Leaving the ‘Crab in the Bucket’: Exploring Structural Explanations to the ‘Invisibility’ of Filipino Cuisine in Canada

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 09:02
Oral Presentation
Gazel MANUEL, Carleton University, Canada
Filipinos are the fourth largest visible minority group in Canada, yet compared to other Asian cuisines such as Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese cuisine, Filipino cuisine has remained underrepresented in Canada’s culinary landscape. Existing works seem to suggest that Filipino cuisine is “invisible” due to inter-cultural conflict within Filipino communities, spurred by utak-talangka or “crab mentality” (Andrei 2010; Barker 2014), negative character traits that are said to manifest as over-competition, jealousy, and an inferiority complex. Similarly, interviews with Filipino cuisine entrepreneurs and chefs in Winnipeg and Ottawa also pinpoint crab mentality and the “lack of an entrepreneurial drive” among Filipinos as reasons for the absence of Filipino restaurants in Canada. This paper challenges and expands on the crab mentality explanation by suggesting an alternative approach that considers structural factors such as colonialism and structural racism to explain Filipino cuisine’s “invisibility”. To this end, I connect the Philippines’ history of colonization and colonialism's psychological violence on the subaltern’s psyche (Fanon 2008; Okazaki, David and Abelmann 2008) and analyse Filipino “crab mentality” as “colonial mentality” (David 2013). Structural racism is discussed with relation to (1) the racist legacy of the Philippine exhibit at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair which portrayed an indigenous tribe, the Igorot, as “savages” due to their consumption of dog meat; and (2) the Orientalist depictions of Filipino cuisine in televised programming, notably in culinary tourism programs, which are informed by the logics of neoliberal multiculturalism. Operating under the guise of entertainment and education, these programs frame Filipino cuisine as "exotic" and "risky" foods, subsequently problematizing it. By exploring the cultural production of Filipino cuisine in Canada, we can better understand how the overarching systems of colonialism and racism are implicated in practices of cultural production among racialized groups.