If you’ve been on Facebook at all in the past few weeks, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen a video by Kalen Allen, who has created an addicting video series called “Kalen Reacts.” Allen watches food preparation videos and reacts to what is being made, how it’s being prepared, and the sanity levels of the people making the food.
The videos are spreading like wildfire. They’re absolutely hilarious, but in his commentary, Kalen Allen is making a bigger point. Many of these foods are dishes that have been seen as culturally black in the past, but these food videos are white-washing and appropriating their culinary legacy. So, it begs the question: “can you really gentrify cornbread?”
The short answer is yes, you absolutely can.
In the first Kalen Reacts video I came across, Kalen watches a Tasty video showing four ways to make cornbread. Yes, I know that cornbread is really a southern thing, but since many black people in America have southern roots, we’ve kinda made cornbread our thing, okay? When black people make cornbread, it’s just cornbread. If you make it right, all it needs is some butter (honey butter if you’re feeling bougie.) Most of us make it from Jiffy mix, which comes in a blue and white box. It’s cheap, and delicious.
Look, I can appreciate the chefs at Tasty wanting to expand people’s culinary limitations, but stick to four ways to make chicken, okay? Don’t mess with cornbread. And for the love of all that which is holy, don’t put fucking whole kernel canned corn in your batter. It looks like puke.
No one has ever looked at cornbread and said to themselves, “you know what would make this better? Adding cotija cheese and cilantro!” (Tasty made a “street corn” cornbread, managing to appropriate two cultures in one dish.) Allen said “I rebuke this in the name of Jesus.”
Me too, Kalen. And when he asked, “How do you gentrify corn bread?”, I thought of all the other gentrified foods I’ve seen over the last ten years or so.
Can we talk about kale? Black people have been eating kale forever. And then white people got hip to it (I guess spinach wasn’t enough anymore?) and that was it. Kale was freaking everywhere. I will admit, I’ve never liked the stuff. I remember my mom buying kale and collard greens, and cooking them down in a big pot with a smoked turkey leg and a ton of vinegar and seasonings.
Black people greens just don’t do it for me, so I thought maybe eating kale like white people would make me have some sort of epiphany about what I had been missing for all these years. I lived in Los Angeles, and kale was all the rage. And then all of a sudden, I realized people were drinking green juice (ew) and making kale smoothies (ewwwww.)
Like, when black people were eating kale no one cared. But white people made kale a freaking event. And then I had to listen to all my black people complain about the price of kale going up because suddenly it was the hipster green. But the real question is, why do you people have to do weird shit like drink your greens? Have you ever had green juice? It’s like drinking a fucking salad. If you wanted a salad, just EAT A FUCKING SALAD. Don’t try to trick me with juice that looks and tastes like sewage. Hard pass.
Also, let’s talk about making everything into a freakin’ rainbow. I mean, I love color as much as the next girl, but I’m giving this rainbow food thing a real side eye. Rainbow salads, rainbow breakfast acai bowls (don’t even get me started on those damn acai bowls), rainbow spring rolls, rainbow bagels, rainbow sushi. Just stop. I get it, make your meals visually interesting, make sure you’re getting your suggested fruit and veggie servings, but enough is enough. Y’all officially crossed the line when I saw a food truck that created rainbow elote (Mexican street corn.) Why? Why did the white folks who run this food truck decide that Mexican street corn needed to be made more colorful and festive? Spoiler alert: it didn’t.
That leads me to my final, and most important food. Macaroni and cheese. I don’t care what you say, baked mac and cheese is as black as you can get. And you can fight me all you want. That’s our shit. Y’all can take ownership of that boxed mess with the powder.
It’s bad enough that you all think it’s okay to put some sort of bread type crust on your mac and cheese. I didn’t even know this was a thing until I was around 12 years old and I was taking a cooking class at school. We made baked macaroni and cheese and my teacher gave us bread crumbs to put on top. I looked at her like “what kind of ridiculousness is happening right now?” If you need a crust, you add more shredded cheese! Yes, shredded cheese, none of these chunky gobs of cheese tossed in with macaroni. Stop.
I’ve even seen cornbread crumbs or Ritz crackers as a topping. Absolutely not. Put down the pan, and step away, Susan. I’m staging an intervention.
Nothing needs to be added to mac and cheese but macaroni and cheese. Not bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, or bacon (eh, I’ll give you bacon.) And for the love of all that which is holy, DO. NOT. PUT. VEGETABLES. IN. MACARONI. AND. CHEESE. There is not enough black Jesus in the world to fix that abomination. Carol, if you feel that you need to put brussels sprouts into your mac and cheese, take a Xanax and go lay down. Because you’re trippin’ on some serious shit and you need to be stopped.
Kalen also reacts to some gentrified mac & cheese, and you need to see it.
I get it, you guys feel the need to make things your own. As if moving into our neighborhoods, driving up the rent and putting artisan coffee shops and kombucha bars on every corner isn’t enough. But you gotta stop messing with our food. You’re just taking it too gotdamn far.
If you want to make your food taste better, try adding some fucking seasoned salt. And not that off brand shit either. You need Lawry’s. It’s in a white bottle with a red cap. You can find it in the seasoning aisle. It’ll change your life, Carol. And then maybe you’ll stop putting fucking squash into macaroni and cheese? We can only hope.
As Kalen Allen says, “white people need to be stopped.”