The catch-22 facing a burrito shop in Portland

As the New York Post recently reported, a burrito shop in Portland, Oregon, was forced to close after being accused of cultural appropriation. Kooks Burritos, owned by Kali Wilgus and Liz “LC” Connelly, shuttered only a week after being featured in the local publication Willamette Week.

This article in the Portland Mercury gives some cause for concern, and if nothing else, highlights exactly why the phrase “intellecual property” should be avoided. Quoting the Mercury article:

So let’s recap the story thus far: These two white women went to Mexico, ate tacos, and then decided they would just take what the locals clearly didn’t want to give them. If that wasn’t bad enough, they decided to pack up all their stolen intellectual property and repackage it in one of the few places where such a business could plausibly work: Portland, Oregon.

One of the Facebook posts quoted in the New York Post article says it a bit differently:

How many of the people grumbling about these tortilla ladies just had lunch at Chipotle? When salsa outsells ketchup and Taco Bell serves two billion customers a year, policing imperialism by a couple of millennial taco stand owners seems to miss the point.

Ironically, the Portland women didn’t even learn the secret of their flakey flour tortillas from the Mexican women they met on vacation, who were understandably protective of their methods. One of the Portland women reverse-engineered her own tortilla recipe in her spare time.

The recipe is just as important as the method, and in fact, given the similarity to making pizza dough, could eventually have been stumbled across as well.

If we’re going to start shutting down restaurants in the name of cultural appropriation, there’s not going to be much left. Even so-called “American” cuisine has been inspired heavily from other cultures. Pizza was a meat-free dish as origially conceived and made by Italians; it’s no big surprise some hate us Americans because the first thing most of us do to pizza is put pepperoni on it.

Where the hell do we draw the line? Does Mexican food have to be watered down and screwed up to the point of Taco Bell to be acceptable? (For the record, I consider Taco Bell its own thing, I don’t call it Mexican food. The exception is I do tag Taco Bell locations as cuisine=mexican on OpenStreetMap, only because that’s the community-accepted norm, and the name tells the rest of the story.) Do the likes of Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and Little Caesar’s get a free pass or are they just as guilty of cultural appropriation of pizza as Kooks Burritos? How about Chipotle and Taco Cabana?

It’s not like Americans are the only ones to “borrow” food preparation techniques from other cultures. There’s a Greek style of pizza as well. The sandwich is British in origin, though you’d be hard-pressed to believe that given the prevalence of Subway, Quizno’s, and Blimpie throughout the US. Even the Wikipedia page linked previously shows the French “appropriating” the British sandwich (and sandwiches were a rather large section of the menu when I dined at La Madeline, a nominally French cuisine restaurant here in the US).

What it comes down to is something I was introduced to during a conversation on IRC called “identity politics”. I’m not the only one to find it absurd that activists would want a burrito shop closed down simply because it’s run by white women. Now, full disclosure here, I look just Latino enough that I probably wouldn’t get the outrage Kali and Liz did, at least until they realized my last name was anything but Hispanic. (It’s odd because I sure as hell don’t look Irish, either.) I have made no secret of the fact I identify as white/Caucasian. However, this isn’t about race or national origin to me. It’s a simple question of right and wrong. Note also that on Reddit, the Mexico subreddit takes much the same stance that I do, based on what I could gather from automatic transations.

Also, as you may have guessed from many of my previous entries, I lean left (liberal) and I realize the protest movement which shut down Kooks Burritos is also a left-wing establishment. This is one case where I believe that the left wing gets it wrong, and dare I say it, forcing a small business like Kooks Burritos to shut down is un-American (at least, according to the American values I was taught). The fact they are not railing against the likes of Chipotle and Taco Bell in the same breath speaks volumes to this effect.

