If you’ve been reading news blogs or food politics blogs in the last few days, you’ve probably heard about Thug Kitchen, the vegan food blog that landed its once-anonymous writers a book deal, and now, some controversy. The problem with Thug Kitchen the book — subtitle: “Eat Like You Give a Fuck” — is not its heavy fire of curse words throughout or its well-intentioned vegan-gelicism, but, as some have argued, because its authors are white. Now, because they’re in the business of promoting signings and selling things, small bookstores have also been put into a position of defending their guest authors.
Some background: Last year, the then-anonymous authors told the Daily Beast that they were all about “[s]traight kitchen knowledge” and clean living. “We want people talking about healthy eating who aren’t usually invited to that conversation,” they said, explaining that they were seemingly all about marginalized eaters. After a crucial assist from Gwyneth Paltrow, the authors had a book deal with wellness-centric publisher Rodale, leading up to last month when it was revealed that Thug Kitchen is a white couple living in Hollywood. Nearly instantly, Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway, who have more than half a million Facebook fans, were criticized for their efforts; responses were mixed, but ranged from “that’s not cool” to “that’s appropriation” to “that’s racist.” “It’s deceptive and feels a lot like the latest iteration of nouveau blackface,” the Root wrote. “It goes without saying that ‘thug’ is a loaded word, which in our politically correct, post-racial society, has become the polite way to say ‘nigger’ in mixed company,” wrote VSB.
The controversy has also put bookstores that booked the authors for promotional appearances into a strange position. Yesterday, Gawker published an email from Powerhouse Arena’s Daniel Power ostensibly directed at someone who took issue with Thug Kitchen. In the message, the bookstore and venue’s chief executive prepped for the threat of boycott and protests by getting all etymological on the term thug, as well as dismissing the charges of appropriation for profit with a message about free speech.
So, even though I disagree with you, I do think you have a point, perhaps, and that it should be considered. Even debated. But never ever under simplistic, jihadist even, calls for banning, censorship, and boycotting. That is just plain stupid. If you want to call attention to a defect or an imagined slight, be more clever than the reason for your rising up. And by doing that you must be very specific, and cite your strongest case for not supporting the book, rather than trying convince stores to not stock it boycott establishments that support free speech and intellectual curiosity. And you won’t do it by trying to tie in most of society’s ills; asserting a clever book of parody of being a ringing endorsement of racism and police brutality is not going to convince the people you need to your side.
Come to the event tonight and voice your opinion, and try to convince others. You’ll be able to do that because it won’t be banned.
And here are some looks from the event:
Other bookstores are feeling the heat, too. Diesel, in Oakland, will also host the Thug Kitchen authors this week. Perhaps in an effort to preempt any problems, the shop posted this statement on its Facebook page:
Some of you may be aware of the recent controversy surrounding the Thug Kitchen blog and cookbook. The previously anonymous L.A. duo who created Thug Kitchen were booked for an event at our store well in advance of their surprise revelation, and believe us, we were surprised too. (Well, truth be told, some more than others.) In the wake of this, we’ve received via email & Facebook interesting comments and criticisms. (Some of the most relevant links include: (1) http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/blogs/editor/2014/09/thug-kitchen-author-real-names-revealed.html, http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2014/09/thug_kitchen_a_recipe_in_blackface.html, & http://jezebel.com/meet-the-white-people-behind-thug-kitchen-1640479775 – special thanks to Hunter Leight). While we intend to go ahead and host the event, we’re linking to the criticism to highlight the fact we’re not deaf to the arguments being made both for and against Thug Kitchen. There are definitely times and places for defiant stances to be made, but in this instance we think the occasion for dialogue is perhaps far more helpful.
DIESEL, A Bookstore believes in freedom of expression, and the authors of this cookbook have chosen their method of expression. Does the fact of their being white change their message? Is their language insultingly appropriated or just language many people use? Are you offended or do you think the humor is okay? We don’t have the final answer to these questions, though lately we’ve been talking about them with one another plenty. We invite you to come and have your say. We are your community bookstore, and we want you to be able to share your views. Perhaps what would have been a publication party has now changed to a conversation of a different sort. That’s up to you. What hasn’t changed is our willingness to connect authors and communities, to facilitate the dialogue between them, and to be a space that promotes free and healthy discussion. We trust & know from experience Oakland has plenty to say about all this.
So far, it seems as through Oakland doesn’t have much to say about this. But the book tour goes on for a few more weeks, and the controversy may continue to swirl. Cookbook stores, which also figure into the Thug Kitchen crew’s agenda, are not typically places where disagreements tend to extend beyond salting steaks and refrigerating tomatoes. If this continues, it’s a safe bet to assume more than a killer recipe for garbanzos will be on the line, however, and these shops will go into damage-control mode as well.