Jerk Seasoning: Who’s Culturally Appropriating Who?

I’ve followed and documented claims of “cultural appropriation” for some time. While some dismiss this idea as no more than a fad, I see it as a segregationist and nationalist ideology, and fundamentally racist, as well as historically illiterate. Accusations of cultural appropriation are also a potent form of censorship: attacking people for their hairstyle or clothing choices may seem trivial, but provide a cover for racist bullies to attack other people on spurious grounds.

If this was simply about a few silly students revelling in their self-appointed “oppression”, we could laugh and ignore it. But this attempt to segregate cultures along racial lines, and to rewrite history, has nasty historical precedents – South African Apartheid being one of the more unpleasant and recent ones.

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The latest cultural appropriation nonsense comes from complaints that the chef Jamie Oliver has “appropriated” Jamaican culture via his “jerk rice” product. Of course, we can argue about whether jerk rice is a good idea, and we can argue again about whether Oliver’s jerk rice is any good or not. But the fact that a Labour MP (and shadow Minister) Dawn Butler, decided to use the product as an excuse for race-baiting, is serious.

Identity politics, once the preserve of the fascist-right, has been well and truly appropriated by the left, and by the Labour Party in particular. As the Labour Party has lost touch with its working class roots, it has increasingly lost interest in the problems faced by the poor, and instead focused ever more on the supposed “oppression” of women, LGBTQIA+ (yeah I know), and “BAME” people (BAME being the modern way of saying “coloured” – basically a rebirth of the old racial supremacist belief that humans should be divided into two groups: whites and everybody else).

Butler is race-baiting because it plays well to the mostly white Labour hierarchy. As Labour’s core base becomes whiter, so the Labour leadership pushes non-white people into more senior positions to mask the party’s ongoing lightening process. So Butler’s apparently pointless intervention is actually a good career move on her part.

But let’s analyse the accusation itself, because like all accusations of cultural appropriation, it falls apart when examined up close. All culture in this global age is appropriated. All of it. First, the word “jerk” itself appears to have native American and Spanish lineage, according to Wikipedia:

“The word jerk is said to come from charqui, a Spanish term of Quechua origin for jerked or dried meat, which eventually became the word jerky in English”

But what of the food itself? I love Jamaican food, and happen to live in an area with an abundant choice of this wonderful stuff. So let’s say I’m feeling hungry, and order some jerk chicken, rice and peas, curry goat, ackee and saltfish, sweetcorn and a chicken patty. Jamaican food, like Jamaican music, is a wonderful example of globalised culture. Take out the “foreign” influences, and there’s not much left.

Key ingredients in jerk seasoning include garlic (origin: Asia), chilli (origin: Mexico) and thyme (origin: Mediterranean), all of which were brought to the Caribbean by globalisation.

Chickens originate in South-East Asia.

Long grain rice originates in Asia.

Kidney beans (the “peas” in rice and peas) originate in South America.

Goats originate in Europe/Asia.

Curry powder? Its key ingredients include cardamom (origin: India) and cumin (origin: Mediterranean).

Ackee originates in West Africa.

Saltfish was probably invented by European seafarers.

Sweetcorn originates in America.

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And patty? This is of course the Jamaican version of a European (possibly Portuguese) dish known as a pastel (Portuguese) or pasty (English).

All culture is appropriated from elsewhere. History is full of attempts to prevent racial groups from mixing, most notably in South Africa pre-1994, and in pre-civil rights Deep South. Ten years ago, I would never have believed that racial segregation of culture would be, yet again, on the political menu. But here it is, being pushed by a Labour shadow minister. On one hand, it’s comforting that this pathetic example is the worst example of racism that Butler can find to complain about. On the other, it’s tragic to watch the left become ever more racist.

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