Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Don't Come For India ... Or Curry

Gene Weingarten is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist and is not at all a comedian. Case in point: last week, the Post published  Weingarten’s attempt at humor in a piece entitled, “You Can’t Make Me Eat These Foods,” in which Weingarten writes about the kinds of food he will not eat … foot stomp!

These foods include balsamic vinegar, sweet pickles, anchovies, and Indian food. Indian food. ALL Indian food. Weingarten says Indian food is “the only ethnic cuisine in the world insanely based on one spice” [curry]and he doesn’t get it “as a culinary principle.” 

Well, Weingarten received all kinds of blowback on social media, including accusations of racism. And even Indian-born Padma Lakshmi, food author and host of my favorite reality show competition, Top Chef, didn’t sit this one out, when she Tweeted:

And why was Padma so incensed? Well, not just because it was an ignorant thing to say, but there were some not-so-subtle racist undertones in what Weingarten said, like:

“Indian food. The Indian subcontinent has vastly enriched the world, giving us chess, buttons, the mathematical concept of zero, shampoo, modern-day nonviolent political resistance, Chutes and Ladders, the Fibonacci sequence, rock candy, cataract surgery, cashmere, USB ports … and the only ethnic cuisine in the world insanely based entirely on one spice. If you like Indian curries, yay, you like Indian food! If you think Indian curries taste like something that could knock a vulture off a meat wagon, you do not like Indian food. I don’t get it, as a culinary principle. It is as though the French passed a law requiring every dish to be slathered in smashed, pureed snails. (I’d personally have no problem with that, but you might, and I would sympathize.)”

And when Lakshmi, and others, began coming for him, Weingarten Tweeted, then deleted, this:

“Took a lot of blowback for my dislike of Indian food in today’s column so tonight I went to Rasika, DC’s best Indian restaurant. Food was beautifully prepared yet still swimming with the herbs & spices I most despise. I take nothing back.”

That’s when Padma entered the chat, replying to the now-deleted tweet:

The Washington Post proceeded to edit Weingarten’s original piece and added the disclaimer:

“CORRECTION: 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. The article has been corrected.”

But Lakshmi wasn’t done with Weingarten just yet, and posted this to her Instagram:

“There is truly no need for something like this to be published in 2021 (or ever). It’s racist and lazy at best.

My issue is not this person’s performative contrarianism (although it is tedious) or that he didn’t enjoy the Indian cuisines he’s tasted.

My problem is in this attempt at a comedic piece he’s actually just regurgitating old colonizer tropes, gleefully reducing the culture and country of 1.3 billion people to a (frankly) weak punchline- and that the [Washington Post] published it."
But the best was one Tweet, not from Padma, that said:

“I pride myself on my Pakistani cooking. I also love South Indian, and fusion dishes. That you got paid to write this tripe, and boldly spew your racism is deplorable. May your rice be clumpy, roti dry, your chilies unforgivable, your chai cold, and your papadams soft.”

Mic drop.

PS You also pissed off one Carlos in Smallville who loves Curry perhaps a soupçon more than he loves his husband.

And I’m good with that!

11 comments:

Debra She Who Seeks said...

I'm surprised it got published "as is" too. Padma Lakshmi's Instagram critique is absolutely right.

Mr. Shife said...

This is the first I am hearing about this but I am glad Padma set that guy in his place. She is right on about it being lazy. I just finished listen to a great podcast about Siskel & Ebert and this reminds me of a time Ebert took someone to task for being lazy. It was awesome.

uptonking said...

I adore Middle Eastern food. Bring it on. This week I am enjoying a nice korma I made with chickpeas, green peas and tofu. I get three meals out of it and adore it. Glad they put this putzy privileged white male in his place. More proof... leave the comedy to the professionals. And take your racism to church, son. Thanks for sharing this, Bob. Weirdly made my day.

the dogs' mother said...

My parents had to give a lot
of dinner parties. One of my
all time favorites was chicken
curry. Sooooo good!
xoxo :-)

Sixpence Notthewiser said...

*GET HIM PADMA!*
It is, indeed lazy and racist. And Indian food is delicious.

XOXO

Dave R said...

He evidently pushed a lot of people's buttons the wrong way, though as far as I can tell he's too pretentious to apologize. Of course, maybe he lives for bland, tasteless food, like cold mashed potatoes.

Bob said...

@Debra
Padma nailed it, and the author of the piece.

@MrSife
It was utterly lazy, and then even when called out, at first, the author refused to see it.

@upton
I love all kinds of spices, and curries, and flavors, and for this guy to sort of denigrate curry as "one thing" was pathetic.

@TDM
I love curries, from the mild to the brain frying hottest!

@Six
I love how Padma took no prisoners.

@Dave
Well, whether he did it or the newspaper did it, his piece was edited to take out the offensive, ignorant bits.

Moving with Mitchell said...

I was stunned at the ignorance and insensitivity of the article. He, as a writer for the Washington Post is expected to know better. On top of that, the editors of the Washington Post are expected to know better. And Padma Lakshmi was brilliant. I would even watch Top Chef as a result.

Bob said...

@Mitchell
Padma is one of the best things about Top Chef and she nailed this guy!

Helen Lashbrook said...

I wasn't aware that curry was A spice; I'd always thought it was a mix of spices. Now there are facets of Indian food I don't care for and others that I do. I have just had a salad of home grown tomatoes topped with balsamic vinegar, oil, salt & pepper. Tomorrow I may have a salad Niçoise, which as all good cooks know has anchovies (no snails involved - I love snails in a good garlic butter, but there is a time and a place for every ingredient) as one of its parts and then what's a nice pizza without anchovies? Does Mr Weingarten include chutneys in his roster of sweet pickles? Silly me; of course he does because chutney originated in....wait for it - India! And at the weekend I picked up a samosa at the church fete to go with some nice mango chutney.

Steve Reed said...

Padma is spot-on. It was a lazy attempt at humor. He's been a columnist forever, and thus I suspect his columns don't get (or generally require) much editing. This probably got past his editors because they just weren't paying enough attention, and weren't watching with a critical enough eye. I hope he addresses it in a future column because he IS wrong, and he's a smart enough man to see that and admit his mistake.