. As one chef told the Guardian, “you can’t barbecue rice. If you tried to barbecue rice on a barbecue it would fall through. It’s ridiculous.” Fair enough, I guess. But just because it’s not traditional does that make it wrong?
It seems the only thing Oliver actually appropriated here is the name “jerk.” By applying it to something he just made up, I guess he’s watering down the idea of what the real recipe is. Maybe that’s worth complaining about but I’m not sure it’s a major sin. For his part, Oliver said he was giving credit to his inspiration:
“I’ve worked with flavours and spices from all over the world my whole career, learning and drawing inspiration from different countries and cultures to give a fresh twist to the food we eat every day,” the TV chef and restaurateur said in a statement.
“When I named the rice my intention was only to show where my inspiration came from.”
Is inspiration still allowed? It’s not the same of course but this story reminds me of the people who complained because a straight woman, Scarlett Johansson, was going to play a trans character in a film. That was some form of appropriation too, apparently. Everyone needs to stay in their lane these days, even chefs selling flavored rice.