Keeping it Traditional: Cultural Appropriation and a Taco

“Originating from the Midwest and making its way into all our hearts, the Midwest Taco takes the Mexican classic and gives it an American Midwestern kiss. It’s delicious, nutritious but most of all, DELICIOUS!”

-Almost Vegan

If you ask any true Chef they will say, “understanding tradition is key when creating a new dish.” What does it mean to be traditional though? I feel, especially lately, people in America are obsessed with keeping their culture theirs and calling out others for “stealing” what they believe belongs to them. I read an article a few years back when the Disney movie, Moana, came out and the following Halloween white children were being attacked for wanting to dress up as the characters from the movie. Disney had a full kids-suit that resembled the body of the Polynesian Demi-god Maui. Maui is a mostly naked character completely covered in tattoos. The skin on the suit is naturally brown, the color of a Maui, and the tattoos are etched into the fabric. It is basically a full-body removable tattoo sleeve. Disney got so much backlash from this children’s costume that they ended up having to take it down and issue an apology to the public. 

I can see both sides. I feel like a few individuals may have seen this suit as sort of a “black-face” type issue and I totally agree with the possible concern of the suit. But, this is a children’s Halloween costume. Halloween is literally the only time you are supposed to dress as something you are not. If the kid wants to be a Poly Demi-god then let him. We let our kids pretend to be pimps, gangsters, monsters, Indians, Egyptians, and Greeks. I do not see the issue in this case. At the same time, a similar article was released about a non-Polynesian girl dressing as Moana. One comment stuck out to me. The women complaining said something along the lines of, “there are more than enough white princesses to chose from why does she have to steal ours.” Being a white male I may never truly understand the view of a non-white individual. However, I think the issue is that societies take a large pride in their history and culture (I’m also very patriotic and feel truly blessed to be born in the worlds’ melting pot) but are afraid of it getting repressed or even worse eliminated. I think this then can come off as a shout for division in cultures, which I feel like is the opposite of what America stands for. It’s also against the history of mankind. 

Since the dawn of man, we have been sharing ideas and cultures with one another. It’s ok; that’s how we advance in life and enjoy everything this world has to offer. It troubles me when I see someone complaining about the “white man” stealing their culture while using their iPhone to comment on a facebook post, using the internet. If we kept everything to ourselves that would create a completely boring world. Where would the English be without a decent curry? Eating meat pie and fish and chips for the rest of their lives? The beautiful pizza would be trapped in a small country in Europe and then what would we serve literally every lunch-in ever. Even the American burger would be obsolete since the Cow came all the way from Asai. (Literally America’s most famous dish.) Now I understand people arguing over children’s’ clothes is something most people could give two poops about. However, in the culinary world “keeping it traditional” sometimes takes over the creative process that is cooking and can actually ruin a dish’s legacy. 

I think pizza is a great example of the beauty that sharing our cultures create. I have had pizza, staring over a gorgeous river in the heart of Florence, Italy. It’s a moment that you can enjoy completely alone and I recommend everyone to try it at least once in their life. (I believe eating food in the country of origin is a very important part of being able to truly respect the foods culture.) I have also had .99 cent cheese pizza, wasted, at 2 a.m. in the middle of the road in Lower East Side, Manhattan. Another equally great experience. And, if you’re from the midwest, you know the glory in a fully loaded, supreme, deep dish pizza from your favorite fast-food chain. (Personally I’m a Jet’s Pizza fan.) If you ask an Italian Chef he may tell you that true pizza can only be made in Italy and requires specific ingredients from specific regions of Italy. We can see though that this is not a black and white answer. Pizza has transformed into a worldwide phenomenon and every country I have ever been too had its version. Of course, we should give credit where it is due and thank Italy for the gift they have shared with us. But should you not make or eat a pizza unless your an Italian? Of course not, that is crazy! 

