Thug Kitchen: A Recipe in Blackface

Thug Kitchen cookbook

When I first clicked through the recipes at Thug Kitchen, a tongue-in-cheek, vegan cooking blog served up with a heaping side of expletives, I imagined a calorie-conscious, gangly young black man who’s particularly vehement about clean eating, insistently tapping recipes into his blog while Dead Prez reverberates in the background. He has a good eye, too, as he complements such recipes as “Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Quinoa and Motherf—king Cranberries” with Pinterest-worthy pics and the tagline, “Eat like you give a f—k.”

With African Americans especially plagued with obesity and the accompanying stressors and diseases, it was a refreshing idea that a young black man would be the purveyor of not just healthy eating but vegan cuisine at that, a leap that some health-conscious folks might find it difficult to make, given the restrictions on eggs and dairy in addition to meats.


More Auntie Fee than Chef G. Garvin, the blog would likely discourage trading recipes word for word with your mom. Still, I was inspired. To me, Thug Kitchen could have helped whip up a healthy eating movement akin to those of the natural-hair purists or, say, Black Girls Run— which are all uplifting healthwise for black folks and enforce a positive message for us. Would Chef G. Garvin or Chef Roblé feature the up-and-comer? Might he be cooking with the Neelys one day?

With more than 51,000 followers on Twitter, a couple of endorsements from Gwyneth Paltrow and a new cookbook released to much fanfare, the mystery blogger behind the well-trafficked site was poised and ready to emerge from the shadows and join fellow next-level black entrepreneurs.


An Epicurious profile revealed one astonishing caveat, however: The Thug Kitchen creator isn’t exactly a black entrepreneur—or black at all.

In the spirit of Thug Kitchen language, what the f—k?

The blog is actually the brainchild of a white man and white woman who started it in August 2012 on Tumblr.


“Months later, after a bit of detective work and a fair amount of sweet-talking, I found myself driving through East Hollywood on the way to sample some dairy-free ice cream from Scoops, blasting Gucci [Mane’s] ‘Lemonade’ with the windows down. I was rolling with Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway, both 29, aka the pair behind Thug Kitchen,” reads Matt Duckor’s profile of the duo, which revealed the pair’s identity for the first time.

Le sigh.

It would be the same if one discovered that Suri’s Burn Book was actually ghostwritten by Suge Knight. Or if the Rev. Jesse Jackson was secretly the one behind those abhorrent People magazine tweets from last week.  


Is it really any coincidence that the Thug Kitchen bloggers waited this long to reveal their true identity? They had to know that it would be incongruous and wouldn’t fly if they told readers from the beginning that they were white.

Their recently released commercial is full of white people, young and old, touting the benefits of eating healthy thanks to the cookbook. One woman says that she is no longer lazy about the food she gives her family: “Now that I have the Thug Kitchen cookbook, I don’t play that s—t anymore.”


It’s deceptive and feels a lot like the latest iteration of nouveau blackface. It stirs up the same anomalous feelings one has when one sees a tweet from an Iggy Azalea fan account dubbing her and Macklemore the queen and king of rap.  


It’s not that we completely espouse the gold teeth or other hallmarks of thug life, but we like our ratchetry in doses, as evidenced by the über-talented Issa Rae and her Ratchetpiece Theater, every other song that blares from urban radio stations (insert air quotes), and ratchet reality shows such as the Love & Hip Hop dynasty, long before they were peppered with thot pockets and before the over-the-top fights were rumored to be seasoned with cocaine.

Thug Kitchen could very well have been the culinary (and helpful, at that) ratchetry that black folks add to our adult toy chest (not those kinds of toys) o’ ratchetry.


But it just doesn’t work as well when you discover that it isn’t other black people who are the creators. When that’s the case, it can feel as if they’re not sharing in the joke but laughing at you instead of laughing with you.

In effect, their actions are all thug in the way that they completely pilfered black culture and capitalized off of it.


And listen, it’s not as if black people are entertained only by other black people. Sure, if you have something to offer that’s entertaining and catchy, no matter your hue, we’ll entertain it and support it.

But what has remained historically curious is why is there often such an almost irresistible propensity of nonblack people not only to dabble in and slowly integrate bits of black culture into their repertoire but then also to try to slowly booty-bump us into the shadows (with appropriated and purchased bums at that). Stop trying to repackage black cool or trends as if it’s some sort of brand-new idea.


It’s yawn-inducing. J.Lo and Azalea weren’t doing anything new in their attempted rump-shaker video that Cash Money and Luke hadn’t quite thoroughly covered aeons before. And really, it smacked of a desperado attempt on J.Lo’s part to latch on to the popular something of the moment, much like the auntie kiss that Madonna planted on Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera back inna day. We’re on to you, J.Lo. But the difference is, that move was obvious. It was calculated and up front.

And don’t even get me started on hair weaves, acrylic nails and the buffet of other examples that I’m sure we could rattle off all day. What’s next, finger waves? Lord knows how much Pro Styl gel (mousse?) it would take to pull that off.


And while we’re happy to be honored and celebrated, why must this swagger jacking nearly always be cherry-picked and Columbused? An homage or a send-up is all good, but out-and-out thievery? Insulting.

Perhaps the culture vulturing would be a little more palatable if the same offenders heaped their plates with social-justice issues that plague the very cultures they’re pilfering from, in the vein of Ferguson, Mo., police brutality and—take your pick, really—the same way they so enthusiastically take to hip-hop and black style. If you’re really down for the cause, don’t just race to safe topics such as the ice-bucket challenge (to be clear, I support anyone supporting any causes of his or her choosing, but I’m just saying). I don’t see Jennifer Lopez, Macklemore and the creators of Thug Kitchen taking it to Ferguson to champion that thug battle.


Akeya Dickson is a writer and social media lover who blogs at Dopalicious District. Follow her on Twitter

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