Vegan brand Thug Kitchen has officially changed its name to ‘Bad Manners’ following backlash for “culturally exploiting” black culture and “digital blackface”.
Matt Holloway and Michelle Davis anonymously launched the Thug Kitchen blog in 2012. They not only shared plant-based recipes, but they also shared content written in African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). They would reference rap lyrics, prominent Black artists, and used curse words in conjunction with sharing their recipes.
It was due to these references and the fact that the company was named after the term “thug”, a racially charged word typically used to criminalise people of colour (POC), that many thought the people behind the blog were POC.
However, this all changed when Epicurious interviewed the company for releasing their first cookbook, Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F*ck, that it was revealed that Holloway and Davis were white Americans. The revelation sparked outrage, and the owners were accused of appropriating Black culture. They were also accused of “digital blackface”, which refers to non-POC using GIFs, memes, emoji, and other images of black people to express various emotional reactions online.
However, the co-owners would always defend their brand name, saying in an interview with the Austin Chronicle in 2014: “We understand that thug is a loaded word, but we wanted everybody to be a badass, to have that aggression. The climate around the word ‘thug’ is different now than it was when we started the site.”
They also defended their use of profanity in an interview with the Associated Press in the same year, it’s because they “swear in real life” and do not understand why they would need to change that.
Black vegan chef Bryant Terry also wrote an opinion piece on the situation, saying: “It’s no coincidence that Thug Kitchen’s admirers often imagined the “voice” of the site to be that of shrill, vulgar and often uproariously funny black men like actor Samuel L. Jackson or rapper Ghostface Killah, and not that of actor Robert De Niro or Hells Angels founder Sonny Barger.”
The chef ended his piece writing: “Whether or not the hipsters and health nuts charmed by Thug Kitchen realise this, vegetarian, vegan and plant-strong culture in the black experience predates pernicious thug stereotypes. Said another way, the Thug Kitchen’s central comic conceit doesn’t jibe with reality.”
However, after the death of George Floyd, by the hands of police brutality this year, many individuals and businesses are being held to account for their past and present racial actions.
And after years of facing scrutiny, Thug Kitchen had decided to change their name.
In a statement on their website, Holloway and Davis announced they are changing their name to Bad Manners and apologised for the company’s wrongdoings. They said they “realise” their intentions reflected their privilege and “ignored the reality that the word is assigned to black people in an attempt to dehumanise them”.
Bad Manners ended their statement by stating: “Our endgame is to widen the table in our country’s conversation around food and add more chairs. We want our body of work to reflect inclusivity and empathy. In that spirit, we will change the name of our company and website; discontinue the use of Thug Kitchen as the title of all our previous cookbooks; and closely re-evaluate the content of each book. These changes are underway but will take a little while longer while we finish the work. We’re serious about being advocates for change and that starts with us.”