By Letter to the Editor on December 17, 2020.
Ginger beef was concocted in Alberta; it was not originally Chinese. Chop suey is American food in Chinese style. We are lucky that we live in the 21st century when we enjoy many things from other cultures like those foods.
I am happy also we are free to adapt them to suit our taste. There are many examples:
Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden in Lethbridge is called a “Canadian garden in Japanese style.” All trees are Canadian that look like Japanese. Many native Japanese plants do not survive Canadian winter.
Poutine was food for working-class Quebeckers. The original ingredients are just fries, cheese curd and gravy. It is only recently it began to appear with many add-ons like chicken bits. Ramen has the same story. It was cheap street food for students, only Chinese noodles in pork broth. California roll is not Japanese. It’s American sushi. Pineapple bits on pizza? Italians would look at it with horror.
I was once surprised by the quality of rice cooked for sushi which was prepared by a couple of well-known otherwise first-class kitchens in town. Fussy Japanese sushi gourmands would be dismayed. Well, let them. Many people didn’t mind and loved it. It’s OK so long as people like it and are willing to pay for it. It’s Japanese-style Canadian sushi.
However, we have to watch out for appropriation or misappropriation of cultural and traditional practices and sacred symbols. I attended a wedding in Yokohama celebrated at a commercial wedding chapel. The building was a cheap imitation of a Baroque period European church. Attendants, females included, dressed like Franciscan monks. Japanese young people think Christian weddings are cool, though most of them are not Christians. I was dismayed by the blatant appropriation.
The worst was the crucified Santa Claus hung in department stores in Tokyo. It was a response to the criticism of absent religion during unabashed Christmas sales. Appropriation of Indigenous culture is just as grotesque: it’s cultural thievery and desecration of the sacred.
We celebrate many cultures today that had until recently been strange to us. Culture and language define our identity. We deny culture, we deny people’s existence. We nearly succeeded in destroying the people who accepted us to the land we now live on. Treat culture and tradition with respect. They define what we are.
Tadashi (Tad) Mitsui