Paging through a new cookbook never fails to thrill me. So when I got a copy of Thug Kitchen as a gift while attending the Food Bloggers of Canada annual conference, I put my feet up for a few minutes to take a look. It’s a vegan cookbook with great recipes and gorgeous photography. What makes it different? The swearing and tone.
There are swear words on almost every page. You might read, for example, that you should “stir this sh*t.” The book’s subtitle is “Cook Like You Give a F**k.”
I liked the attitude, some of the writing was genuinely funny, and the recipes look good. I got tired of the cursing about five pages in. (I am not the target reader.) And as you’ll see, the backlash is not about the recipes.
I was prepared to dislike the authors, but they’re the nicest people, really. They attended the conference, stayed after their keynote, signed everyone’s book and talked with them politely. Davis and Holloway are from Los Angeles and had never been to Canada before. They actually do swear in real life. They’re getting enormous publicity and crowds at their events, and sold 25,000 books their first week, according to Publishers Weekly.
Are they thugs? Depends who you ask. According to the Urban Dictionary, a thug is “someone who is going through struggles, has gone through struggles, and continues to live day by day with nothing for them,” as paraphrased by rapper Tupac Shapur. When they started their blog a few years ago, Davis was working in a health food store as a cashier, making around $22,000 per year. Holloway worked odd jobs, such as assistant at a production company, and had trouble paying the rent. (For how they started a blog and got discovered, read this story from Epicurious.)
The second definition of thug includes such synonyms as robbers, murderers, gangsters and criminals. That’s definitely not them. Third, thug is also a way to refer to African Americans. And that’s the problem.
The backlash began earlier this month, when the book came out and the authors revealed their identity as young white people. Up to then they had been anonymous on their blog. The sh*t hit the fan, to use their parlance. They have been accused of pilfering black culture and capitalizing from it. They cancelled some appearances because of threatened protests.
If you want to understand why some blacks are upset about this cookbook and blog, read Bryant Terry’s essay. He also writes about vegan food, without cursing.
I might sound like I am defending these authors. That is not my intent. For me, the more interesting discussion is about being white and not always aware of how white privilege affects people of color. Read the links and see. You might also like this video by Michael Twitty on culinary justice.
What are your thoughts? Are you a fan of the blog? Have you seen the cookbook?
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[Addendum: I deleted a sentence that was insensitive. Some of the comments address it.]