© 2023 Blaze Media LLC. All rights reserved.
We must stop calling food 'exotic' since word is rooted in white dominance, colonialism — and 'reinforces xenophobia and racism,' food writer says
Breakfast at the Tanjong Jara Resort in Dungun on peninsular Malaysia's east coast. (Photo by Leisa Tyler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

We must stop calling food 'exotic' since word is rooted in white dominance, colonialism — and 'reinforces xenophobia and racism,' food writer says

Now hear this: Y'all need to stop using the word "exotic" to describe food.

That's what G. Daniela Galarza, a staff writer for the Washington Post's Food section, wrote in her Perspective piece Wednesday.

What are the details?

Essentially Galarza argues that the word "exotic" is historically rooted in white dominance and colonialism, and we need to put its use out to pasture once and for all.

"The first problem with the word is that, probably within the past two decades, it has lost its essential meaning," she wrote. "The second, more crucial problem is that its use, particularly as applied to food, indirectly lengthens the metaphysical distance between one group of humans and another, and, in so doing, reinforces xenophobia and racism."

She also noted an observation from Chandra D. L. Waring, professor of sociology at University of Massachusetts Lowell: "I have never heard the word exotic used in reference to something that is White. You know that exotic means 'other' or 'different' from a dominant-White perspective because no one ever says, 'I'm going to go on an exotic vacation, I'm going to Lowell, Mass.' No one ever says, 'Let's go to that exotic new restaurant, let's go to McDonald's.'"

More from Galarza's piece:

Like ethnic and alien, the word exotic was invented to describe something foreign. It comes from the Greek prefix, "exo," or "outside." It used to mean something "alien" or "foreign," and though this is an archaic definition, it's part of the word's legacy. According to Merriam-Webster, in reference to food, its modern-day usage may describe something "introduced from another country," "not native" or something"strikingly, excitingly, or mysteriously different." The problem is that it's a definition that changes based on the user's perspective.

Today, only a few things are still consistently described as exotic including: animals; places (see: exotic vacations); cars; women; and, of course, food.

Hearing something described as exotic conjures a few specific images: An explorer peeking through a dense jungle with binoculars, peering curiously at the people or flora or fauna in a clearing. Hunters in pursuit of wild game or hides. The facial expression of a television host tasting a certain food for the first time.

"It's completely tied to the history of colonialism and slavery," Serena J. Rivera, assistant professor of Portuguese and Spanish at the University of Pittsburgh, noted to Galarza. "If you are exotic, if you're automatically an 'other,' you're not one of us."

Rivera also told her that "calling a food exotic puts the onus of the puzzle on the people who make the food to define it, to rationalize, explain, or whitewash it until it's palatable to the dominant culture."

More from Galarza's piece:

Last year, one of the oldest recipe sites on the Internet, Epicurious, which was founded in 1995 as a companion to Gourmet and Bon Appétit magazines, announced an ambitious undertaking: Its editorial team would comb through the site's extensive archives to edit or "repair" recipes that had been "put through a white American lens."

"One of the first issues 'repaired' was use of the word 'exotic,'" David Tamarkin, who was then digital director for Epicurious, told the AP last year.

"I can't think of any situation where that word would be appropriate, and yet it's all over the site," Tamarkin said. "That's painful for me and I'm sure others."

As TheBlaze noted last week, a law professor who studies "food whiteness" and "food privileges" said French food is racist and that the country's eating habits reinforce the "dominance" of white people over ethnic minorities.

In a similar vein, Galarza wrote in her piece that "French cuisine is perhaps the most well-documented in the world, with its techniques and dishes taught globally as if they were a universal language. The adoption of French words such as 'cuisine' and 'julienne' reinforce its dominance. And, since the late 1800s, its influence has been systematized in American culinary school, as Korsha Wilson reported for Eater. The French also have a persistent fascination with the exotic: Paul Gauguin's paintings of Tahitian life, books like 'Madame Chrysanthème' by Pierre Loti, lists of 'exotic' Parisian restaurants — through the prism of French cuisine's dominance, it's no wonder that we still exoticize food, particularly food from places the French colonized, including areas of Africa and Asia."

'It's about reframing your worldview'

Galarza said in some case using words such as "rare" or "difficult to find" might be better than "exotic" in regard to describing certain foods. In the end, she wrote, "it's about reframing your worldview."

You can read Galarza's entire piece here.

Want to leave a tip?

We answer to you. Help keep our content free of advertisers and big tech censorship by leaving a tip today.
Want to join the conversation?
Already a subscriber?