Digging into the Racial Politics of ‘Ugly Delicious’

A screen capture from "Ugly Delicious". (Photo credit: Netflix/Ugly Delicious)

By Guest Contributor: Rachel Kuo

The popular reception of David Chang’s Netflix series Ugly Delicious – which seeks to open conversations about food, culture, identity, and politics – demands investigation into how the show actually engages these questions. Beyond troubling concepts like ‘authenticity’, what does Ugly Delicious offer and where might it fall short?

Ugly Delicious has received positive reviews from popular food sites like Eater, while publications like the New Yorker, New York Times, the Boston Globe, Vulture, and Indiewire specifically laud the show’s ability to tackle the cultural politics of food and engage difficult questions about race, class, and power in food culture. Chang himself states that the show uses food as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to talk about broader social topics as well as to represent histories and tell cultural stories about food.

Through Ugly Delicious, Chang is able to talk about the “elephant in the room: racism” (Episode 7: Fried Rice). By leveraging his elite status in the culinary world, his success in building restaurants that ‘mix’ and ‘borrow’ from different cuisines, and his ability to expertly navigate his Korean American identity, Chang is able to engage in debates about culinary appropriation in mainstream media where other people of color who have written bout food and race have been met with criticism, backlash, anger, and trolling.

Ugly Delicious offers introductory conversations around the racial and cultural politics of food. For example, in ‘Fried Rice‘, ‘Tacos‘, and ‘Fried Chicken‘ episodes, the show establishes that in order to talk about food, taste, and authenticity, one must engage the ways in which structural racism decides whose food gets valued and why. What do we do with food when white supremacists want their Del Taco while seeking to deport Mexican immigrants, too? Chang contends with his conflicted emotions about the popularization of Korean food, evoking Ruth Tam’s writing on the frustration of being shamed for one’s food when white people make it trendy.

Despite provoking these nuanced ideas around race and food, Ugly Delicious also reproduces harmful cultural logics and narratives, such as the overemphasis on representational visibility as viable markers for social progress; the exacerbation of problematic racial dynamics around white self-identified cultural experts; and, the erasure of colonialism, militarism, and war when stating that certain food cultures have ‘always’ had global influence.

Given that the show intends to open up conversations about social issues through food, my hope is that it can spark further discussions about the intersections of food, race, power, and capital.

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Masculinity vs. “Misogylinity”: what Asian Americans can learn from #UCSB shooting | #YesAllWomen

The wreckage of Elliot Rodger's black BMW sedan after his deadly shooting rampage Friday evening. (Photo credit: Jae C. Hong / AP)
The wreckage of Elliot Rodger’s black BMW coupe after his deadly shooting rampage Friday evening. (Photo credit: Jae C. Hong / AP)

On Friday evening in the residential neighbourhood of Isla Vista in Santa Barbara, California, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger stabbed his three young Asian American housemates – George Chen, 19 , Weihan “David” Wang, 20, and Chen Yuan “James” Hong, 20 – to death while they slept. Rodger then drove his luxury BMW coupe to the Alpha Phi sorority where he opened fire with two legally purchased handguns on three female passersby; two – Katherine Cooper, 22 and Veronica Weiss, 19 – were killed, while a third is recovering in hospital. Rodger proceeded to the nearby I.V. Deli Mart and fired randomly into the store, killing Christopher Michael-Martinez, 20. He then drove through the streets of Isla Vista, shooting randomly at pedestrians and striking two cyclists with his car; by the end of the night, he had wounded 13. A brief firefight ensued between him and sheriff deputies, which ended when Rodger crashed his car into another vehicle. Rodger was found dead in the drivers’ seat of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

By Saturday, several YouTube videos created by Rodger – including one uploaded just hours before the attack that appeared to offer a motive for the deadly shooting – were discovered, along with a 140-page autobiography-turned-hate-fueled-manifesto. These items, along with Rodger’s frequent posts on BodyBuilding.com and PUAHate.com forum boards paint a disturbing – and disturbingly detailed – portrait of a narcissistic, mentally disturbed, lonely, woman-hating man-child so deeply twisted by American racism, classism, and sexism that he found a way to rationalize mass murder. Sparked by an abundance of macabre primary source material, over two hundred thousand news articles and think-pieces have now been written about Rodger (according to Google’s latest count) and the feminist hashtag #YesAllWomen – initiated in response to Rodger’s documented misogynistic motives – remains one of the top 5 trending topics on Twitter.

I have over the last four days stayed silent on the UCSB shooting as I tried to parse my own thoughts on Friday’s violent attack. I watched some of the YouTube videos and read Rodger’s manifesto.

In the end, I couldn’t shake the same chilling reaction I felt when I first read about Friday night’s violence: I had seen Elliot Rodger’s brand of radical hatred before. I had seen it within the comments section of my own site for a decade. I had seen it from members of my own community.

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The Mythical “Maybe-No”: Our Twisted Definitions of Rape | #SAAM #DavidChoe #GameofThrones

When we excuse rape because it doesn't look like what we think rape looks like.
When we excuse rape because it doesn’t look like what we think rape looks like.

It’s poignant that on the start of this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), I wrote a post about the unseen sexual violence in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community; and, as SAAM draws to a close this year, I find myself compelled to write this post about our culture’s twisted ideas about rape and rapists, and how it obscures and excuses high rates of sexual violence within our community by masking our understanding of what rape is.

Nearly two weeks ago, I wrote about Korean American graffiti artist David Choe, who in a March 10th episode of his raunchy podcast DVDASA confessed to an incident that sounded very much like rape. That post quickly became my site’s most popular post to-date and received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback through Twitter and Facebook, as men and women of all races and ethnicities weighed in with their own condemnation of Choe and his self-professed coercion of a sexual act.

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Did Korean American graffiti artist David Choe confess to rape on podcast?

Artist David Choe along with some of his work. Photo credit: NY Times
Artist David Choe along with some of his work. Photo credit: NY Times

Artist David Choe is a local Los Angeles-area celebrity, who made his name as the artist who painted a mural for the small office of a little-known start-up called Facebook and who was paid by the man who hired him (Mark Zuckberg) in company stock; when the company went public in 2012, Choe became instantly independently wealthy with an estimated net worth of over $200 million dollars. Choe, who has collaborated frequently with Asian American magazine Giant Robot, also painted a portrait of newly-elected President Barack Obama that was chosen to hang in the White House.

Beyond his artwork, Choe also has aspirations of being a celebrity personality (i.e. “a person famous for being famous”): between 2007-2010, Choe co-hosted a web series called “Thumbs Up!” which followed his adventures hitchhiking across the country, and currently Choe co-hosts a podcast (available in both audio and video) called DVDASA with porn star Asa Akira, which is basically a poor man’s Asian American version of the Howard Stern Show.

It is on DVDASA that Choe has recently stirred new trouble. A writer on XOJane wrote earlier this week that in a March 10th podcast, Choe recounted his latest “sexual conquest”; but one that sounds disturbingly close to rape.

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