I want to remind you that I totally get the argument behind cultural appropriation. I understand the love a person has for their way of life and the fear of it being stolen or forgotten. In Korea, I tried to find a perfect burger. However, after ever burger I tried, I got up and proclaimed, “this is not a burger, this is a sandwich. A burger should be a ½ of beef topped with raw red onion, sliced tomato, lettuce, and sandwiched in between two toasted, sesame buns.” This may be true to me, but in Korea, a thin patty topped with as many toppings as possible is also a burger. Today I don’t see Italians rioting in the streets of New York to give them their pizza back and I didn’t notice any Americans protesting outside to stop creating false burgers. What I do see is people enjoying a bite from another culture and its what makes the sharing of cultures and ideas great! Culture is meant to be shared and by keeping it to ourselves we are depriving the joys it can bring to the world.

So this brings us to today’s recipe. We talked about Pizza, Burgers, Polynesia, but I want to teach you a personal favorite of mine. The humble Taco. Not only is this dish loved across every continent, but it’s also super easy to make and always delicious. I love the taco and it’s one of the dishes people can easily make at home. For this recipe, I wanted to show you a beautiful blend of cultures to create what I call the Midwest Taco. Originating from the Midwest and making its way into all our hearts, the Midwest Taco takes the Mexican classic and gives it an American Midwestern kiss. It’s delicious, nutritious but most of all, DELICIOUS! For these tacos, I wanted to have a guest star appearance. Brought up between Mississippi and Oregon, this man creates the best Midwest Taco you will ever have. My first bite brought me straight back home to when we would have Taco Night in my Michigan abode. It’s mostly boxed and canned ingredients and I don’t think there’s a single ingredient in it that would have been in the first South American tacos (most likely consisting of a corn tortilla and fish) but it still comes in the same format as a traditional taco. To take it a step further I wanted to make this one using vegan “beef.” I think it shows the importance of adapting our old and loved recipes in order to fit into our modern society. 

Tylers’ Midwestern Tacos (Vegetarian)


  1. Beyond Beef (16 oz package)…1
  2. Onion (white)…¼ cut into squares
  3. Taco seasoning packet…1
  4. Re-fried Beans (Canned)…1
  5. Spanish rice packet…1
  6. Iceberg Lettuce…one cup cut into itty bitty squares
  7. Mexican Cheese Blend Packet…1 cup
  8. Sour Cream…1 glop per taco
  9. Chile…2 (finely chopped)
  10. Cilantro…a few sprigs
  11. Flour Tortilla…2 per serving
  12. Lime…1 whole
  13. Song…I’m Shipping Up To Boston, by: Drop Kick Murphys


  1. Turn oven to 250 degrees
  2. Start with the Spanish rice packet. Follow the instructions on the box.
  3. Heat a skillet and drop in the beyond beef.
  4. Add the onions and cook until beef is done and onions are translucent.
  5. Bust open that can-o-beans and heat up in pot or microwave.
  6. Add cilantro and raw chilies to beef and stir in
  7. Heat up the tortillas in the oven
  8. Hot Sauce…Dealers choice

Build da taco

  1. Add equal parts rice, beef and beans onto a warm tortilla
  2. Top with iceberg lettuce, sour cream and, of course, the Mexican cheese blend. 
  3. Slowly add the hot sauce of your choice.
  4. Repeat the process for the second taco and give both a little drizzle of fresh lime juice. 
  5. Take a picture, tag @almostvegnofficial, and feast upon the glory that is the taco. 

Tyler’s Advice

  • When shopping for ingredients go for what’s on sale. “Bargain shopping is part of the Midwestern experience.” 
  • “If cooking with real beef, be sure to drain the fat before adding in the rest of the ingredients to give it a healthy touch.” 
  • “Buy beyond beef again for tacos. When you add all the traditional flavors it’s delicious and you don’t miss the beef.” 

Click here for my take on the Mexican classic

Final Thoughts

Be proud, be loud, be happy of what your culture brings to our modern melting pot of a society.

And of course don’t be an @ss hole. Respect others traditions and when in doubt just ask.

Published by almostveganofficial

Former vet, cook, and now a current student at Columbia University trying to spread some inspiration to get back in the kitchen and make some kick-ass food!

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