Who Wants a Sausage Taco?

July 28, 2022

Videos satirize the "exoticization" of cultural food.

One of the things I’ve always loved most about America is the melting-pot model – the way we have traditionally welcomed immigrants (or once did) and made them part of our country. Food is a big part of that, as once-exotic ingredients and dishes become part of the mainstream American diet.

Of course, many of those dishes get tweaked to American tastes, which is why much of American “Chinese food” would get funny looks in China. That’s a natural evolution, but there’s a downside to it. I’m not talking about the loss of authenticity, which is bad enough but can at least be mitigated by those savvy enough to seek out authentic restaurants, recipes, etc.

No, I’m referring to the “exoticization” of ethnic food, along with the places and people where it is served. The attitude that foreign foods are cute, funny, quirky – a source of curiosity. It’s unfortunately easy for that approach to slip into condescension, especially when it centers on food that is actually quite familiar and common in its region of origin. It’s like someone telling us that hamburgers and hot dogs are exotic.

Well, now someone did.

A Latina woman named Daniela Rabalais has made a series of TikTok videos spoofing online influencers who swoon over “exotic” foreign foods. Titled “If BIPOC [Blacks, indigenous and people of color] appropriated/gentrified foods like yt [YouTube] influencers do to cultural foods,” they consist of her feigning delight at things like “sausage tacos.” “First you take these really cute, fluffy tortillas,” she says, holding up a hot dog bun. “You open them up...they kind of do that for you...”

You get the idea. She ends with: “Make sure y’all blow this up so it gets super popular and it starts showing up in our stores, and that way we can pay $25 [holding up a hot dog] for one of these.” In another video, she takes on hamburgers, which she calls “tortas with carne molida,” noting that “they come with these cute little sesame seeds on their bolillas” and she likes it with “the American salsa de tomate – I think they call it ‘ketchup.’”

Rabalais’ videos have gone viral for the same reason most stuff does on the internet: They struck a nerve. "Please do more of these. It's fully meant to be a series. It proves such an important point in such a great way," said one comment quoted in Newsweek.

That point, as I see it, is that it’s wrong to assume you’re automatically honoring another culture just because you use its symbols, stereotypes, or foods. On the contrary, treating them as exotic and amusing is just another way of trivializing them.

We’re in the midst of a long, painful lesson about how that applies to sports teams that use Indian mascots. I hope it won’t take us that long to learn it about food.

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