Saturday, June 3, 2017

Poutine and Cultural Appropriation

McDonald's Poutine?? A Pale Imitation!!
By now you've no doubt heard that there's been a complaint made by a Quebec academic that Canada has wrongfully claimed 'poutine' as part of its Canadian food culture to the detriment of the originators, the people of Quebec, the francophone population of Quebec. Link
This latest alt-Liberal nonsense crusade is another gratuitous pot-shot at white North American society for 'stealing' essential cultural elements from minorities and incorporating them into mainstream society.
The idea that blending good ideas, foods, concepts, music, fashion or culture from minorities into mainstream society is a bad thing, can spring only from the minds of the eternally done-me-wrong whingers.
It makes logical sense that you can't be for 'inclusion' if you are  against 'cultural appropriation'
"Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. Cultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is sometimes portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture."
And so our society is attacked by the holier-than-thous when white people wear dreadlocks or perform rap music to the detriment of the originating Black community.
But if cultural appropriation is unfair to the Blacks then it is unfair to the Italians when pizza is declared a national American dish.
So too then must there be a slight to the Jewish community for the mainstream use of Yiddish vernacular such as 'shlock,''yenteh,' 'putz,' or shmooze'. Don't forget the Irish who must certainly be outraged at the appropriation of their St. Patricks Day holiday by mainstream interlopers who celebrate alongside the real McCoys by wearing green, attending the parade and partying like...well, you know.
The latest joke about 'cultural appropriation' is that ISIS, is complaining that Kathy Griffith wrongfully stole their culture by holding up a mock severed head of Donald Trump. Haha! 

But I do support the crusade against cultural appropriation when a beautiful and perfect item like poutine is appropriated and bastardized by mainstream society. It is a little sad and distressing that something so simple and tasty has morphed into a fad product or worse still, a poorly copied pale imitation of the original.
Let's face it, poutine isn't gourmet food, nor was it ever meant to be. It is one of those dishes best eaten hung-over or depressed. While it isn't fancy, it is however tasty and fulfilling.
For most of us, eating poutine is one of life's guilty little pleasures. There are those who don't have to worry about the obscene amount of calories and grease that poutine provides, but in today's society of the decidedly overweight or otherwise health conscious, poutine is a dish best left as a very occasional treat.

For those of you from Mars, poutine is a simple dish of fresh cheese curds, fries and gravy, but as all great things, the devil is in the details and producing this simple dish is not quite so simple. The potatoes have to be blanched and aged overnight, before being deep-fried again before serving. The cheese curds have to be authentic to get that squeaky texture and traditional mild taste. The gravy has to be made from scratch and have exactly the right viscosity.
Any added ingredients or deviation is blasphemy.

And so it is that as poutine goes mainstream, across Canada and now into the United States, most restaurants can't or won't reproduce the fantastic original, because remaining faithful is either too difficult or time-consuming, with curd cheese perhaps too hard to source. Conversely there is a movement by upscale restaurants to make a 'gourmet'  version with fancy and expensive add-ons like foie gras,  meant only to goose up the price.  Nothing is more obscene than a US$12 poutine.

This is cultural appropriation at its worst.

A disgusting layer of pizza cheese+crab= dreck
How bad is it getting?
Well last night I watched a food channel show about carnival dishes from the States and lo and behold, of the five dishes presented, two were absolutely dreadful poutines. The first a Chesapeake Bay crab poutine from a Virginia fair, a recipe of melted pizza cheese with a crab topping sans brown gravy. The other poutine presented was an equally garish recipe that featured a 'pogo' hot dog.
In an annoying and insulting display of chutzpah, the host of the show warned viewers that Canada should watch out as America is coming after them in the preparation of poutine. Ughhhhhh!!
Even in Canada, poutine is being systematically debased, especially by the fast food chains who plop gravy and cheese on their completely inappropriate French fries. 
Every time poutine is presented on English language cooking shows, the chefs (and I use the term lightly) breathily advise us that this is their 'take' on poutine. Nobody, it seems outside Quebec can make the original and that is cultural appropriation at its worst.
Now I get it, poutine is a regional dish that for most North Americans isn't that tasty. Quebec fries are thick and soft, while North America is familiar with those thin crispy fries featured in McDonalds and other fast food restaurants.
But changing the essence of poutine and calling it by the same name is like advertising ice cream and serving customers frozen yogourt, telling them that this is their version.
Not kosher my friends, not kosher at all.

