When it comes to food and culture, people take things very seriously. Lately, several culinary controversies have been fueled by aspects of cultural appropriation. From Kylie Jenner cooking soul food for Tyga, to an Oregon-based burrito shop closing down after people accused the owners of stealing a tortilla recipe. Let's not forget about the two bros who tried to add "bodegas" to our lives a few weeks ago.
Now, thanks to a racially tone-deaf and culturally insensitive Kickstarter campaign, Jenny Niezgoda, a wellness and travel blogger known as @TheBarefootBohemian on Instagram, has canceled funding for her project less than three days after the initial launch.
Shortly after the project launched, the video became a focal point of ridicule on Facebook, gaining unwanted attention for passively promoting gentrification, while "whitesplaining" the concept of a "Mexican Fruiteria." The video was removed from the crowdfunding site within 48-hours.
However, FOODBEAST was able to find a downloadable link to the video that was still available on The Crowd Funding Center's website.
"I always dreamed of opening my own cafe, to create something from the ground up – that I could truly call mine. And now, that will be a reality." — Jenny Niezgoda, Kickstarter
La Gracia is slated to open in San Diego's Barrio Logan, a region plagued by aging infrastructure and a large homeless population. However, Niezgoda claims it has become, "the most vibrant and up-and-coming neighborhood of San Diego."
Niezgoda planned for La Gracia Fruteria t0 become a, "plant-based cafe that nourishes community, conversation, respect, positive thinking and togetherness," according to the Kickstarter campaign page.
As innocently as Niezgoda tried to present her concept, the project remained largely ignorant of the fact that this could be accomplished anywhere in America — without the misappropriation of Mexican culture.
Nothing about this project, other than the name — and the theme created by Niezgoda — felt rooted in Mexican tradition.
Adding to that, Niezgoda claims she gained inspiration for this entrepreneurial venture by traveling to "Mainland Mexico," after leaving the security of a full-time job in the hospitality industry.
Despite removing the video, La Gracia Fruteria's Kickstarter campaign was still accepting pledge donations for a day, or so — with a pledge goal of $35,000. However, as of Friday Oct. 27, the funding had been canceled — with a total of $812 from 14 backers.
While the video itself established a sense of entitlement, the Kickstarter page was also plagued with culturally misrepresented words and Spanish 1 level phrases that were included within the pledge incentives.
For example, by donating at least $175, La Gracia Fruteria supporters become "Especial," which includes two La Gracia Fruteria T-shirts, a smoothie, and a sticker.
For $500, supporters are considered "Tu Eres un Big Deal."
"La Gracia will work with you to create a special menu item named after you! Menu item will be up of one month [sic] and you will get 10 bowls of it for free + one La Gracia signature pineapple sticker + invite to our pre-grand opening fiesta," according to Kickstarter.
This campaign seemed like the quickest way to commit entrepreneurial suicide, and essentially, since funding has been canceled, it was. I find her disregard for racial sensitivity offensive. As someone raised in a Mexican-Italian culture, but is identified as "white," it's sad to see a cultural disconnect so drastic, someone actually tries to profit off it.
Regardless of her inspiration, her concept is equivalent to a smoothie bar that could exist anywhere in America. Why does this project belong on Kickstarter to begin with?
Race aside, this is lazy entrepreneurialism that shouldn't be condoned — nor supported.