White people I tell you…
For over a year, the anonymous authors behind the blog Thug Kitchen entertained their audience with a mixture of healthy recipes and profane ejaculations with a borderline cringey “thug” affectation. Reddit loves it. Gwyneth Paltrow thinks it’s hilarious and good. Now, the faces behind Thug Kitchen have been revealed: and they’re a couple of white people in California.”
Oh and they’re not some tattooed, rustic-looking white folks like Kreayshawn, Eminem or Paul Wall and ’em, but really white people. The ones who live in Hollywood and look like they drive a Prius or a Honda Fit. As originally reported by Epicurious, the “thug” in the site is actually Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway.
Neither were food world insiders: “I come from the world of Mountain Dew and frozen pizza,” explains Holloway. Holloway most recently worked as an assistant at an LA production company (“I got really good at knowing the timing patterns for street lights across town”) and Davis worked as cashier at a well-known health-food grocery store for eight years.
But while working on the floor at the grocery store, Davis came into contact with many private chefs in the LA community and began to help prep for private events and pop-ups. While Holloway considered himself an amateur photographer, he had zero food photography experience prior to Thug Kitchen. Davis showed Holloway a slew of popular food blogs and websites and the pair felt that the food itself and the fun in cooking took a backseat on many of them.
“There were these paragraphs where the writer would wax poetic about recipes,” says Holloway. “The lifestyle, the food–we couldn’t identify with anything that was out there.” So Thug Kitchen would operate under this premise: What if somebody had a healthy food site that would yell at people to eat a goddamn salad?”
And what if we carry out this “yelling” without putting our faces out there? Cool, huh? Totally, right? Hi-five to you…
Really and truly, I am not even a little bit surprised. And in fact, I will proudly claim the obnoxious title of saying publicly to folks in my social network, “I told you so!” And it wasn’t the “unusual” recipes like Springtime Asparagus Risotto that made me think the people behind the site were anything but thugs – hey, as someone born and bred in several ‘hoods, I can say definitely that all of that sounds delicious. It was literally because not once had the authors of these mostly hilarious (but quickly annoying) recipes ever said who they were. And it always made me wonder, well why not?
For those who haven’t visited the website or seen one its popular memes floating around Tumblr or Facebook, Thug Kitchen likes to use vernacular and other linguistic attributes usually associated with black guys from urban areas, and mainstream commercial rap culture, to comically entice visitors into healthier, meatless lifestyles.
Unlike the thug culture we are accustomed to reading and hearing about, there are no guns or drugs references here. There are also no mentions of crack vials, face-tattoos, or two and a half strikes. Instead, the only things these “thugs” are aggressively pushing through these mean streets are Breakfast Tamale Pie, which they describe in such colorful terms as the following: “Brunch Your A** Off. This savory stack of protein and fiber will keep you feeling full as f**k until dinnertime. Now pass me a motherf**king mimosa. I ain’t doing sh*t today.”
As to why the thugs chose to stay anonymous, here’s why:
And they wouldn’t feature themselves or even put their names anywhere on the site. “You see a hundred photos of this person before you even get to a goddamn recipe,” says Holloway of many personal food sites. “Photos of their relationship, their family, and their farm–I f**king hate you, I’m not going to read your recipes now!”
“We started the site just for fun, to make each other laugh,” recalls Davis. Holloway could work on his photography and Michelle could hone her recipe developing skills.”
And to hopefully parlay it all into a book deal of course.
And that’s the rub here. More than the obvious appropriation – not just linguistically, but possibly when it comes to the recipes (such as the Hoppin’ John black eyed peas recipe). More than the ironic hipster racism, which likes to play up stereotypes to appear edgy and cool and tell others that black dialect is being used as literal spice to give these two flavor. And even more than the definite fact that if this blog and subsequent recipe book would have been authored in the genuine voice of someone with real roots in the ‘hood who really did talk like this in real life, folks would not support it (and trust me when I tell you, it irritates me when more affluent black folks do it too). In the paraphrased words of Comedian Paul Mooney: “Everybody wants to be Black, but no one wants to be Black.”
But I’m not even worried about any of that because I’m certain that in another two or three cookbooks, or however long it takes for the joke to tire itself out, the “thugs” will be back to writing in less colorful and more standard English proses about how fantastic and lovely veganism is in the California summers. And black folks will once again be left to bare the burden of it all.
What really sharpens my knives here is that once again, we have fallen for a dumb gimmick. Just like the 300 sandwiches lady pining for a “wedding ring” and an eventual book deal. Or the potato salad Kickstarter campaign, which raised thousands and I’m sure is being shopped around now to publishing houses. I am sick and tired of a culture where branding and marketing takes precedence over the value of the content. I mean, honestly, if it were not for these two “yelling” like black people, would people really visit the website for recipes? Hell, how many of you have actually made one of the thuggish recipes…?