What do you think of when you hear the phrase “British colonialism”?
For some, I imagine it conjures up images largely taken not from history itself, but maybe from entertainment like, Pride and Prejudice or Downton Abbey. Wealthy white people being all proper and stiff upper lipped, pitted not against the non-white peoples of the world, but rather against lower classes of other white people - the ones most white Australians now like to imagine they are descended from, because apparently no one in Australia today descends from the military men who were sent to keep watch over the convicts.
For many of the aforementioned non-white peoples of the world though, British Colonialism conjures images of theft, genocide, forced labour, destruction of culture, oppressive systems of law and governments, ostracism, apartheid, and assimilation. It speaks to ongoing struggles of decolonisation, repatriation, gentrification, and other efforts to counter the ever creeping forms of ongoing colonisation that are not just embedded in history, but are a day to day reality.
I hadn’t thought much about what foods I associated with the phrase until I heard of ‘British Colonial Co’, a new restaurant in Brisbane that have recently found a gap in the market to make theft, genocide and forced labor "stylish". And all I could really come up with is a foul tasting-memory of some sort of salted spinach I was forced to eat in primary school while learning about the wonderful white people who ‘discovered’ Australia… Oh, and oranges, because scurvy.
I presume there is more on the menu at British Colonial Co., at least going off what they originally described on their website as, "Inspired by the stylish days of the empirical push into the developing cultures of the world, with the promise of adventure and modern, refinement in a safari style setting." Some boiled lollies to give to the local native children, perhaps?
I’m guessing we come from different sides of the colonisation coin, because “promise of adventure” were not the words that came to mind when I think about an empirical push. And now that a city restaurant is trying to depict history in such a glamorous way, these words leave a taste much worse than the tainted spinach I was force-fed in school.
Apparently there were a lot of others who felt the same, and the venue has amended their concept, and now reads, "A refined and modern dining experience with the adventure of east meets west in a plantation style, club setting." I’m not sure what a ‘plantation style, club setting’ is, but my only reference is that it has something to do with slavery. Even with the changed copy, I'm still not sure who the target demographic is that such language is expected to resonate with. As an Aboriginal Australian, certainly not me and I'm guessing not too many of the countless other recipients of the ‘empirical push’ either.
I’m not sure what a ‘plantation style, club setting’ is, but my only reference is that it has something to do with slavery.
Despite the myriad of wtf thoughts and feelings of this bewildering attempt to stand-out from the culinary crowd of themed pop-up bars has evoked, this is what I keep coming back to, though. In 2016, who exactly is clamouring for that "stylish" British colonial cuisine (whatever that even is)? Who out there is a hankering for a colonisation-themed snack?
As the clientele stroll in the doors for dinner tonight in Brisbane, I think it’ll still be a while before the memory of that sour spinach-y taste leaves me, hopefully sometime before I have to swallow another piece of colonial trash.