Cultural Appropriation in Contemporary America's Food Industry

The cultural appropriation of food in America has created a complete arena of its own, especially as of late with the use and aid of social media and the internet. While some may consider and view the cultural appropriation of food as demeaning of other cultures, I view it as a way to expand not only our individual palates but our exposure to these cultures as well. However, at the end of the day, cultural appropriation is simply a marketing technique restaurant chains and individual markets use to expand their target demographics. One prime example of a restaurant chain utilizing cultural appropriation to not only expand their menu but their audience as well, is Arby’s.


When Arby’s first launched its brands, it joined the ever-growing spectrum of fast-food restaurants, including Burger King and McDonald’s. However, it was Arby’s original roast beef sandwich that put their name on the map and made them a household name in the world of fast food.


Once Arby’s had made a name for itself, the restaurant chain took the enormous leap to expand their menu to other sandwich options outside of roast beef. Not only would they be able to offer more meal options, but they could potentially target a new audience.


One of Arby’s first attempts at culturally appropriating a food to their fairly constant menu of roast beef sandwiches was the introduction of gyros to their menu. Arby’s added gyros for a limited time back in 2006 and later again in September of 2014. When sales began to grow considerably and it was evident their menu expansion to other cultural foods paid off, Arby’s made gyros a permanent menu option in April of 2016.


Once Arby’s realized that one of the best mediums through which to increase sales and marketing was by introducing other menu options – specifically foods not culturally-native to the United States – the restaurant chain continued down this same path. Since then, Arby’s has added various versions of beef and fajita sandwiches as well as their own version of the chicken parmigiana sandwich. According to Forbes Magazine, Arby’s sales have increased from $3.6 billion in 2016 when gyros were added as a permanent menu option to $4 billion in 2018.


Arby’s cultural appropriation of their menu is not only evident in their menu options but in their tagline as well.


For as long as one can remember, Arby’s tagline has been, “We have the meats!”. As of September 2018, Arby’s tagline was changed to, “We have the meats… for sandwiches!”. With the addition of this phrase at the end of their tagline, Arby’s makes it clear that they have a variety of different meats for a variety of different sandwiches – an option most other fast-food restaurants cannot offer. By extending their tagline, Arby’s furthers their standing as a fast-food chain in that they are able to now target new, larger audiences with their cultural appropriation of food.


While cultural appropriation has become a staple in a fast-changing society such as the one we live in today, it has also become a key marketing and businesses strategy for those in the culinary fields. Arby’s jumped on the bandwagon with one of its first expansions back in 2006 and, like many other culinary businesses and entities, continues to culturally appropriate food to their menu in order to keep their brand thriving and growing.

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