White Founders of ‘Thug Kitchen’ Attempt to Downplay Backlash Over Their Use of the Word ‘Thug’
If you have melanin, and any drop will do, when you come across the phrase “Thug Kitchen” do your thoughts take you to an image of an apron-wearing, cocoa brown man in a kitchen on Martin Luther King Blvd, whipping up roasted chikpeas for quinoa salad? Okay, maybe it’s more baked macaroni and cheese with fried pork chops. Well, if you’ve projected this scene or one similar you aren’t alone.
Recently the New York Times published an article on Thug Kitchen, a vegan foodie blog equally known for its expletives and its couscous salad. The article celebrated the way through which the authors have encouraged its audience to be vegan with a total “up yours” attitude.
Studies have recently shown that more of Western culture is shifting into healthier alternatives to eating. Thug Kitchen blossomed at an opportune time. The food blog has made a sizable profit with a chart-topping, cookbooks, four-letter word apparel, and a social media following well into the hundreds of thousands.
Initially, a Black person ignorant of the blogger behind Thug Kitchen, also once-known for its anonymity, are possibly gratified to see a brother or sister establishing a platform for plant-based eating especially when heart disease and cancer are so pervasive in the Black community. Not to mention high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity which have all been linked to poor diet.
Try to swallow your surprise here— the creators of Thug Kitchen are not Black entrepreneurs with culinary degrees from HBCUs— they’re not even Black. Out the window flies the idea that Black people would take a word like “thug” and recondition it into a amusingly real way to remind everyone to “eat like they give a (expletive).”
Matt Holloway and Michelle Davis creators of TK (as they call it) are both vegans, and white. The idea for the three-year-old blog emerged while Holloway was working as a production assistant for a film company and Davis was a team member at Whole Foods. A lot of cuss words and few good recipe ideas later, Thug Kitchen popped out the oven.
And for a while it was relatively obscure, though it had a decent following on Tumblr. Contrary to other blogs, there was no “About Me” section. Cursing and anonymity were commonplace since its creation in August 2012. But why cloak in the shadows? The authors had to know their “thug” blog wouldn’t fare well while Black Twitter was dragging Iggy Azalea and annoyed with white girls twerking. No, if it had been known from the beginning that they were white, Thug Kitchen wouldn’t have been discovered.
Then came the fateful day when Gwyneth Paltrow endorsed it on her blog and then mentioned it on The Rachel Ray Show.
“It’s like gangster vegan chef,” Paltrow said.
Now what would Gwyneth Paltrow know about gangsters? It doesn’t count that her best friend’s husband is Jay Z.
It stands to reason that thugs, the ones that Tupac Shakur was referencing when he was talking about poverty stricken Black men who turned to crime in order to provide for themselves and their families, are not the same guys in the kitchen making vegan portabella mushroom burgers.
Anyone paying attention to the news recently, more so anyone Black, would quickly notice that the loaded word “thug” has not-so-subtly replaced the taboo use of the n-word. Fox News pundits spew out “thug” with such hostility it’s surprising it’s not censored.
The word apparently only has a negative connotation to it when used in reference to discussion on Black behavior. Use the word thug with vegan food and poof, the magic wand of white privilege waves and all is right with world. It’s justified that some Black bloggers were annoyed by Thug Kitchen and its culinary Blackface, especially considering current sensitivities to cultural appropriation, white privilege, and the awareness of consequences due to ignorance of both. It’s now once again clear when a white person wants to use the nuances of Black culture to seem relevant and cool, it’s rewarded and celebrated. However, if a Black person uses the knowledge of their own culture to advance his or her creative agenda, it’s seen as rebellious or deviant of white societal norm.
Davis and Holloway said they were shocked by the outrage that followed. They explain that Thug Kitchen was an amped up way of how they speak around friends, and maybe after a couple of drinks at happy hour—not a calculated attempt to be anything but themselves.
“Where I grew [up] thug was a bad mother who looked out for No. 1,” Davis said.
Davis added that the word was shorthand for, “We’re not going to apologize for eating healthy. We’re not going to serve you shots of wheat grass.”
Reportedly, the expletive language is about poking fun at the preciousness of veganism and claiming it for folks like themselves, which is to say, people on a budget. The former couple has received both support and criticism of the blog. They received death threats and a few west coast bookstores canceled readings of the book.
But it still shot to number one on the New York Times Bestseller list.
Would it have reached the same acclaim if the “thugs” in that kitchen were Black?