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Spicy hot takes

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WAPO columnist Gene Weingarten wrote a trolling piece about how Indian cuisine was nothing but one spice that tastes bad, and people got upset:

The Washington Post issued a clarification over “curry,” days after Pulitzer prize-winning columnist Gene Weingarten received backlash from furious readers for “racist” stereotyping of Indian food.

Mr Weingarten courted controversy through a column titled “You can’t make me eat these foods,” in which he wrongly claimed that the entire Indian cuisine is based on one spice and that is “curry.”

In its clarification for the column published on 19 August, WaPo wrote: “A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Indian cuisine is based on one spice, curry, and that Indian food is made up only of curries, types of stew. In fact, India’s vastly diverse cuisines use many spice blends and include many other types of dishes.”

Although the author received flak for expressing his dislike for other popular food items such as anchovies, blue cheese and hazelnut, netizens especially tore into him for his lack of knowledge on the diverse and multi-cultural cuisine that is home to India.

“If you like Indian curries, yay, you like one of India’s most popular class of dishes! If you think Indian curries taste like something that could knock a vulture off a meat wagon, you do not like a lot of Indian food,” the column read.

“Top Chef” mentor and author Padma Lakshmi called the article “white nonsense” and asked Mr Weingarten to “kindly f**k off.”

She added: “Is this really the type of coloniser ‘hot take’ the Washington Post wants to publish in 2021 – sardonically characterising curry as ‘one spice’ and that all of India’s cuisine is based on it?”

Similarly, Mindy Kaling, an American actor with roots in south Asia, slammed the article on Twitter. ”You don’t like a cuisine? Fine. But it’s so weird to feel defiantly proud of not liking a cuisine. You can quietly not like something too,” she wrote.

Weingarten had an opportunity to back off the trolling but decided to double down:

This led to more outrage, and the WAPO’s subsequent correction regarding the true nature of curry.

I have some rambling disjointed thoughts:

(1) I’ve only had about six different Indian dishes in my life, but they are all objectively awesome, and if you don’t agree with me about that you are a stupid poo-poo head. I keep ordering the same dishes because life is short, but I’m sure there are hundreds if not thousands of great things I’m missing as a result.

(2) I really hate the faux meta-sophistication of being too cool for the post-Julia Child foodie culture. Saying “yuck” when discussing things like curry, blue cheese, and anchovies is just another way of saying “I’m still emotionally six years old and my food preferences reflect that.”

Side note: a really fun book about the development of foodie culture in the USA is The United States of Arugula. My parents are Spanish-Mexican immigrants, so despite my advanced age I was during my childhood somewhat sheltered from the fact that, in mid-20th century America, garlic was considered an exotic spice in most of the country.

(3) Still, I’m of two minds about the backlash to Weingarten’s idiotic trolling. On the one hand, in the age of Donald Trump anything that smacks of reactionary longing for an America where you couldn’t get a decent meal in a restaurant outside a few major metropolitan areas is to be Resisted#, if only on gastronomic grounds alone.

On the other, it’s really unfortunate that we’re at a cultural moment where this kind of thing can’t just be laughed off for the waste of print and cyberspace that it represents.

(4) All of which is to say that while criticisms of “Cancel Culture” are about 97% nonsense, they could potentially touch on something worth thinking about: Whether a new kind of American public censoriousness is in fact arising.

Erik’s grave post about Carlo Gambino below reminded me of something I have been thinking about lately, which is that the American film industry went from the early 1930s to the late 1960s without producing almost any decent gangster films, almost entirely because of the Hays Code. (BTW it’s odd to me that the great breakthrough film Bonnie & Clyde has been so completely overshadowed by Coppola’s first two Godfather movies, as fantastic as they are.)

This is really a subject for another post, but in regard to the range of what can be said and shown in public without generating outrage, there’s something happening here, and what it is still isn’t exactly clear. Of course a lot of the new censoriousness is definitely a good thing. But some of it is inevitably problematic.

Anyway, this is something to chew on.

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