Lunar New Year celebration smells of cultural appropriation.
Disney often spends careful time and planning to avoid just such a travesty, but whoever planned the Lunar New Year celebration must have missed those meetings. According to the Disneyland Resort press release, “This multicultural celebration is a joyous tribute to Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean cultures…” through Asian-inspired food and beverages. While there are definitely Asian-inspired foods, somewhere along the way they took a left turn to nowhere land because this isn’t a tribute to anything but more money.
Just to be clear, the definition of cultural appropriation is “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society (Oxford Languages).” The selection of food at this year’s event is an affront to true Asian culture. Since when are chicharrones Asian in any way? (Red Spice Fried Chicken Bites) And who thought a quesabirria egg roll would reflect Asian culture? And don’t get me started on gochujang elote! They might taste good (they might even taste wonderful) but they don’t belong in a celebration meant to highlight Asian culture. Food fusion is awesome and I love it! And if they served it at any other time to celebrate the rich diversity of California culture, I’d be all for it. But to call this a Lunar New Year celebration and to then not highlight the wonderful Asian food that is just fine as it was originally created is a travesty.
If you look at what they offer in their actual Asian theme parks, you’ll see that while they offer a couple of fun blended dishes (yuck on the “nacho” served with the Chinese New Year Platter at HKDL), that they have some actual foods that reflect Asian culture. The Lo Hei with Sesame Sauce and Chili Sauce sounds good. The Chinese Treasure Pot has some truly authentic dishes like abalone, sea cucumber, duck breast, and even fish balls. The Prosperity Year Dinner Set sounds delicious with goose, chilled beef shank, and even lava custard sesame balls!
Disney really missed an opportunity to open more eyes to the rich diversity of culture through food as they have done in the past with the Festival of Holidays and other celebrations. Food is often a gateway to acceptance of other cultures, but there are just as many misses as hits during the Lunar New Year at Disneyland resort. We’ve gone three times in the past and even the “authentic” Asian-inspired food (pork and shrimp wontons) has always been lackluster at best. With so many wonderful restaurants and talented chefs in the area, you’d think they could hire one who knew authentic dishes, flavors and textures. It’s a shame that Disney turned an opportunity to grow cultural acceptance into another money grab. A Mickey shaped hot dog with sesame seeds and scallions? Come on.