A review of Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Thug Kitchen
The Official Cookbook
Eat Like You Give a F**k
by Thug Kitchen
Hardback, ISBN: 9780751555516, Oct 2014, 240 pages

When I first came across Thug Kitchen, probably from some viral Facebook post, I laughed hard. Thug Kitchen is like my grandmother at home. It almost made me cry for missing her with her curse-laden ladle of nourishment, swearing like a docker in a frilly apron. So when the cookbook came out, I had to get it. Yes, it’s a gimmick. The well-spoken white authors have been heavily criticized for cultural appropriation and racism, both of which are abhorrent to me, but as someone who grew up with a potty-mouthed white grandmother and a few family thugs in the classic sense of the word (not in the kitchen), I certainly have never associated cursing or thuggery with black culture. In fact, and some people have pointed this out, making this association is racist in itself. Most of the black people I know, including my own black grandfather, are urbane and smooth talking. The kind of hard line no BS curse fun that Thug Kitchen puts forward is, to me, straight out of the 1940s Jewish comedian schtick like Lenny Bruce or Jackie Mason. That said, the fact that there are people who has been upset makes me uncomfortable, and I’m well aware that it’s easy for people who are privileged to be blind to appropriation and bigotry.

However, I will say that the main thing that attracted me to Thug Kitchen is not the language or the funky attitude but rather the food. This is a book full of good recipes that are all about health and respect for the environment. Thug Kitchen not only blasts stereotypes about vegans, it calls out bad eating for what it is – a market driven means of keeping people down while making big companies rich. There’s not a lot of tolerance for fast food joints and pre-packaged convenience foods. The authors are pretty clear about the way in which people are manipulated into thinking that junk is easier, cooler and more fun in order to profit companies like McDonalds, and to be honest, the whole medical industry that thrives on the obesity epidemics of western countries like the US, Australia and the UK.  This book goes a long way to counter that. If the inappropriate and unhealthy food (coke and a greasy pork chop) my mother was served in the hospital as her first meal post kidney removal is anything to go by, there is still a long way to go with this, and TK’s mission in this respect is much needed.

The official cookbook contains a range of vegan recipes for breakfast, snacks, soups and stews, salsas, quick meals, main courses and desserts. There is plenty of information about different grains, basic cooking skills, how to substitute (and what not to substitute), and where to find things. Most of the recipes are pretty novel and include such things as “Cauliflower Cream Pasta”, “Tofu Ricotta”, “ Baked Zucchini chips”, “Tortilla Soup”, “5-Spice Fried Rice with Sweet Potatoes”, or “Maple-Oat Banana Bread”, to name the recipes I’ve personally tried. All were healthy. All were easy. All tasted great. None of them had complex ingredients I couldn’t find (though I’m still on the lookout for liquid smoke for my fried tofu and yes, I did look next to the BBQ sauce).

Anyone who is uncomfortable with swearing should keep away from this book. It makes a Billy Connolly routine seem prissy. People who don’t believe a meal without meat, eggs and/or dairy is worth eating will also be disappointed with the lack of animal products. Anyone else who is looking for lighter, healthier and more ecologically sound eating, however, will find new inspiration and ideas from these recipes, and a range of really good food that doesn’t require fancy ingredients, long cooking times with multiple recipes, or difficult techniques. The supermarket will generally do. The recipes are all healthy with a heavy emphasis on flavor,  speed, and on flexibility.

Overall this is a book I’m keen to spend a bit more time with – exploring the recipes and trying new things. My copy is full of post-it-notes for such items as “Creamy Peanut Slaw”, “Spiced Chickpea Wraps with Tahini dressing”, and “Banana Cream Pie”. I’m not sure I’ll ever be 100% comfortable with the ruckus caused by this book. If people are upset about it and feeling appropriated then that’s valid even if the notion is problematic. But there’s no denying the quality of the recipes or the importance of the message that eating well isn’t hard, and that we’re all in control of our bodies and what we put into it – we don’t have to be pawns of the fast food industry. Everyone can eat fresh food and cook well, and that message, put forth in no uncertain terms by Thug Kitchen, is one I feel comfortable supporting.