Gene Weingarten, The Washington Post humorist, wrote a column where he lists his intense dislike for certain cuisines and food products like balsamic vinegar, hazelnut, anchovies, Indian food, Old Bay seasoning which he compares to “dandruff from corpses mixed with rust from around the toilet fixtures at a New Jersey rest stop” among other stuff.
Now, this reminded me of my childhood at a boarding school in Yercaud, where it was fashionable to diss whatever was served to us, even if it was actually decent. For instance, a wit once remarked that the Sabudana kheer/Javvarisi payasam tasted like frog’s eyes. Naturally, an even more caustic wit responded with “Does that mean you have tasted frog’s eyes?” We all doubled over with a hysterical case of the giggles! Now that I am all grown up and sophisticated, obviously I had to wonder if Weingarten had been rooting about in graves and loos, sampling the grossness on offer and I collapsed in gales of laughter, impressed as always with my own sense of humour.
Not many found Weingarten’s piece funny though. In fact, most insisted that it was not only offensive to Indians but downright racist because Weingarten had written that Indian food was “the only ethnic cuisine in the world insanely based entirely on one spice” and then compounded his error by adding: “if you think Indian curries taste like something that could knock a vulture off a meat wagon, you do not like Indian food.”
The great Indian diaspora was up in arms and the charge was led by a fire-breathing Padma Lakshmi, who wrote that the column “is unintentional anti-humour, regurgitating an unimaginative, racist joke with no punchline.” Ironically, Padma Lakshmi’s memoir—Love, Loss and What We Ate—was accused of bias by Sharanya Manivannan who wrote “The casteism, classism and colourism on display are guilelessly entitled, with neither self-reflectivity nor shame”.
The outrage built to such an extent that the Post felt compelled to issue a correction over a silly joke and Weingarten apologised. He had written disparagingly about a cuisine which he knew little about. But honestly, not all Indians like or even have sufficient knowledge about all kinds of Indian food. I am no fan of whatever it is they serve in Bangalore in the name of sambhar and know next to nothing about Northeastern cuisine. That says a lot about my preferences and ignorance but I don’t think I deserve to be raked over the coals for it. Neither does Weingarten.
Of course, it is not nice to hurt people for a few laughs but it is equally awful when those committed to making us chortle in these dark times are accused of racism and forced to apologise by humourless posturers.
It is not nice to hurt people for a few laughs but it is equally awful when those committed to making us chortle in these dark times are accused of racism