I could see cause for legitimate outrage if Kali and Liz had set up shop in Mexico, just down the road where they had been thusly “inspired” by the local cuisine. I do think what they did blurs the moral and ethical lines a bit, but at the same time I’m not sure just what the alternative was for these women. Are the people who publicly expressed the outrage leading to the Kooks Burritos shutdown really expecting Kali and Liz to say something like “forget it, we’ll just make hamburgers”? (I’d say hot dogs, but I’m not sure if the same protest movement is going to require one to be of sufficient German origin. That, even though the hot dog as we serve it in the US has taken on its own uniquely American character. Whether or not the restaurants in the US have pulled a “Taco Bell” with the original German frankfurter is a matter for debate, I guess.)

I hope the women behind Kooks Burritos have a change of heart by the time I visit Portland, though I admit that appears unlikely right now. It’s really a shame I will probably never get to taste for myself and really get to the bottom of this.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a Chipotle bowl calling my name…

Teaching the wrong lessons with a week’s detention for candy swapping

The zero-tolerance policies in schools are apparently expanding in scope, and not surprisingly, living up to my preferred dysphemism for them: zero-intelligence policies. This example may be just what you need if you’re looking for a great excuse to home-school your kid(s). (I know it seems like I’m on a run of school board and school administration disciplinary blunders. I may have one more like this, and then I’ll switch to something else.)

As reported on and KHOU-TV, a third grader recently received a week of detention for the most innocuous of acts: accepting a piece of candy (specifically, a Jolly Rancher) from a fellow student. Leighann Adair, 10, thus becomes what I believe to be a victim of one of the more egregious dimbulb school administration blunders.

By the time I hit the “publish” button on this story, this ludicrously stiff penalty for what is in all honesty, a rather benign act, will be over and done. But there’s nothing to indicate this won’t happen again. Knowing the school systems in this area, it probably will happen again.

From the KHOU story:

The girl’s mother said the incident has taught her daughter a lesson, but not the one her teachers intended.

“I told her, ‘Leighann, unfortunately you’re learning very young that life’s not fair,’” [Leighann’s mother Amber] Brazda said.

And from elsewhere in the story:

Jack Ellis, the superintendent for Brazos Independent School District, declined an on-camera interview. But he said the school was abiding by a state guideline that banned “minimal nutrition” foods.

“Whether or not I agree with the guidelines, we have to follow the rules,” he said.

The state, however, gives each school discretion over how to enforce the policy. Ellis said school officials had decided a stricter punishment was necessary after lesser penalties failed to serve as a deterrent.

Ellis said failing to adhere to the state’s guidelines could put federal funding in jeopardy.

I seriously doubt that the Federal government would yank a school’s funding over students sharing candy with each other. And if they do, we have much more serious problems with the portion of our government that oversees education.

Either way, this is a policy that quite literally reaches way too far.

Let’s compare the lesson the school is trying to teach Leighann with what she will actually learn walking away from the experience. Having been out of third grade for nearly a quarter-century, it’s a bit difficult for me to take my mind all the way back to the ripe young age of 10. But I’ll do my best.

The school’s lesson to Leighann and the rest of the students is “don’t eat candy at all, it’s bad for you.” While an admirable lesson on its face, it’s not entirely true for as long as it is eaten in moderation, candy won’t have nearly the detrimental effects on a preteen body as the school would like their students to believe.

The actual learned lesson of Leighann and her fellow students? If only “life’s not fair” was the only possible learned lesson here. It instead might be “our schools (and our governments) make arbitrary rules and enforce them in dubious and unfair ways.” I bet the social studies teachers in middle school will love having to undo that one. How about “sharing candy is bad” which may even turn into “sharing is bad.” Why bother teaching sharing is good in kindergarten, then? Or even “this shows the teachers and principals lack common sense and are unfit to teach us.” Zero-intelligence policies, indeed. And we wonder why we have high dropout rates? Why our kids dread going to school? Why our school system has the questionable reputation it does?

It may seem strange, but Leighann and I have one thing in common right now: we’re both glad summer is right around the corner, because it means we all get a three-month reprieve from this kind of low-IQ nonsense.