Authenticity – Subjectivity vs Objectivity

When talking about food, authenticity is very difficult to distinguish with respect to an entire culture. A lot of people will argue that authenticity in food is subjective, which means that the authenticity in food is based on personal feelings, opinions, or taste. Some may argue that authenticity in food is objective in which it is devoid of any sort of personal opinions or feelings. I believe that there is merit to both. While authenticity in food can be mostly categorized in the side of being subjective, there is also a part of it where it is objective where it can’t be changed in order to retain authenticity. This paper will hopefully give an insight to both subjectivity and objectivity when it comes to authenticity in food. I am not an expert whatsoever when talking about culinary. Therefore, the examples I will be using the knowledge and experiences I have in Filipino food as that is the only food culture I am very familiar with.

My Asian American professor last semester stated in a reading that authenticity in food is subjective and that it is “subject to local ingredients, local tastes, and local innovations” (Daus 2014). It is very hard to argue against that statement as my experiences in Filipino food both in the homeland and in the United States is a solid proof of that. One of the most traditional Filipino foods that a lot of Filipinos will recognize anywhere in the world is a dish called “Sinigang”. It usually has a sour soup, some vegetables, and some type of meat like fish or pork. Whenever this dish is served in Philippines, the vegetable portion of it will usually has this vegetable called Water Spinach. It is very popular and very accessible in the Philippines. Now that I migrated here in the United States, Water Spinach is not very accessible in this part of the world. My mother will use lettuce instead. This does not diminish the authenticity of the dish at all. This ‘local innovation’ and ‘local ingredient’ is part of what makes authenticity subjective. However, sometimes the personal opinions can get very far from the spectrum that it might challenge the notion of authenticity in food being subjective. In Martin Manalansan’s chapter, Beyond Authenticity, he was in two situations where discussions emerged pertaining to what establishes “authentic” Filipino food. One of the situations he was in where questions about authentic Filipino food emerged was when he took a couple of his American friends to a Filipino restaurant ‘Ihawan’. Questions about Filipino authentic food arose during the meal. One friend of his, named Roger, asked if the food he was eating was considered ‘authentic’ Filipino food or if it was just a ‘watered-down’ or Americanized version given the New York location of the restaurant (Manalansan 289). Another friend of the author chimed in, saying that the food he was eating has to be authentic Filipino food because of the ‘atmosphere’. She said that because it was made by Filipino Cooks and served by Filipino waitresses, it had to be ‘authentically Filipino’. In this particular case, for her, these was the conditions for the food to be authentically Filipino. While I will not argue otherwise, I find it very interesting that those were the conditions she chose to consider the food authentically Filipino. What if the Filipino food, using same ingredients and in the same manner of how it was cooked, was made and served by non-Filipino cooks and servers? Or better yet, what if the same Filipino cooks and servers made an entirely non- traditional Filipino dish? I wonder if she would still consider it ‘authentically Filipino’.

Indeed, authenticity when pertaining to food is subjective. That is the side that Manalansan, myself, and my Asian American professor from last semester will argue. However, one can only ask – Is it entirely subjective? I believe that there is a part of every food that is objective when talking about its authenticity. I will go back to my Filipino dish ‘Sinigang’ as an example. Indeed, the ingredients can change for this dish and most people will still consider it authentically Filipino. However, there is a part of it that does not change – Its sour soup. I’ve tasted a lot of variations of this dish in both the Philippines and in the United states. Its sour soup remained as the unchanging constant for this dish. I can’t really be certain if they all used the same ingredients. Nevertheless, the sour soup, regardless of what ingredients was used, was the objective part for this dish. I believe that each authentic food with respect to their cultures has at least one objective element that makes it authentic.

Note:

One of the people I quoted for this paper is my Asian American professor from last semester, professor Gemirald Daus.

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