BY MACLAINE LEHAN
Cookbooks are equivalent to an American woman’s bible or dictionary. In almost every conventional American household, there is presumably an assortment of cookbooks ranging from traditional to crockpot, Southern to New England, even quiches to cakes. Enter Party Grub by Thug Kitchen. Party Grub is a modern, explicit, and humorous collection of vegan recipes that defies the delicate and dainty stereotypes of at-home cooking. Thug Kitchen authors Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway seek to normalize a vegan diet through affordable and quick recipes exploding with flavor. The cookbook’s casual tone and in-your-face language make it “a M*therfucking Bible of tricks, tips and recipes that you can bring to any occasion… without anyone giving you sh*t for trying to eat better.” Fitting gendered expectations of the dainty and restrained housewife all too well, millennial movements such as plant-based diets and fitness fads have women in every corner of the world obsessing over their daily food intake and body image. Thug Kitchen endeavors to “de-feminize” and “masculinize” plant-based diets, but in this process it appropriates the language and tone of a racialized “thug life.”
In comparison to most cookbooks of the 20th century, Thug Kitchen’s aggressive and forceful language reduces the traditional femininity associated with cooking and meatless diets in particular. In Manly Meals and Mom’s Home Cooking, Jessamyn Neuhaus establishes the significance of gender roles in both dieting and cooking throughout the 20th century. Whereas cooking was expected to be a full time job for women, for men it was seen as a hobby and a space for creative expression. Cookbooks for men were intended to be read as novels rather than instruction manuals, they were crammed with commentary, humor, visuals , stories, and hints suggesting which wine or cocktail best complemented any given dish. According to magazines at the time, men of the 20th century only began cooking because they disliked the fussy, flavorless and dainty dishes women were apt to serve. George Frederick even asserted, “The male of the human species likes strong flavors. He hates the pallid, pasty, insipid dishes which so many American and English women serve.”
To that end, Thug Kitchen uses explicit and forceful language to fortify the masculinity of Party Grub as a man’s cookbook. Party Grub is intended to be an affordable, easy-to-make party food encyclopedia with a vegan twist. Party Grub’s introduction begins by stating the obvious: parties usually involve eating food loaded with trans-fat, artificial flavoring, and sodium paired with cheap beer or overly sugary drinks. Stereotypical party food is usually accompanied by the anxiety of breaking healthy habits and inhaling high calorie greasy, salty and buttery junk food. Thug Kitchen seeks to minimize this uneasiness and create Super Bowl-worthy party food without the negative nutritional value.
Read as a cookbook for men, Party Grub uses simply worded recipes with no more than ten steps for the most complex entrees. Davis and Holloway aim at using as few ingredients as possible and making them as accessible as possible. The cookbook contains five sections: “Wake Up and Bake Some S***” for brunch and breakfast items, “Pre-Party Like a F*cking Champ” for smaller bites to eat, “Dress to Impress” for salads, sauces and sides, “Bon Appetite Motherf*cker” for entrees, and lastly “Spin the Bottle” for sweets and savory desserts. Each recipe provides readers with a quick, playful description forecasting the end product and how it will be received at the party, a list of measured ingredients, and step-by-step cooking instructions. The recipes only enlist technology and appliances that are very common household items such as a conventional oven, blender, bowl, dish and saucepan. For particular recipes, asterisks indicate a possible ingredient or appliance substitute such as using a fork and bowl to mash sweet potatoes if a food processor is not accessible. These alternative options acknowledge the accessibility of vegan and vegetarian diets, in regard to the cost and origin of ingredients. To make cooking even easier for men who are not expected to be experienced cooks, recipes include a time estimate of when each ingredient will be browned or ready for flipping. The end portion of the cookbook also includes instructions on staple foods such as rice, beans, roasted vegetables, melted chocolate, popcorn, and other basics that men foreign to the kitchen may have a tendency to mess up.
In addition to the simplicity of the cookbook, Thug Kitchen maintains its macho vibes by only quietly advertising that all recipes are plant-based. With the exception of a two-page rant included in the instruction section detailing the ignorant and foolish questions typically asked of vegan diets, the meatless nature of the recipes is never again mentioned. Because meatless diets are coded as feminine in American society, perceived as dainty and low-calorie, this sly distinction helps to preserve the intent of Party Grub as a men’s cookbook.
