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From “Cowboy Caviar” to “Spa Water,” TikTok Food Trends Are Erasing Latinx Culture (and it Needs to Stop Now)

TikTok is a one-stop shop for all the latest creations to try right at home—from carb-free cloud bread to ingenious pasta chips. However, recently #FoodTok has been under fire for “introducing” dishes and drinks that are not exactly new at all. In fact, some of the latest food trends surging on the app look very familiar. From cowboy caviar to spa water, the real TikTok trend on the rise is gentrifying Latinx foods, and yeah, I'm not here for it.

It All Started With Mr. Cowboy Caviar

Cowboy caviar became the summer dish of 2022 when creator Bria Lemirande went viral on TikTok for her bell peppers, red onion, beans, corn and feta cheese mix. Everyone jumped on the craze (yup, we did too), but comments started flooding in regarding the obvious similarities to traditional Latinx dishes like pico de gallo and salsa based on the chopped vegetables and variety of mixes (as some things are interchangeable like avocado, jalapenos, etc). “Cowboy Caviar, that’s just pico de gallo, be serious,” writes one commenter.

Others are reminded of ceviche, a traditional dish that’s home to many Latinx countries like Peru, Ecuador and Chile with seafood being the center of the mix (though some recipes swap seafood for other vegetables like peppers, onions and corn). “Ceviche!!! Called for the real name,” another commenter begs.

And Then They Went For Aqua Fresca

Soon after the cowboy caviar debacle, spa water stirred up even more controversy. The trendy drink in town was no other than the popular Mexican beverage agua fresca. Known as “fresh water” in English, fruits (like watermelon, cantaloupe and strawberries) are blended with water before sugar and lime juice is added. The drink has been around for centuries and dates back to the Aztec Empire. However, for TikTok, it was seemingly a new wellness discovery.

“[When] our vendors are out selling agua fresca in the streets it’s ‘unsanitary’ and ‘ghetto’ but when a white girl does it it’s ‘nutritious,’” says one commenter. Another weighs in: “I’m not gatekeeping my culture but they could at least use the proper names for this stuff.”

And The Problem Continues To Grow…

Now, if you think cowboy caviar and spa water are the first (or last) trends getting a name change, think again. A scroll through the platform and new “trends” continue to take straight from Latinx culture. From conchas (“brioche-like rolls”) to esquites (“Mexican street corn salad”), dishes that have been around for generations are now being rebranded and popularized by white creators.

“Why do people feel the need to change the name of dishes that already have a name and belong to a culture, because what we know as ceviche, agua fresca and esquites, now belong to the white people because they call it something different,” says creator @_chicana.04. “Now it’s cowboy caviar, spa water, no no no these belong to Hispanics. These are some things that already have a name.”

So, What's The Difference Between Appropriation And Appreciation?

Everyone is allowed to enjoy, recreate and appreciate a cultural dish. However, when you start ignoring its origins and changing its name to fit a trendy aesthetic, it’s cultural appropriation (or, more specifically, culinary appropriation). Whether it’s two white women opening up a burrito cart and bragging about stealing recipes from Mexico or Trader Joe’s racist labels to “promote inclusivity,” we’ve seen countless examples play out without consequence for years.

There’s also a double standard when it comes to Latinx people showcasing these dishes vs. white creators on the internet. Latinx vendors are often discriminated against and criminalized for selling the very trends sparking popularity on TikTok.

Yes, it can be difficult to pinpoint where foods started (we get it), but it’s not rocket science to see how significant some of these dishes and drinks are to Latinx communities and how painful it is to see gentrified versions celebrated en masse while our communities have been crafting these dishes for generations. So, the next time you see the latest food trend pop up on your FYP, ask yourself, "Is it really new per see?" You'll probably see your answer in the comments.