The Foods Immigrants Offer


Tacos at a restaurant in Nashville. Credit Christopher Berkey for The New York Times

Margaret Renkl, Contributing Opinion Writer for the New York Times, shares an opinion that I am, as a son of an immigrant, inclined to agree with. Even if I was not so closely related to the theme, it would still make sense to me:

Eating Without Borders in Nashville

NASHVILLE — Not quite two weeks ago, I was driving down Nolensville Road, Nashville’s “international corridor,” looking for a restaurant called Tennessee Halal Fried Chicken. In the passenger seat was John T. Edge, the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance and author of “The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South.” He was telling me that this particular approach to dining out, in one way of looking at it, could be considered a form of exploitation: “To patronize a restaurant of people who are different from you can be a kind of booty call,” he said.

This is an idea Mr. Edge has been considering for some time. The historically complicated nature of cross-cultural dining goes back to black-owned barbecue joints in the age of Jim Crow: “White Southerners patronized those restaurants,” he said. “They got in, they got what they wanted, and they got out.”

I’m not especially well versed in the history of Southern food, and I’m even less well versed in the history behind the foods on offer all along Nolensville Road, a place where nearly every possible kind of international eatery is tucked among barbershops and quick-cash storefronts and brake-repair garages. But I’ve made a special point of eating at immigrant-owned restaurants here ever since the 2016 election.

Shortly after President Trump issued his first travel ban and began cracking down on undocumented residents, The Nashville Scene published a list of immigrant-owned restaurants in Nashville and urged readers to eat at them. I tore the page out and taped it to my refrigerator because I was feeling helpless. Aside from donating to the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition and helping in a class for English-language learners, what could an ordinary citizen do to support people whose contributions to our culture are so manifest and yet so poorly valued? The Scene’s recommendation made sense, and my husband and I had been working our way down the list ever since…

Read the whole op-ed here.

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