Chopped Cheese Controversy

Food for Thought

Cultural Appropriation of Chopped Cheese. I’m all for the free exchange of ideas between cultures but, in some instances, I can understand why some people get angry about so-called “cultural appropriations.” Chopped cheese sandwich is a good example. A cook who worked at this bodega pictured above on First Avenue at 110th Street invented it and has become popular in Harlem and the Bronx. At this birthplace of chopped cheese, the price is $4. A white chef, April Bloomfield, took the idea and started selling it in her Upper West Side store for $15. To add insult to injury, the name of her restaurant is called “White Gold.” She describes it as an “homage.” The anger comes from the fact that the privileged with the access to capital and an wealthier audience can take a poor person’s idea and make a lot more money. It’s particularly painful in the world of food because recipes cannot be copyrighted. If Chinese companies make imitation Louis Vuitton handbags, they are not considered an “homage” but a theft. If recipes were copyrightable, April Bloomfield would have been seen as a fraud and sued by the original creator.

A similar type of unfairness is commonly seen in music too. Although each specific song can be copyrighted, a style of music cannot be. So, some of the pioneers of Hip-Hop, for instance, are still poor. There is a reason why poor people end up inventing things in the fields where their inventions are not copyrightable. It’s because those who have the means to protect their inventions don’t bother getting into those fields in the first place.

Given this unfairness, I do feel that a decent thing for a privileged person to do is to avoid making money off of the inventions of the underprivileged and give them the opportunities to financially succeed, or better yet, give them access to the privilege like Anthony Bourdain did.