And by the way, since I am of the tribe,  I feel absolutely fine using the word 'kosher' and 'chutzpah.'


  1. Philip, perhaps poutine is Quebec's version of "stuff" on fries, but it's not as if "stuff" on fries didn't exist prior to poutine. I believe Coney Island fries went public before poutine did. Actually, I never saw the word until a year or so after I left Montreal back in 1984, and I didn't know what it was until it was explained to me. It was on a visit to Montreal where I saw it on a menu for the first time.

    It's not as if Quebec can sue America over some kind of copyright violation. Plenty of products take on a generic name. Elevator was a company that was famous for selling elevation devices (a.k.a., lifts in Britain). Now you have Otis Elevators, Thyssen Elevators, etc. Think of it as fries with "stuff" on them in general. The La Belle Province chaserai* chain in Quebec has an "Italian poutine", i.e., fries with cheese and pasta sauce, so bastardized and varied versions of the original are nothing new.

    The smoked meat we know and love in Montreal in other parts of Quebec is not smattered with mustard on rye bread, but with (gaaaaag meeeeee) mayo and white bread. Sacrilege! In Attleboro, Mass. there is a place called Morin's Hometown Bar & Grille and one of their signature dishes is a "French meat pie". It's supposed to be a tortière as Mr. Morin's ascendant (grandfather or great grandfather) came to the state. It's nothing like le vrai tortière, and it's called FRENCH, not French Canadian or Quebec Meat Pie. Go to Diners, Drive-ins and Dives for more information. The segment is on YouTube.

    The the show host of Carnival Eats gave kudos to the American versions of the fries was perhaps an insult to Quebec, I don't think it's worth getting up in arms over.

    The food networks have encouraged average people to get more engaged in cooking, to the point where kids are cooking and competing. I think that's a good thing.

    Poutine with crab and cheese? Live and let live! Focus on sugar pie and chow chow!

    Mr. Sauga

    1. Addendum: "Chaserai" is a Yiddish word meaning junk food, or more literally, feed for pigs.

  2. We as Canadians should, collectively, rebrand Poutine as Frties Quebecois / Quebec Fries. That's the only way to protect the essence of what a Poutine really is or else the Americans will bastardize the dish with abhorrent regional variants. One thing about Americans that I learned long ago is that they love putting their stamp on foods from other countries.

  3. Black men and women get to endure taunts and insults about their hair. They lose jobs over dreadlocks, braids, and cornrows. They face additional police attention, and get suspended and otherwise punished at school for their hair. White people with cornrows get praised for their edginess and their sense of fashion and face none of the same consequences.

    Black rappers get vilified for cussing and thuggery - but white rappers who do the same get a pass. Nicki Minaj and Rihanna get criticised for not being role models, for being overtly sexual - but Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Miley get a pass.

    So no, it's not a simplistic as "The idea that blending good ideas, foods, concepts, music, fashion or culture from minorities into mainstream society is a bad thing". The bad thing is that too often, "mainstream society" (whatever that means) only finds these ideas, concepts of value when they come from white sources.

    1. "Nicki Minaj and Rihanna get criticised for not being role models, for being overtly sexual - but Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Miley get a pass."

      Have to disagree a bit here. When was the last time Katy Perry or Taylor Swift put the word 'fuck' in their song?

  4. Poutine Looks Like Vomit....
    I have never eaten it... and Never Will!!!

    1. You don't have to.

      Personnaly, I haven't eaten poutine until I was something like 16, I just found the name too ridiculous. But anyways, I tasted the thing and it tastes better than it looks.

  5. I think of two staples of not only Canadian and U.S. cuisine but Asian, African, and European cuisine: tomatoes and potatoes, both of which came from the Americas and weren't introduced to other places until the European "invasion."