Although meatless and raw diets have recently emerged as a popular trend among Millennials, they were not always well received. With respect to this, a review from Associated Press insists that Party Grub is “a refreshing change from the unusual soft, warm, and fuzzy ethos that generally flavors the vegan cooking world. Which is to say, Thug Kitchen is as much trash talk as it is tofu.” According to Neuhaus, the ideal menu for 20th century men included tenderloin steak, broiled potatoes, and ice cream whereas women would theoretically prefer fruit salad, fruit jam, tarts with cheese, almonds and ginger. Thus Thug Kitchen’s combination of Mexican lasagna, fiery buffalo bites, and loaded guacamole among other spicy dips, saucy finger foods, and hearty dishes are items not traditionally associated with the dainty femininity of vegan and vegetarian diets. Within recipes, Davis and Holloway give their readers explicit orders such as to “throw the tofu” and “run that sh*t until it looks smooth”; these aggressive instructions maintain an aggressive, masculinized tone throughout.
However, Thug Kitchen’s emphasis on casualness and macho-ness relies on the use of racial slurs and “ghetto” slang, which have generated substantial backlash from black Americans. Critics contend that as white, middle-class individuals Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway’s use of racial slurs to convey humor and vulgarity is not justifiable. Davis, the primary writer, uses lyrics from black rap songs, stand-up routines and films to stress Party Grub’s manly temperament. According to a CNN article by Bryant Terry, Thug Kitchen is white Americans using African-American street language as a disguise for entertainment, humor and profit. By scattering profanity and forceful language in recipes, Davis and Holloway inadvertently trace racial and “thug” stereotypes throughout their cookbook. Even the word ‘Thug’ in the title is a code for a racial slur. Bryant expresses that traditional African and African-American diets are meatless. He adds, “Whether or not the hipsters and health nuts charmed by Thug Kitchen realize this, vegetarian, vegan and plant-strong culture in the black experience predates pernicious thug stereotypes.”
In tandem, Akeya Dickson published a similar article to Bryant Terry’s on The Root emphasizing the “culture vulturing” and “swagger-jacking” Thug Kitchen implores. In this case, “cultural vulturalism” and “swagger-jacking” refer to individuals, like Holloway and Davis, who appropriate black culture as if it is their own. Like Terry, Dickson expresses disappointment with Davis and Holloway’s use of black culture. She asserts, “In effect, their actions are all thug in the way that they completely pilfered black culture and capitalized off of it.” Dickson points to the tendency for nonblack authors and artists to incorporate pieces of black culture into their work without properly acknowledging its black origin, instead trying “to slowly booty bump us into the shadows…” While the intention of using a “thug life” tone is to masculinize a diet that is culturally coded as feminine, Thug Kitchen is simultaneously perpetuating racial stereotypes, appropriating language, and silencing preexisting traditions of a segment of American society.
Thug Kitchen’s unfiltered and playful language surely captivates readers, especially men who otherwise may not bother with a typical Martha Stewart cookbook, but it also overlooks the issues associated with using racialized language. Thug Kitchen also fails to recognize other inherent privileges of vegan and vegetarian diets other than race such as accessibility to ingredients. The cookbook is aimed at readers of all classes but realistically, when considering a meatless diet ,the accessibility and price of higher quantities of produce and other supplements need to be taken into account. In an era and generation consumed with food and fitness fads, Davis and Holloway successfully poke fun at the preciousness commonly associated with vegetarian and vegan diets in order to masculinize or even just normalize plant-based eating. Thug Kitchen’s party food recipes and trendy ingredients like tofu, quinoa, and kale certainly appeal to a wide audience of college students, health nuts, and families but they accomplish this without considering the cost of their actions, using the stereotypical slang of black Americans without making an attempt to represent black culture.
Thug Kitchen, Party Grub (New York: Rodale Inc., 2015), 10.
 Jessamyn Neuhaus, Manly Meals and Mom’s Home Cooking (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 73.
 Neuhaus, 81.
 Thug Kitchen
 Neuhaus, 78.
 Bryant Terry, “The Problem With ‘Thug’ Cuisine,” CNN, October 14, 2014.
 Akeya Dickson, “Thug Kitchen: A Recipe in the Blackface,” The Root, October 14, 2014.
Dickson, Akeya. “Thug Kitchen: A Recipe in the Blackface.” The Root. October 14, 2014.
Neuhaus, Jessamyn. Manly Meals and Mom’s Home Cooking. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.
Terry, Bryant. “The Problem With ‘Thug’ Cuisine.” CNN, October 14, 2014.
Thug Kitchen. Party Grub. New York: Rodale Inc., 2015.
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