A recent New York Times story, “Teenager’s Chinese Prom Dress Stirs Furor in U.S. . . .” reminded me how outraged I am that Walmart is selling — and culturally clueless people are buying — funeral potatoes. Even worse, the garish Walmart packaging does not remotely reflect the iconic food’s cultural values, traditions, or origins.
It’s a clear case of cultural appropriation, perhaps even colonial ideology, and progressive humanists across the world should be furious.
Walmart cannot fathom the folkloric reverence associated with mixing frozen hash browns (the chunk kind, not grated), shredded cheese, diced onion, sour cream, perhaps some cream of chicken soup, and a lot of butter, topping it with a thick layer of crushed Corn Flakes, and baking at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. It is a ritualistic rhapsody of profound, almost religious, meaning in my culture.
As an ethnic rite, I have cooked, served and eaten countless glass casserole dishes of funeral potatoes. This emblem of my cloistered civilization has been served for decades at an assortment of family, neighborhood and church gatherings – and, of course, tens of thousands of funerals. I have even gone so far as to customize the sacred recipe, adding ham or bacon (varying the recipe is allowed within the culture, but certainly not without).
Walmart cannot appreciate the vast numbers of sobbing mourners at funerals who have returned to a church cultural hall (see, it’s all about culture) to be met by a bevy of smiling ladies in bright aprons serving them the ultimate comfort food (oops, is that appropriating someone else’s culture?). Their tears dry as they gather with family members and eat funeral potatoes, sliced ham, green jello and sheet cake. The food miraculously expands so there’s plenty for the grieving extended family (and hangers-on like bishopric members and Elders assigned to put away the tables and chairs).
Walmart is clearly trying to exploit this centuries-old sacred tradition for selfish commercial purposes. The supermarket giant has absolutely no appreciation or understanding of the culture, symbolism, history, or sacrifice associated with this dish that is so emblematic of my ethnicity.
Walmart will never feel the emotion of Brigham Young’s inspiring words upon looking over the Salt Lake Valley: “This is the place – for funeral potatoes.”
Nor will culturally-clueless customers munching on Walmart’s fake dish conceive of the deep feelings stirred by the lore about the seagulls miraculously descending on the potato fields to eat the crickets that threatened future funeral potato crops. Or the disparagement members of my culture felt when VP Dan Quayle misspelled potato as potatoe. (Idahoans were also upset.)
No one but a member of the culture can feel that pain.
This should be an affront to cultures everywhere. Defenders of ethnic values and minority rights must rise together against this obvious case of cultural disrespect and exploitation. Jeremy Lam said it best: “For (funeral potatoes) to simply be subject to American consumerism . . . is parallel to colonial ideology.”